What Good Are Download-Only Services If You Have A Rubbish Internet Connection?

It’s hardly a secret that many of us here are big fans of Steam, Valve’s digital download service that makes buying PC games pretty painless. Who among us hasn’t spent more than a few dollars during one of those big Steam sales?

The only problem with Steam sales is that, having purchased a game, you have to sit there for at least several (long!) hours, waiting for it to fully download. Meaning, if that you were waiting all year to buy, say, BioShock 2, then when you finally buy it when it’s on sale for 75 percent off, you’ll probably have to leave the download running overnight, the servers being swamped with other, like-minded folks. That’s not fun at all.

It’s a problem that only manifests itself, at least for me, during the big sale weeks; Steam usually can nearly saturate my Internet connection, which is 101 mbps down, or around 12MB/s.

But that’s the thing: not everybody, particularly people who live in rural areas of the U.S., has an Internet connection that can download an 8GB video game in a few minutes. And if that’s the case, then just how convenient are services like Steam (and Good Old Games and Direct2Drive, and so on)? Why would you wait for Big Game to download over an eight-hour period when you could just as easily drive over to Brick-And-Mortar Store, pick up the disc, and go home a satisfied customer?

Curt Schilling, the former baseball great and current executive at 38 Studios, knows the reason: retail is dead, both online and offline.

The only experience worse than having to physically go somewhere to get a game is having to wait a day and a half for that game to download. Don’t get me started on the game that makes me drive somewhere to buy it and then wait 6 hours while it patches!

A valid complaint, yes, but that’s probably just as much of a problem with this nation’s broadband infrastructure. Again, not everybody can rely upon anything even approaching a fast Internet connection. (I can barely stream Sirius XM in the TechCrunch office in New York without it stuttering, so I can’t even imagine downloading something like Napoleon: Total War on that connection.) If you’re one of those people with relatively slow Internet connections, then services like Steam, Netflix streaming, Rdio, the PSP Go, etc. might as well not exist.

(Schilling’s other complaint, that there’s too many digital download services out there, is barely even worth mentioning. Yeah, who wants choice when it comes to shopping? I much prefer when I’m beholden to capricious whims of the only shoppe in town.)

I suppose the point of this was to pull a Bill Clinton, say “I feel your pain, ye with the slow Internet connection,” then nod my head in a reassuring manner. Hopefully actual broadband (as opposed to the barely-faster-than-dial-up that qualifies as broadband these days) spreads across this country so that such download services work as advertised for more than 32 people.