Digital distribution in video games
In the video game industry, digital distribution is the process of delivering video game content as digital information, without the exchange or purchase of new physical media. This process has existed since the early 1980s, but it was only with network advancements in bandwidth capabilities in the early 2000s that digital distribution became more prominent as a method of selling games. Currently, the process is dominated by online distribution over broadband internet.
To facilitate the sale of games, various game companies have created their own platforms for digital distribution. These platforms, such as Steam (software), Origin, and Xbox Live Marketplace, provide centralized services to purchase and download digital content for either specific video game consoles or PCs. Some platforms may also serve as digital rights management systems, limiting the use of purchased items to one account.
Before internet connections became widespread, there were few services for digital distribution of games, and physical media was the dominant method of delivering video games. One of the first examples of digital distribution in video games was GameLine, which operated during the early 1980s. The service allowed Atari 2600 owners to use a specialized cartridge to connect through a phone line to a central server and rent a video game for 5–10 days. The GameLine service was terminated during the video game crash of 1983.
Only a few digital distribution services for consoles would appear in the 90s. In 1988, Nintendo introduced the Famicom Modem, a Japan-only peripheral for the Family Computer. Similar peripherals and services would be released for the Super Nintendo (Satellaview) and the Nintendo 64 (Randnet) in Japan. Sega would release the Sega Channel for its Sega Genesis console in 1994, providing owners with access to games on demand and other services.
On PCs, digital distribution was more prevalent, though there were no significant services for it. Instead, users used the internet to distribute their own content. Without access to infrastructure that would allow them to distribute this content through physical media, user-created content such as game modifications and maps could only be distributed online.
By this time, internet connections were fast and numerous enough such that digital distribution of games and other related content became viable. On consoles, this would result in the rise of downloadable content that could be added onto full retail games.
Today, each of the current main consoles (Wii, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3) has its own digital distribution platform to sell games exclusive to digital formats and digital versions of retail games. These are the Wii Shop Channel, Xbox Live Marketplace, and PlayStation Store, respectively. The Wii Shop Channel, released in 2006, allows the download of classic Nintendo games as well as Wii-specific software such as additional channels. Microsoft's Xbox Live Marketplace and Sony's PlayStation Store sell both full retail games and downloadable titles that are often exclusive to the service.
Valve Corporation released the Steam platform for Windows computers in 2004 as a means to distribute Valve-developed video games such as Half-Life 2. It would later see release on the Mac OS operating system in 2010. By 2011, it controlled 70% of the market for downloadable PC games, with a userbase of about 40 million accounts. Origin, a new version of the Electronic Arts online store, was released in 2011 in order to compete with Steam and other digital distribution platforms on the PC. The period between 2004 and now saw the rise of many digital distribution services on PC, such as Amazon Digital Services, GameStop, Games for Windows – Live, Origin, Direct2Drive, GOG.com, and GamersGate.
As of December 2012[update], there are over 1860 games available through Steam, and 54 million active user accounts. The concurrent users peak was 6 million on November 25, 2012. Steam has an estimated 50-70% share of the digital distribution market for video games.
Downloadable Content 
Downloadable content is additional content for a video game, such as maps, in-game clothing, and gameplay. The proliferation of internet-enabled consoles allowed this type of content to become prevalent.
Independent Game Development 
The increasing prevalence of digital distribution has allowed independent game developers to sell and distribute their games without having to negotiate deals with publishers. No longer required to rely on conventional boxed sales to see profit, independent developers have seen success though the sale of games that would not normally be accepted by publishers to distribute. The PC and mobile platforms are the most prominent in regards to independent game releases, with services such as Steam and the iOS App Store providing ways to sell games with minimal to no distribution costs. However, some digital distribution platforms specifically for independent games exist on consoles, such as Xbox Live Indie Games.
Mobile Gaming 
Digital distribution is the dominant method of delivering content on mobile platforms such as iOS devices and Android phones. Lower barriers to entry has allowed more developers to create and distribute games on these platforms, with the mobile gaming industry growing considerably as a result.
Examples of Video Game Digital Distribution Systems 
- Xbox Live Marketplace
- PlayStation Store
- Wii Shop Channel
- DSi Shop
- Nintendo eShop
- GameLine (early 1980s)
- Famicom Modem (1988)
- Nintendo Power (cartridge) (19??)
- Sega Channel (1994)
- Satellaview (1995)
- Nintendo 64DD Randnet (December 1999)
- iQue Player (2003)
See also 
- "The Master of Online Mayhem". Forbes. 2011-02-28. Retrieved 2012-04-26.
- "40 Million Active Gamers on Steam Mark". Gaming Bolt. 6 January 2012. Retrieved 7 January 2012.
- "PDF E3 2011 Investor Presentation". Electronic Arts. Retrieved 2012-04-26.
- "Steam Search". Valve Corporation. Retrieved 2012-12-20.
- "Steam clocks in 6 million concurrent users, breaks its own record". Retrieved 26 November 2012.
- Graft, Kris (November 19, 2009). "Stardock Reveals Impulse, Steam Market Share Estimates". Gamasutra. Retrieved November 21, 2009.
- See Steam_(software)#Market_share_and_impact section for remaining sources showing estimates from 50-70%.
- "Download distribution opening new doors for independent game developers". Statesman.com. 2011-04-17. Retrieved 2012-05-01.
- "Rise of mobile gaming surprises big video-game developers". Canadian Business. 2012-03-13. Retrieved 2012-05-01.