Retro reboots are finding enormous success through digital distribution. Old school publisher Hudson Soft is well aware of this. The nature of video game development and marketing these days makes charging $59.99 for a new Bonk game a difficult proposition, but asking a fraction of that asking price on Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and WiiWare becomes much more appealing. Hudson Soft is one of growing faction of companies fully embracing the advantages of digital distribution.
The Bonk idea isn't fake, either. Bonk: Brink of Destruction is coming to all three platforms in 2010.
"For digital download, we are very aggressive," said Hudson VP of development Sabine Duvall in a recent e-mail interview with me. "Our intent is to deliver solid products for this market. The goal is to support the casual gamer as well as the hardcore gamer. The only thing that changes [versus retail] is the method of distribution. It is a natural process of this industry to move on to new technologies. Digital download is definitely next generation and it is here to stay. Hudson is always checking for new trends in the industry, it was a natural step for us."
Not everything needs to be digitally distributed, however.
Duvall's team has a "very detailed internal process involving various departments" to determine if a new product should be released through the traditional retail outlets or via online services.
When I saw Hudson's lineup at PAX, the company showed off another Bomberman game, Bomberman Live: Battlefest. Even though Hudson was touting new features for this one, it was tough to get excited. Bomberman is a classic, a series that doesn't require reinvention, but does it need a new release as often as it gets it? Duvall disputed Hudson was overstretching the franchise.
"We actually do not bring out as many Bomberman’s as you might think," she argued. "Currently we are very much concentrating on the digital distribution of Bomberman. The game has done very well on the various platforms. We waited over 2 years before we decided to release a new Bomberman (Battlefest) to our digital download publishers."
Seeing Bonk return to the fray, however, was encouraging. Bonk might not have made a comeback if the various online services hadn't shown they could be profitable for companies.
"It is very apparent we are leaving behind the old ways of distribution"
"We believe in the digital download market, that’s why we choose to resurrect Bonk as a digital download version," said Duvall. "Additionally we are able to bring the product much quicker to market on all three major platforms. One of the big decisions we are facing is digital distribution versus retail industry. It is very apparent we are leaving behind the old ways of distribution; it is now time to work out a system within the retail industry to make this happen."
Duvall didn't explain what this "system" to have retail and digital co-exist actually is, but regardless of what the specifics are, they need to work together to come up with something.
"More people are on-line than ever, games will cater to those gamers," said Duvall. "Social gaming and MMO’s will move into mainstream gaming much faster than once predicted."