The digital distribution of PC games has really come of age in the last few years, and it now seems inevitable that disks and boxes are on their way out and downloads are the way of the future. Not everyone is happy about it, because a lot of people still expect to get a physical object when they buy a game, but a growing number of game sales are taking place through online services.
Some of the most significant obstacles to digital distribution have now been overcome, so services like Steam and Direct2Drive have experienced rapid growth. The next big development could be "cloud gaming," where the game runs on a server and is streamed to the player, which is what OnLive is proposing. Console games will also be affected by online offerings like Xbox Marketplace and the PlayStation Store. It appears that game disks will suffer the same fate as music CDs, although they aren't likely to vanish completely.
Several things have historically held digital distribution back for games. High-end games can involve extremely large downloads that are many gigabytes in size, so it isn't feaseable without broadband Internet, which hasn't always been as widespread as it is today. Large downloads were also troublesome before download managers became available, because there was no way pause a download or resume it after a problem like a computer crash.
Read on for the pros and cons of digital distribution.