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Capcom says piracy is useful, prioritises digital sales.

How we purchase games is changing, particularly for the PC. Many, if not most, titles are now released via digital distribution platforms like Valve’s Steam or Stardock’s Impulse. The more popular these services grow, the less relevant their boxed form in games retail chains become.

Most of the profits of these physical stores rely on the purchase of second-hand games that players trade in, primarily for store credit. Regardless of the high controversy behind selling PC games a second time or more, it won’t last for much longer, as players can’t sell their digital versions.

Christian Svensson from games publisher and developer Capcom agrees, and tells Rock, Paper, Shotgun that it now places more of a priority on digital distribution. When asked, he frankly points out that digital distribution is more important than retail to the company. “Digital distribution on PC ties directly into our strategy,” says Svensson. “Absolutely. No question in my mind.” He goes on to mention that Capcom sells about as much in retail as it does in digital, and that digital sales are actually more important “in the current market”.

As a member of the PC Gaming Alliance, Capcom has a growing interest in this arena. Nonetheless, Svensson says it sees retail dropping in the PC games market. “One of the problems, to be candid, is that retail is falling away. What are the reasons for that? Partly it’s that return rates are very high,” he explains. “Returns of a PC title are usually double that of a console title – why? Because it’s not a great consumer experience because there’s variation in minimum spec, and it requires a lot of consumer knowledge to figure out exactly what is in their box, and what that will run.”

In terms of controlling piracy rates, Svensson has a fascinating take on the situation. “It is a big issue on PC, and it’s probably not going to go away,” he says. “But we do really need to examine the situation carefully, and perhaps even look at whether some elements of piracy can be harnessed for good. As a distribution network it is useful, and perhaps that can help us distributed software trials and so on. There are aspects of piracy that, if they can be turned around, can become positive.”

Perhaps we’ll see some innovative ways to encourage people to buy a game. This, as opposed to trying to attack those who don’t, but end up only smearing the experience for those who do pay.