We've already known for a while that Remedy Entertainment is going the digital-only route for Alan Wake 2 despite a standing offer from their previous publishing partner, THQ Nordic. The studio even offered a reason for this, and now, the development team are doubling down on the same rationale.
The decision, as per Remedy, is to give the team extra time to polish the game, aiming to present the best version to the players come October 17.
With its scheduled release right around the Halloween season, Alan Wake 2 is easily one of the most highly anticipated games of the year. But, as we've already said many times before, Remedy might have shot itself in the foot with the digital-only release.
Alan Wake 2's creative director, Sam Lake, and game director, Kyle Rowley, explained the reasoning behind the decision to go digital-only in an interview with Eurogamer. "As creatives, going digital-only allows us more time to polish the game," Rowley stated, adding that this approach buys them "a significant amount of weeks." This is because a game that goes on a disc has to be playable without a patch. The digital-only approach means the team can spend more time refining the game, ensuring a higher quality product upon release.
"We didn't want to release something that we weren't proud of, and that we didn't want players to play," Lake added. This additional time for polish and refinement could certainly result in a more immersive and glitch-free gaming experience, which is, ultimately, advantageous for players.
According to an FAQ provided by Remedy, the digital-only decision also stemmed from the intent to keep the game's price down. The FAQ explained that "a large number of players have shifted to digital only," reflecting the contemporary trend where even consoles like Sony PlayStation 5 and Microsoft's Xbox Series S are available without a disc drive.
Remedy also stated in the FAQ that shipping a disc product requiring a download for the game wouldn't make for a great experience, another justification for the digital-only approach.
Despite Remedy's explanations, the announcement has met with backlash from some fans, leading to concerns about game preservation and ownership rights. The closure of the Nintendo 3DS eShop earlier this year highlighted the issue of digital-only downloads. The infamous de-listing of the survival horror spinoff PT further exemplified the problem, raising concerns about what would happen if a digital game is pulled from a store. And, oh, don't forget, there's a laundry list of awesome games that you can no longer buy outside of the rare physical copies.
Some fans expressed sadness over the seeming end of physical media, albeit most agree that the writing has been on the proverbial wall for a while.
In truth though, as much as the companies try to spin this positively, it all comes down to the finances. Remedy isn't the biggest studio and it can't simply foot the bill whenever it pleases. By skipping a physical release, it doesn't have to invest the time and money that goes into making sure that the physical discs ship out as intended.
Although the reasoning is sound, some are concerned that this could affect the sales of Alan Wake 2, especially as the first game didn't sell particularly well until much later on as it become a cult hit.
Ultimately, it's important to remember that digital-only releases will only become more commonplace in spite of all of the backlash. Starfield, for example, is going the "hybrid" route. Digital releases might not be what most fans want, but from the perspective of the developers and their publishing partners, the numbers make more sense.
Technically, Remedy wasn't lying when it said that foregoing the physical release lets them focus on refining and polishing the game than having to deal with the associated costs and labor of shipping discs out at launch.
The focus on quality is commendable and mirrors a shift in the industry where player experience takes precedence. As Lake said, "hopefully this way, we can give you a better version of the game."
The only question now is, is this going to pay off for Remedy and Alan Wake 2? Well, only time will tell.