MangaGamer’s USB physicals are a good solution to the PC gaming collectability problem

Devotees of PC gaming will, more often than not, argue that gaming on PC is the “best”. Certainly, if you have a decent rig, PC gaming is a great choice — today’s graphics cards, high-definition displays and other tech can make games look and perform their absolute best. Add modding and the openness of the platform — the latter of which provides the ability for adults-only releases — and it’s easy to see why some people might question why you’d ever buy a console at all.

But there’s one big drawback to PC gaming — at least for those who care about such things. And that’s the fact that ever since digital distribution became the norm for PC games, the collector’s market for PC gaming has been completely obliterated. Yes, you can still scour eBay for big box PC games from the MS-DOS and early Windows era, but modern-day physical PC releases simply don’t exist for the most part.

PC games on USB: Rance Quest Magnum
Rance Quest Magnum

The main reason for this is technological. As time has advanced, the average hard drive footprint of a video game has exploded to such a degree that it’s not at all unusual for a modern triple-A game to consume in excess of 100GB, plus additional space for patches and DLC. And, with that in mind, it’s simply not practical to distribute it on DVDs, as PC games historically have been.

So why not move to Blu-Ray, as the consoles have? Well, that’s because unlike the consoles, where Blu-Ray inclusion as standard basically forced the tech into players’ houses, Blu-Ray drives have never become a default inclusion for PC gaming. In fact, you’re more likely to find a new PC today that has no physical drive whatsoever than to find one with a Blu-Ray drive — or even a DVD drive.

As such, it has never made any sense for PC gaming publishers to distribute their games physically, because it either means producing a box containing a ridiculous number of DVDs — as seen in the case of Microsoft Flight Simulator, which still requires an extensive Internet download even after installing 10 DVDs of base data — or distributing them on a medium that is unusable by a significant proportion of PC users.

PC games on USB: Evenicle

Surely there’s another option, though? Well, yes, there is — it means a bit more in the way of expense for producing physical releases for the PC gaming market, but it does get around the “how do I fit this game on a practical amount of physical media?” problem. And, in retrospect, it’s a simple solution that it’s honestly quite surprising more publishers haven’t tried sooner: taking the game files and sticking them on a USB storage device.

Think about it: every modern PC has USB ports and is capable of reading a USB storage device. And, these days, USB storage devices with enormous capacities are very affordable. Perhaps not as cheap as DVDs, no, but then you only need one of them. They’re easy to back up, they’re reusable if necessary, they have a good lifespan — particularly since you’ll only be using them once or twice to install the game rather than running it directly from it — and thus they make an excellent choice for PC gaming “cartridges”.

The following links are extremely NSFW — you have been warned!

Eroge localiser and publisher MangaGamer has been leading the way with USB physical releases of some of its best-selling games. Their first was a release of Rance 01 and 02 on a single USB stick, which was followed up by a number of other releases including Rance Quest Magnum, Maggot Baits and plenty more besides — it seems to be the company’s standard practice now.

Recently they’ve announced that more titles from Rance developer Alicesoft will be getting similar treatment: specifically, the excellent RPG Evenicle and the futuristic training sim Beat Angel Escalayer R will both be getting USB physical releases.

In both cases, the USB stick will contain not only the game files and installer, but also a full soundtrack in MP3 and FLAC format. The physical releases also come with a collectible card featuring a download code for the game, so you also get a digital version for your library to go along with the physical release. The best of both worlds.

Physical PC games: Beat Angel Escalayer R

Practically speaking, the likely reason we don’t see this happening more often with bigger games is simply a matter of cost. In MangaGamer’s case, physical releases tend to happen well after a digital release, and are treated as limited-run collectibles which there is an established albeit relatively small market for. As such, there’s relatively little risk for them doing something like this — anyone who plays an AliceSoft game generally ends up having such a good time that they wish they could own a physical copy to proudly have on their shelf, for example.

Conversely, triple-A games are already so expensive to produce that it’s likely publishers simply don’t want to take the risk on putting out physical PC releases when they know that the majority of their sales will likely come from platforms like Steam anyway. The PC market has, sadly, been conditioned to expect digital distribution as the norm for the most part — which means those who enjoy having shelves full of games are out of luck for the most part.

But MangaGamer’s USB releases show that there is a way collectible PC games can still happen in 2022. These releases are worth supporting — and it’s also worth mentioning to other smaller developers and publishers that this is something you might like to see from them, too. Because even today, there’s still something special and magical about being able to take a copy of a game down from your shelf and enjoy it as a possession as well as a digital creative work.

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Pete Davison
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