By Craig Zammit

SYDNEY: Telstra has launched a new service called BigPond Games Shop which will provide gamers with a one hour trial of PC games prior to purchase, in what could prove a catalyst for the digital distribution revolution.

The new Games Shop service will also allow gamers to download trials of yet-to-be-released games, with the aim of simplifying the purchasing process for those who don’t wish to purchase a game and then realise the title falls short of its promise.

With the uprising of digital music having already impacted sales in music stores worldwide, analysts remain skeptical regarding the effect mainstream online gaming distribution will have on established retailers such as Harvey Norman and EB Games as well as JB Hi-Fi – who has only recently entered the billion dollar local video game market.

It could be the shot in the tail currently needed for the industry, following a New York Times report today that suggest the four major publicly traded game publishers have collectively lost $8.1 billion since 1 May.

Since January, Wall Street analysts have also lowered their 2006 total revenue estimates by 60 per cent, with games publisher Electronics Arts stating that its 2007 fiscal year earnings could be as much as 70 per cent lower than expected.

Most of the losses can be put down to the current pensive environment surrounding gaming as consumers juggle with the next generation of consoles, unsure of which purchase to make and when.

However as is the nature of the gaming industry, a boom is likely to follow soon with the final two pieces of the next generation puzzle, the Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation3, being released in the fourth quarter of 2006.

“More people are playing games than ever before,” Activision chief executive, Bobby Kotick recently told the Australian Financial Review.

Commenting on the future of digital distribution, Kotick believed that providing supplementary levels of pre-existing games would be a more feasible option considering download times and file size.

“The idea of full downloadable games is so far in the future that it’s almost incomprehensible as an opportunity,” he said.

At a recent workshop at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Extent Technologies CEO, Yoav Tzruya commented that games becoming available for purchase and download online, like an mp3, would soon be inevitable.

“Companies will start treating games like other media, like movies and music. I think the players who put their foot in the door will work out best. Turner Broadcasting and its GameTap, and maybe Google or Yahoo! will actually take the lead.

“I think retailers are still the best for marketing games, but these are for the hardcore gamers. My mother never went to an EB store, but she’ll play games online. I think gamers will still consume games from EB Games or wherever, whether in traditional outlets or online,” he said.

Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console currently provides its members game add-ons, such as extra levels and even mini-games for download, while Sony’s PlayStation3 and Nintendo’s Wii are planning to have back catalogue titles from their previous generation consoles available online for download.