Last night I pre-purchased Thief from Steam. Admittedly, It was only about 6 hours before it was officially released, but they were offering a special deal for extra content so I took it. It is the first time I’ve ever pre-purchased a game, and I found it somewhat nerve-wracking, because I had paid my money but still had no game to play. Being a pessimist I immediately assumed something would go wrong and I would get no game and lose my money altogether. Fortunately it didn’t, and I was able to download Thief as normal this morning. But it does demonstrate the flexibility of digital distribution, to make attractive deals available for games before they are even released. It was no surprise the other night to hear sales of packaged games are down for the third straight year, and that digitally released games are now outselling packaged games. I know that games stores do offer pre-purchase deals as well, but its all so much more convenient on Steam and its ilk, with everything you get laid out for you at the click of a mouse. Early days I suppose, but with this sort of uneven competition it’s hard not to see games stores going the way of video stores, and that will have implications for the games industry and all of us who buy and play games.