An All-Digital Future Is Bad News for Console Gamers, Here’s Why

A Sony Dualshock 4 controller in front of a TV showing the PlayStation Store.

Most consoles come with a disc drive and you can buy physical games, but digital games are becoming the norm. This could spell trouble for console gamers’ wallets, but there may be several ways to avoid this future.

But PCs have gone completely digital. What is the problem?

Before we get to the console side, a common argument in the gaming community is that PC gaming went all-digital years ago and has generally gone perfectly well. It’s true that you can’t really buy disc-based PC games anymore, and hardly any computer comes with an optical drive as standard.

However, the crucial difference is that PC games are sold in a free market. PC gamers have several digital gaming platforms to choose from. Game developers can sell their games directly without using a third-party storefront. For example, Blizzard sells its games using its own launcher and store.

Price competition is maintained on PC because no one has complete control over the prices of video games. If one supplier inflates its prices, another will undercut them. This is a very different context from the “walled garden” video game market model used by consoles.

All-digital reduces the walled garden of console gaming

When you buy a console that can only play digital games, you give 100% price control to the console’s platform owner. Unlike a PC, you can only buy your digital console games from the three major console brands Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft.

These companies still sell digital game codes and account vouchers to retailers. These retailers have some leeway to cut prices using their own margin, but once physical games no longer exist for future consoles, there’s no reason companies can’t stop selling. sell digital codes to third-party stores. In fact, Sony already stopped selling digital game codes to physical retailers in 2019.

If the only the place you can buy video games for your console is through its digital storefront, so prices can be pushed to the absolute limit of what gamers will tolerate. Your only legal options would be to pay the price or not play at all.

Do physical media have a future?

The size of video games is increasing, although the advent of SSDs in consoles has allowed for smaller installation footprints thanks to SSD deduplication. This is problematic since the largest optical discs used in consoles today are 100 GB Blu-rays.

Of course, Blu-ray discs themselves are pretty cheap to produce, so simply having a game on multiple discs is a reasonable medium-term solution. We could also see solid-state memory prices drop enough to make high-capacity cartridges viable. Solid-state game media may even be preferable to requiring full game installs on a local drive. Digital downloads and Blu-ray games currently take up space on console SSDs, but if game support were fast enough, that wouldn’t be necessary.

Optical media has not reached a dead end either as there are optical discs that offer many times the capacity of a Blu-ray. That doesn’t mean these discs (which are meant for archiving) will ever have a commercial release, but it does mean that 100GB Blu-Ray discs aren’t the end of the line technologically.

Losing your digital games

Besides the current and future pricing of digital games, another aspect of an all-digital console future is the loss of access to games. In July 2022, Ubisoft appeared to remove access to Assassin’s Creed Liberation for people who had already purchased the game. Now, the removal of digital games is not unprecedented. This usually happens as a result of content licensing agreements for the end of the music or footage, preventing the sale of new copies.

What made the Ubisoft deal remarkable was that it looked like even existing owners would lose access. Ubisoft later re-listed the game, and it’s unclear if initial reports were the result of a misunderstanding, but it did remind modern gamers that their purchases might not be as safe as they thought. . The news also announced the closure of the 3DS and PlayStation 3 stores. That is, until Sony decides to keep the PS3 store open, for now.

It might seem like a long time, but we’ve only had digital games on consoles since the PS3 and Xbox 360 era, and it’s only now that console gamers have to deal with the inevitable fact that servers eventually have to be extinct.

What can we do about the all-digital game?

Digital gaming is arguably the most convenient form of gaming today, and we’re not saying anyone should stop using digital games in favor of physical titles instead. All-digital games on consoles are bad for game preservation, but preservation isn’t the gist of the argument here. Keeping your options open as an individual consumer is more relevant here and now.

Take the PlayStation 5 as an example. For a price difference of around $100, you can buy a PS5 without a disc drive. It may seem tempting to save 20% off the price of a new console, but the number of doors it closes is worth far more than just one Benjamin. Giving up this player closes access to retail and used games. Used games alone would recoup $100 in a single visit to a Gamestop or other similar used game supplier.

To illustrate, let’s look at the price difference between a new and used copy of the same game.

Demon’s Souls Remake is a popular PlayStation 5 exclusive game, and the standard price for a new PS5 game is $69.99, which is indeed what GameStop is selling a new copy for at the time of writing.

Demon's Souls Product Page New GameStop

A used copy of the same game retails for $39.99. That’s a $30 difference, meaning you’d only have to buy 4 used copies to recoup the cost of the disc drive in a PS5 and have an extra $30 in your pocket.

Used Demon's Souls GameStop Product Page

So, one thing game consumers can do is buy consoles with physical discs when they have the option. It’s a market signal that consumers value physical media. The second is to make a point of making a price comparison between the physical and digital copy of a game before buying it. Not only will you end up saving money in many cases, but you will also have the option of reselling games that you don’t intend to play again. The downside is that you may have to wait a few days for your game to be delivered, but if you can be patient it can pay dividends.

Buying consoles with disc drives and buying physical games when it benefits you are just stopgap measures. At some point, global broadband access will reach the point where an all-digital console generation will make financial sense. It is therefore inevitable that digital gaming will become the norm at some point in the future.

At this time, console gamers are not completely helpless. On the one hand, gamers can choose to support console makers that continue to offer physical games as an option or change their digital gaming practices to allow for personal saves, third-party code sales, and a one-to-one market. fair price. While all-digital consoles won’t compete with third-party storefronts, they will still compete with each other, meaning your wallet can still speak loud and clear in favor of fair game pricing on consoles. brackets.

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