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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 some ways around that future.

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

Before moving on to the console side, a common argument in the gaming community is that PC gaming has gone fully digital years ago and has mostly been perfectly fine. It’s true that you can’t buy games on disc for PC anymore, and hardly any computer comes with an optical drive as standard.

However, the crucial difference is that PC games are sold on an open market. PC gamers can choose from various digital gaming platforms. Game developers can sell their games directly without using any third party storefronts. For example, Blizzard sells its games using its own launcher and store.

Price competition continues on PC because no one has complete control over video game prices. If one provider inflates their prices, another will lower them. That’s a very different context than the “walled garden” video game market model that consoles use.

Everything digital reduces the walled garden of console games

When you buy a console that can only play digital games, you hand over 100% of the price control to the console platform owner. Unlike a PC, you can’t buy your digital console games from anyone other than the big three console brands, Nintendo, Sony, or Microsoft.

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

If he only The place you can buy video games for your console is through their digital store, so prices can be pushed to the absolute limit of what gamers will tolerate. His only legal options would be to pay the price or not play the game.

Do physical media have a future?

Game sizes are growing, though the advent of SSDs in consoles has allowed for a smaller install thanks to SSD deduplication. This poses a problem 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 may also see solid-state memory prices drop enough that high-capacity cartridges are viable. Solid-state game media may even be preferable to requiring full game installations on a local drive. Both digital downloads and Blu-ray games currently take up space on consoles’ SSD drives, but if game media 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 the archive) will ever see a commercial release, but it does mean that 100GB Blu-Ray discs aren’t the end of the line technologically.

lose your digital games

In addition to current and future prices for digital games, another aspect of the future of an all-digital console is losing access to games. In July 2022, Ubisoft appeared to remove access to Assassin’s Creed Liberation to people who had previously purchased the game. Now, having digital games removed from the list is unprecedented. It usually occurs as a result of the termination of content licensing agreements for music or stock footage, preventing new copies from being sold.

What made the Ubisoft affair noteworthy is that it looked like even existing owners would lose access. The game was later re-listed by Ubisoft and it’s unclear if the initial reports were the result of a misunderstanding, but it served as a reminder to modern gamers that their purchases may not be as safe as they thought. It has also transpired the news that the 3DS and PlayStation 3 stores would be closing. That is, until Sony decided to keep the PS3 store open, for now.

It may seem like a long time, but we’ve only had digital games on consoles since the PS3 and Xbox 360 era, and only now do console gamers have to face the inevitable fact that servers must eventually go down.

What can we do with fully digital games?

Digital games are undoubtedly the most convenient form of gaming today, and we’re not arguing that anyone should stop using digital games in favor of physical titles. Fully digital games on consoles are bad for game preservation, but preservation is not the main point of the argument here. Keeping your options open as an individual consumer is more relevant in the here and now.

Let’s take the PlayStation 5 as an example. For a price difference of about $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 a lot more than a single Benjamin. Losing that drive closes off access to retail games and used games. Only used games would fetch $100 back in a single visit to Gamestop or another similar used game provider.

To illustrate, let’s look at the difference in price 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 what GameStop is selling a new copy for at the time of writing.

Demon's Souls Product Page New GameStop
gamestop

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

Demon's Souls GameStop Used Product Page
gamestop

So one thing game consumers can do is buy consoles with physical drives when given the choice. This is a market signal that consumers value physical media. The second is to do a price comparison between the physical and digital copy of a game before buying. Not only will you end up saving money in many cases, but you also have the option of reselling games that you have no intention of playing again. The downside is that you may have to wait a few days for the game to be delivered, but if you can practice patience, it can pay off.

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 makes financial sense. So it’s inevitable that digital gaming will become the norm at some point in the future.

When that time comes, console gamers aren’t completely powerless. For one thing, gamers can choose to support any of the console manufacturers that continue to offer physical games as an option or change their digital gaming practices to allow for personal backups, third-party code sales, and a marketplace at a price. just. While all-digital consoles won’t be competing with third-party storefronts, they will still be competing with each other, which means your wallet can still speak loudly for fair prices for games on consoles.

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