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With the next generation of consoles, buying digital looks better than ever

I am a person who values ​​physical media in general. I collect records, buy printed books, and enjoy watching 4K Blu-ray movies. But for a variety of reasons, I completely turned to buying digital games on any platform as soon as the option became available. After Sony and Microsoft fully unveil their next generation consoles, many more people may choose to do the same.

In summary, Sony announced the pricing for the upcoming PlayStation 5 yesterday – both for the regular model and for the disc-free Digital Edition. The standard PS5 is $ 499.99 and the otherwise identical Digital Edition is $ 399.99. You̵

7;ll save $ 100 if you forego physical gaming for good.

Microsoft has now gone even further to incentivize digital game purchases and Game Pass subscriptions. The X series will compete with the standard PS5. Both consoles offer disc drives and 4K output for $ 499. The S Series plays games at lower resolutions and doesn’t have a drive, but it’s much smaller and costs an impressively low $ 299.

The message is clear: physical games are now an optional high-end part of console gaming. A luxury. And both Sony and Microsoft are ready to subsidize the move to digital. For example, the CD drive alone doesn’t explain the $ 100 price delta between the two PS5 variants – but Sony wants to be your sole retailer and expects the money to come back by buying games directly from Digital Edition customers. Microsoft is certainly selling the S Series at well below cost, but is benefiting from the increased Game Pass revenue and sales of digital games.

The Xbox Series S (left) and Series X.
Photo by Tom Warren / The Verge

If you have a strong interest in physical gaming, this isn’t good news. People who live in areas with poor broadband service or data restrictions have the prospect of paying for a more expensive console, as do gamers who often offset the cost of an expensive hobby by buying and selling used games. This market is also likely to come under significant pressure as more and more people switch to digital-only consoles, which isn’t a good sign for retailers like GameStop – although they do have the option to be more flexible with pricing than the platform owners. Digital games are also often more expensive than their retail equivalents when not on sale. However, you should expect next generation games to be expensive wherever you buy them for the near future.

Despite the potential problems, this shift has long felt inevitable. With the PS4 and Xbox One, games won’t even run from the discs they were printed on – you have to fully install them on the consoles’ hard drives because Blu-ray access speeds are so much slower. This eliminated a major benefit of physically gaming on consoles such as the Xbox 360, which were running out of storage space for many users. Even before that, the conversion of the PS3 to Blu-ray Discs often meant mandatory partial installations in order to shorten loading times. It was really debatable when may the devil cry 4 You had to install 5 GB of data on the hard drive, believe it or not.

As this generation ran out and larger hard drives became more common, Sony and Microsoft began offering full game downloads as an alternative to traditional retail stores. Sony had already started making PSP games digitally available as standard with the PSP Go 2009, a smaller digital-only PSP with a sliding design and a higher price than the regular model. That same year, Microsoft announced its Xbox Games on Demand service, which allowed you to download Xbox 360 games for retail for the first time, although only older titles were initially available. Sony launched a program called PSN Day 1 Digital in 2012, which saw new games arrive on the PlayStation Store every day.

The purely digital PSP Go.

When the PS4 and Xbox One hit the market, both companies sold all new games both digitally and in retail stores. Microsoft has even tried to make digital property a core component of its platform. The ability to share and resell downloaded games comes at the expense of offline play and support for used games. Of course, after a major backlash, the company eventually reversed course. But we released an Xbox One S with no CD at some point last year, and I wonder how Microsoft’s original vision for the Xbox One would be received today.

Maybe not much better – physical games won’t go away completely, of course. But things are leaning in that direction. Even Nintendo announced yesterday that more than 50 percent of its Switch game sales in the first half of this year were digital, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the April-June quarter it was 74 percent for Sony, a year ago it was 53 percent. Those numbers will decrease as customers return to brick and mortar stores, but once people get used to digital gaming they may be more willing to immerse themselves in the experience.

The main benefit of digital from a user perspective is convenience. You don’t have to worry about ejecting and loading discs. Your games don’t take up storage space, and these days they don’t take up any hard drive space either. You can shop in stores from multiple regions and everything will appear in the same library. Once you get used to it, dealing with spinning disks feels archaic.

Some people will still want physical games to resell, or for the opposite reason: to get a tangible collection. In the age of live servers and patches on the first day, storage doesn’t play as much of a role as it used to – many PS4 discs will be pretty useless for decades to come. That doesn’t mean there isn’t an incentive to build a collection, however, and companies like Limited Run Games are playing in this market with special edition physical releases for titles that otherwise wouldn’t get any.

But that’s a niche – video game vinyl, if you will. (And yes, Limited Run also sells video game vinyl.) What has changed is that both Sony and Microsoft are betting that there are enough people now willing to stop buying physical games altogether. Both companies also ensure that their digital-only buyers feel like they have built a collection right from the start. Of course, there’s Xbox Game Pass, which is great to incorporate into your own library, and Sony just announced a PlayStation Plus collection for PS5 that features many of the PS4’s best titles.

Digital products are worth buying if you appreciate the experience, and it is also very much in Microsoft and Sony interests that you do. That makes a product like the PlayStation 5 Digital Edition an obvious win-win for people who are already used to digital – a better experience at a lower price. (And a more attractive design.) The key question is how many people who physically buy today are willing to compromise with the next generation.

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