Guest Author: Guest author Dan Santaromita is a writer for NBC Sports, an avid sports fan, and also loves video games. You can find him on Twitter at @TheDanSanto.
The shift from physical to digital has come for a number of different forms of media (music and movies, for example) and it appears next generation consoles are going to take a step towards an all-digital future for video games as well. When Sony unveiled its PlayStation 5 on June 11, it showed off two versions of the console due out in holiday 2020. One version had a disk drive and one did not. Microsoft has shown off its PS5 competitor, the Xbox Series X, but despite rumors of a second all-digital version hovering around for months, there has been no official word on a second console and what it would include. Sony beat them to the punch with this announcement.
It’s being called the PlayStation 5 Digital Edition and so far Sony has said it has the same hardware as the version with a disk drive. If the only difference is the lack of a slot to slide in your game disks, as well as the assumption that it would be a cheaper device. Word of the upcoming consoles being expensive has been floating around for a while. If Sony and Microsoft are staring at expensive boxes, removing a disk drive is one way to cut the price a bit. Microsoft has already given this a shot with an all-digital Xbox One S that came out in the fall. It was $50 cheaper than the standard One S at the time. However, coming out with an all-digital version of the lesser-powered of the two current Xbox consoles (the S is the cheaper version compared to the mid-generation boosted Xbox One X), late in a console cycle is very different from announcing an equally-powered all-digital box at the launch of a new generation.
Digital is nothing new for video games, but this could be another step towards video games moving completely away from physical media. Downloadable content (DLC) has been around for more than a decade, most indie games never get a physical release and every game has been available digitally since the PlayStation 4 and XBox One came out in 2013. Additionally, almost every game has post-release patches and/or updates, so even games that you have a disk for can take a lot of space on your hard drive. One of the biggest downsides of going all-digital has been slowly eroded over the years as developers rely on post-release content more and more.
PC gamers have been living in a digital world for far longer than consoles with Steam becoming a dominant marketplace and other competitive storefronts emerging recently. Consoles are catching up. With Sony making this move and Microsoft likely to follow, it will provide one of the most interesting, important and potentially business-changing shifts across the video game industry. Will gamers move to digital en masse? What would the fallout from that be?
Would the all-digital version have a bigger hard drive because it would be relying on downloads more than a regular console? Sony hasn’t said anything about storage of either version of the PS5 yet. Would anyone go for the all-digital version if it had more storage but cost the same?
Could this be a final death blow to Gamestop? The embattled retailer may not be long for this world anyway, but if consumers buy a box that doesn’t even allow them to use physical media, the used game market would be devastated. That’s Gamestop’s bread and butter.
Would digital storefronts on PlayStation and Xbox have less motivation to run sales because they’d have a monopoly on where its customers can buy games for the system? There is reason for concern that those sales would be less enticing or come less often if they are not competing with retailers. We’ve seen a shift to digital come elsewhere. Laptops often don’t have disk drives anymore. Whether you want to watch a movie, listen to music or play a game, you’d have to go the digital route.
Digital always eventually wins and it will for video games as well. It’s just a matter of when. The infrastructure has been growing for years and it could and should be a smooth transition for anyone who takes that plunge with the next generation consoles, but there’s a significant domino effect that would follow. Let’s see what happens.