Is Digital-Only The Future Of Gaming?
There was a lot in the recent PS5 unveiling presentation to catch one’s attention. However, the hardware news itself hasn’t been all that exciting except for one notable exception: the presence of the PS5 Digital. This marks the first major console that has gone digital-only, even if it’s only on one of two versions being released. But could this mean a switch to digital-only game sales in the future?
The rise of digital downloads
One of the ways to see which way the trend is going is to look at the data currently available. Checking out the data for physical vs. digital video game sales from 2009 to 2017, it’s easy to see that digital sales have, indeed, taken over physical sales and that, with each year since 2013, the gap has been widening in favor of digital games.
The lure of the special edition
However, both publishers and gamers still have an interest in physical sales, especially sales of a certain sort. We’re talking about those special editions, often coming with statues, maps, soundtrack CDs, and other goodies. This is still a trend that the biggest publishers are committing a lot of resources into promoting, as you can see from the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla debut trailer, which puts the focus squarely on what is likely to be the most expensive of the limited editions that get launched with the game. As long as gamers are still susceptible to a little bit of merchandising, publishers will keep finding a reason to sell their game physically.
PCs have been doing it for a long time
If we’re talking about trends, however, then let’s not forget that consoles aren’t the only thing around. From Steam to GOG to Troypoint’s list of torrent sites, the PC has long taken advantage of both free and paid ways to download games. Rare is the newly bought PC that comes with a disc drive, to begin with. Even those that do rarely get used for the purpose of putting a disc in the drive. If you want to see what console’s digital-only future might look like, you only need to take a closer look at the PC market.
The archival issue
As a lot of hardcore gamers grow up and find that many of their favorites are becoming more inaccessible, the case for video game archival has become more of a focal point than ever. As The Gamer’s article on the PS5 states, there is a case to be made against digital-only, and it falls in line with that archival issue. For one, digital-only customers won’t be able to play their already-bought PS4 discs on the machine. But a digital-only future will also make it harder to archive games, with few people willing or able to port over the data wholesale from console to PC as easily as it can be ripped from a disc for those archival purposes.
While some of us have long been living the digital-only lifestyle, it might not be the future quite yet. For now, plenty of gamers love and want their physical media, even if it’s rarely the case that most of the game comes on the disc/cartridge, anyway.