More people are purchasing games on digital storefronts than ever before. One of the greatest draws of digital gaming lies with convenience of access and purchase compared to physical media. Slowly but surely, an all-digital future for console gaming is within reach.
Yet there are several drawbacks present within digital gaming, including the idea that the player does not truly “own” their digital titles. Alongside other factors, physical media continues to remain the largest driver of sales in the AAA gaming market. Some prefer to own a collection of games, and others want the flexibility to share their game with others.
While I have recently opened up my gaming purchases to encompass digital titles, physical media remains my personal preference. Yet if the digital storefronts on consoles featured more quality-of-life changes that made digital gaming more appealing, it could become the ideal means of purchasing games.
Digital Game Pricing
With few exceptions to the rule, suggested pricing of most new game releases are identical on physical and digital storefronts. When Death Stranding releases, the average consumer will pay $60 USD to play the game regardless of its format. And down the line, discounts on the game are inevitable across physical and digital storefronts.
Digital games tend to receive heavier discounts after release (especially with PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold). However, physical games often follow suit and tend to have price cuts that are more permanent. Under those conditions, there are minuscule differences in costs between physical and digital media from the initial purchase.
Yet physical media is associated with higher manufacturing and shipping costs. On a game-to-game basis, developers and publishers obtain a smaller portion of revenue from physical sales than digital sales. Therefore, the natural conclusion is that they want to encourage players to purchase their games digitally. However, the benefits of accessibility and reliability associated with physical games prevent the digital space from dominating the gaming industry.
In order to combat this perception, digital storefronts on consoles need to implement new strategies to spur digital game sales without alienating players that prefer physical media. Besides hosting more frequent and robust sales, fundamental changes in the distribution of digital media and its associated benefits are key to adapting to the changing landscape.
Nintendo currently has several strategies to encourage the purchase of digital games. For one, purchasing a physical copy of a game only nets you one-fifth of the gold coins one would normally receive from a digital purchase (i.e. 60 coins instead of 300 coins for a full- priced game). These coins accumulate over time and allow you to discount titles of your choice on the Nintendo eShop.
The other strategy is the recent promotion of Nintendo Switch Game Vouchers. For $99.99, consumers can obtain two vouchers to redeem on any eligible game released within a year of purchase. Effectively, it provides a $20 discount for players that are confident paying ahead of time to redeem games down the line. It appears this promotion is temporary, only lasting until July 31st, but it would not be surprising to see it return in the near future.
Microsoft offers a similar rewards program that encompasses Xbox, allowing users to earn points purchasing games and completing tasks. Sony currently has nothing along those lines for the PlayStation Store, although they offer a credit card tailored to people that purchase games frequently on the PlayStation Store.
A Permanent Discount
While these strategies certainly set the foundation for a digital-friendly future, concerns surrounding digital gaming are significant enough to warrant a bigger change: permanent price cuts. For example, a digital game would feature a lower price tag from day one compared to its physical counterpart. This accomplishes two major goals for digital gaming. Firstly, it positions digital media as the cheaper alternative to physical media. Secondly, it eases some of the complaints levied at digital gaming in its current state.
As stated prior, most point out that people do not fully “own” their digital purchases. If an outage were to occur within a gaming ecosystem, one would lose access to games not installed on the hard drive. Not to mention, digital games take up much space (especially on the Nintendo Switch) and require additional purchases to upgrade storage. These are clear drawbacks, but providing digital games at a cheaper price point helps mitigate some concerns.
Even as someone that gravitates towards physical media, it remains clear that digital gaming will dominate the upcoming generations. PlayStation 5 might ensure that physical media lasts one more console generation, but the writing is nearly on the wall. The transition will be abrupt for the non-digital crowd, and some will actively question the legitimacy of digital gaming. With the right adjustments to the digital storefronts, however, more people will view digital gaming in a positive light.