When it comes to the games themselves there is no denying that digital sales have skyrocketed past the consumption of physical media. In fact, during 2018 83% of all computer and video games were bought via a digital store rather than physically, meaning that physical game sales could soon be a thing of the past.
This disparaging sales figure has led to games stores across the world closing their doors, and now the American staple GameStop seems to be on the brink of collapse as well – and who knows what the Coronavirus will do to their overall operations at this time.
One question lots of people have based around the sale of physical media versus digitalis ‘what’s the allure of digital sales over physical releases?’
And it’s a good question to ask.
By and large, digital games are marked up at higher prices than consumers might find within a brick and mortar store, often with price drops being saved until long after the games actual release – or a seasonal sale.
Plus, there are some digital stores that are notorious for keeping their prices high. Take Nintendo for example – a launch title game for the Switch will still cost $50 or so even years after its initial release, whereas in stores the price might have dropped quicker than online. Nintendo is well known for this, and the ‘Nintendo Tax’ is often discussed in forums online when it comes to the pricing of games.
So, what is the draw of a digital store? A big factor is convenience. We live in a world where our shopping habits are now catered to in an almost instantaneous fashion, we can order clothes online, watch movies on demand and (in some circumstances) order our shopping online and have it with us on the same day – so why should games be any different?
Look at the Steam store. Over the years, Steam has proven via PC gamers that ready access to games doesn’t only draw buyers, but also reduces piracy as people would much rather pay for convenience than struggle for free. And that is the crux of the digital appeal, gamers can have their games easily stored in an online library, ready to download easily and at any time of day.
Compare that to the traditional brick and mortar store, and you are going to find it hard to beat that level of service. Not only do you have to travel to the store itself, but you also have to contend with stock issues – which for popular new releases could mean that you never even buy the game you set out to buy.
Realistically, more people are going to be interested in buying their physical games online, ordering from a storefront like Amazon to get the game the next working day. The thing is we now live in a\ world where spoilers can be everywhere even before a major release, and that time you spend not playing the game could be the time in which you get that long-awaited title completely spoiled by a random person on Reddit who decides to mass private message devastating spoilers for the fun of it (it happened to me, I’m not bitter).
So really, the appeal of the physical game as a consumer now lies in what it provides over a digital copy. Let’s face it, developers are always going to be happier to publish their games digitally as it will drastically save on cost – so a higher price point on a physical release will always draw in smiles from the business side of things, and if paired with the right merchandise, smiles from the consumer too.
We are all familiar with collectors editions of games – the game itself being bundled up with a shirt, or a mug or a statue that you can’t buy anywhere else. And, if we are talking about a franchise that has a long history in beloved fandoms, then really there is no problem – there are always going to be those looking to buy the latest Zelda game bundled with a statue, or the newest Assassins Creed with a replica hidden blade – or whatever might be on offer for the big franchises.
The issue comes with new titles, new franchises. Sure, Horizon Zero Dawn was a hit, but I can safely bet that Sony and Guerrilla Games are going to make a lot more money with Horizon Zero Dawn 2 merchandise when that launch date rolls around compared to the first. And that’s because people buy what they know and love, and are more reserved when it comes to investing in something new to them.
It’s the same reason that indie games enjoy such a vibrant life on digital stores and rarely see physical releases – because the consumers need time to get used to the IP before they invest further.
What I’m trying to say is that there is always going to be a physical version of games themselves. Whether that be limited to only the triple AAA games getting published as part of a $300 collectors edition, or if it means that an artbook is included with a download code – there is always going to be a physical version of a games sale.
What might draw more crowds away from traditional releases though, is if it were possible to subscribe to a Netflix like service for gaming. And it seems that’s where we are headed…