The rivalry between Physical vs. Digital games is a fairly debated topic here at Critical Coins. Some of us feel that physical games should continue to exist as long as there are games. While others have the opinion that physical media for games should simply die out, and we should embrace a digital-only future. But regardless of what side of the camp you sit on or your opinions of the future, right now, at this very moment, you should be buying your console games in a physical format.
According to a recent report by Nielsen in its U.S Games 360 report, roughly 66% of console gamers still prefer to buy their games physically. This is in stark contrast compared to PC gamers, of which only 29% prefer buying their games physically.
For those who do play PC games, this should come as no surprise. The PC market has several different features and functions that the console market simply lacks or will never fully adopt in the near future without a complete restructuring of their marketplaces. Some of these include:
- Confidence in purchases
- Low costs
- Multiple marketplaces (competition)
- Sharing games
While those who don’t have confidence in the digital systems of console makers certainly have a valid reason to continue buying physical games, it is certainly not enough of a reason for everyone. After all, if you have no desire to go back and play past games, then what are you missing? But the confidence in your purchase is far from the most important reason you should be buying your console games in physical format, in fact, it’s the least. So why is it important that the physical vs. digital ratio continue to have physical at the lead for the time being? The other three items listed above have the answer.
The most obvious reason is that you, as a consumer, should be purchasing physical games for consoles, is the cost. Buying physical games are simply cheaper (for those in certain areas of the world, this may not apply) because of it being on a physical medium. Physical items require space, and space is something in short supply. An old game sitting in a warehouse—not selling—at some point becomes not worth holding on to at a certain price, and then eventually, gets marked down. At the same time, as games age, their price generally goes down in an effort to entice sales.
On a digital platform you only have the benefit of the latter to reduce prices, but in a physical setting, there is the added benefit of warehouse and stores wanting to make room for other products, bringing prices down. That last edition of Call of Duty isn’t exactly well-used space when there is a newer version available that people want to buy. But prices in a physical setting don’t just reduce because of limited space and age, they also reduce because of competition—something digital marketplaces for consoles sorely lack.
The most influential difference in price compared to the PC gaming market vs. the console market is competition. Many might believe Steam is the only true platform that exists for PC gaming, but in reality, there are dozens and dozens of different markets and platforms that you can purchase games on. Take for example GOG (Good Old Games) or Green Man Gaming, each fits into the marketplace in a different capacity. In the case of GOG, it is a similar type of company to Steam, it is a platform to play games, as well as a store to buy games and interact with players. For Green Man Gaming, they don’t have a platform to play their games on, instead, they act as third-party that strictly sells game keys to other platforms. In both of these cases, each acts as a form of competition in the PC gaming marketplace. One is competing for not only other game platforms but also the sales of those games to be on their platform, while the other is strictly in the business of selling codes for these platforms. Don’t like Steam or the price of a game on it? You can try GOG. Just looking for something cheaper? Maybe Green Man Gaming is a new venue to try. Because of the open nature of the PC gaming market, it welcomes in competition. Unfortunately, for the console market, this doesn’t exist.
When you have an open platform, competition is bound to form around it to become the dominant force. For closed markets, this type of competition is all but limited, resulting in higher prices. Consider Nintendo for a moment, who is notorious for not dropping prices for their titles. Super Mario Odyssey is still currently $59.99 on the Nintendo eShop, but on Amazon, it’s $48.66. If the only way to purchase a game digitally is through one vendor, why should they reduce the price? After all, the only method of obtaining that game is through their store, so why not just wait for them or someone else to take the plunge? Without competition to push prices down, the only driving force to reduce the price in a game is to spur up more sales with a discount.
Finally, there is the ability to share. While Microsoft and Sony have made decent strides in creating a way for players to be able to play games their friends own digitally, this still pales in comparison to something like Steam. For those unaware, Steam will allow friends and family to play your games, on your account (assuming you set it up locally first) as long as you’re not playing it. It is the digital equivalent to lending a game, largely existing because of that physical ability. Without that physical function being available, why should it be kept if there is no competition to say otherwise? There isn’t.
But sharing isn’t just the ability to give your game to a friend, it’s the ability to have the value of your game in a physical medium you can control greater than a digital one. If you are done with a game and want to sell it? You can do that. Want to lend it to a friend? That’s an option too. In both these cases, because you have your purchase tied to something physical, you have more ability to use the value of it in different ways.
To ensure prices stay down and to allow more enhanced control over your purchase it’s critical that we still support purchasing physical games. Right now, there is little to no reason for console makers to allow or keep the very same things that we benefit from with physical games, except that people continue to purchase physical games. So until these benefits are part of a console’s digital marketplace, keep buying physical games. So not only do you save, but we all save.