Reality or retail: Sony’s PS5 digital could rise with the fall of physical game discs despite struggling at launch

Courtesy of Gamespot.com

In the months leading up to a new video game console launch, the anticipation and excitement from new trailers and reveals dominate the conversation on how games will look graphically. This year is no different with loads of new gameplay on next-generation hardware showcasing impressive first looks at all types of games. For the past few years, this effect has dwindled considerably as the technological gap between consoles continues to shrink as higher resolutions and frame rates become industry standard. The cost of these standards then usually befalls the consumers’ wallets for better or worse. Consoles have never been more expensive and prices for new games have always been at a $60 equivalent because of global inflation. Sony is reading the writing on the wall for physical purchases of video games and finally taking action. 

On June 11, Sony unveiled the PS5’s two models, one console with a disc drive and another digital model. Despite giving lots of new information, the key detail omitted was a price for both consoles and all other peripherals. A fully digital console has a multitude of benefits like a lower price over the disk drive model. Sony CEO Jim Ryan has stated that the console will aim for value over price on launch later this year. Taking the price cut and being able to completely circumvent a third party seller is huge for an industry like video games. For Sony to make an extra $15 from a $59.99 game is a tremendous amount for Sony’s profit margins. A clever move that the Xbox Series X, more than likely, will not have the same luxury. If Sony decides to bend on price then it puts more emphasis on competition, selling less but making more. 

This puts into perspective what Sony stands to gain from such an increase in sales figures, but Sony will have to justify still charging $60 games, that are no longer in physical collector cases, with a lower console cost. If the price gap of the console is not as significant, then more than likely a majority of gamers will continue to buy games from retail stores. While physical sales have been outweighed by digital since 2013, it still accounts for a colossal amount of sales and is responsible for a loss in revenue Sony will now fully recoup. Yet, the console can run into issues when addressing support for features like backwards compatibility and sharing games with friends. 

One point of contention for the upcoming successor has been backwards compatibility. It’s not uncommon for a newer console to play older titles, but how does that work without a disk drive? Trading in a PS4 to buy a PS5 digital just won’t be easy for gamers with libraries of physical games that can’t play on the digital system. Assuming there is no solution provided, it will be unfortunate to forfeit those titles when transitioning to the next generation. Microsoft has already mentioned this issue with the Xbox Series X and announced it to play a multitude of classic Xbox titles. This gives the upcoming flagship console with hefty library support for four generations of Xbox’s. Giving the console almost two decades of Xbox games is stiff competition for Sony’s lackluster history with backwards compatibility. 

While the upcoming PS5 will be backwards compatible, details are sparse on how that will be achievable with the digital edition. Considering Sony’s bold thrust into streaming with PS Now, PS5 digital owners might just end up having to pay to play PS4 discs in some form or fashion. This is an issue that the PS5 could fix and have a large digital library on launch, which would generate more interest and revenue. Most console launches are sparse with quality video game titles already, giving the console much needed legacy support would bolster the necessity of a PS5 and justify its cost over competing systems. Not to mention, all PS5 games are exclusive and only a handful of PS4 titles will let players upgrade their purchases for free to PS5. Expanding this to include many other titles digitally or through a subscription would expand the market to more players looking to upgrade. 

Playing older titles on a new system is certainly a fresh experience, but Sony’s announcement also calls into question game sharing. A fully digital console will only make account sharing a more prevalent way of buying games amongst friends. Of course, this is a non-issue with discs as they are easily accessible and transportable, but this issue shouldn’t have to be so difficult. The current generation of consoles has tried to curb this with account sign-in dictating what game belongs to which account. While this is likely to return for the next generation, it seems that players with an all-digital console will have no other game share alternatives, further limiting the console. PS4 account sharing is such a well known workaround to borrowing digital titles that Sony will likely want to tighten security. This could possibly require the system to always be connected in order to verify accounts unless they implement a new feature. Having to be always connected is such an egregious measure and would be so disappointing and needlessly complicated that people would rather just share a disc. With a growing PC market for the last several years, game sharing has never been easier and better than ever with fewer restrictions on when games can be played and the increased number of authorized players. The growing PC library of exclusive console titles only further devalues a console’s ability to play titles you can’t elsewhere.

As it stands, the console wars are coming to the precipice of a new era in the video game industry. Sony, more than ever, is pushing the boundaries of their brand to dominate the gaming space more than they already are doing so. It’s hard to judge whether a console will be worth its weight until it releases. With Microsoft able to consistently deliver a full history of their titles and the PC market’s freedom and expandability, the PS5 has an interesting console war ahead. Sony has a great chance to cement themselves as the clear frontrunner in both a digital and physical gaming space. The PS5 digital is trying to capitalize on the market of pure digital revenue and while the PC dominates that space; bringing a new generation of exclusives will hopefully be worth the investment at the expense of legacy features. 

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