Physical games have been an important part of the gaming industry for several decades. However, with the increasing shift toward digital media, physical games have begun to lose importance for general audiences.
Recently, Alan Wake 2 was announced to be a digital-only release. Fans have discussed the potential death of physical games for several years, and this announcement led to another discussion around the subject.
Following the discussion, an analyst has predicted that digital-only releases for major AAA games will become common by 2028.
Why it matters: Digital games are usually more convenient, but physical games have the unique benefit of preservation. They also allow users to trade or sell older titles.
Digital only AAA releases are here. Over the next 2 years this trend will accelerate, and by 2028 or so I think it'll be the norm for most Xbox and PS releases. Nintendo likely won't move as fast, but then again it's Nintendo and they're always full of surprises.
— Mat Piscatella (@MatPiscatella) June 10, 2023
Mat Piscatella is a games analyst at Circana who has been known to report on various parts of the industry. According to the analyst, digital-only releases will become more common over the next two years.
Recent console releases like the PS5 Digital Edition and the Xbox Series S show a similar trend. While previous generation consoles have shipped with a disc drive at launch, both Microsoft and Sony introduced digital options from the beginning of the current generation.
Many deluxe and collector’s editions have also begun to include digital codes for games. Additionally, bundles like the PS5 Horizon Forbidden West console do not include physical discs for consumers.
The PC gaming industry has already adopted a digital-only future, with storefronts like Steam and Epic Games Store. However, used disc games are still an important part of console gaming.
Abandoning physical releases would lead to concerns about preservation. Titles like Activision’s Spider-Man games were removed from digital stores after several years, but physical discs allow fans to enjoy such titles even after they are taken down.
Therefore, the industry might face some backlash when transitioning toward the future of digital games.
Previously, digital-only releases were mostly limited to indie games like Rocket League and Cuphead. However, these games also received physical editions later down the line.
With the industry quickly moving toward a digital future, it would not be surprising to see AAA games following a similar pattern, with physical media becoming the exception rather than the norm.
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