I think Sony’s been so shrewd with the way it’s handled the transition from physical media to digital downloads. The company definitely would prefer you purchase all of its games from the PlayStation Store: it cuts out retailers and resales, removes physical overheads like manufacturing and storage, and ties you into its ecosystem tighter. But it’s had to approach the shift carefully: push consumers too hard in a particular direction, and you get the same kind of fallout Microsoft faced with its original vision for the Xbox One.
That’s why I think the Japanese giant’s been so cunning: it’s played the long game here. I bought the PS5 that includes a Blu-ray drive, but so far I’ve only used it once to test out Ghost of Tsushima. And this week, when I went to pre-order Cyberpunk 2077, I realised that my mentality had changed: I pre-ordered through the PS Store – a personal first for a cinematic, large-scale single player game. I realised that I’m now all-in on digital downloads.
But first, a little about how this transition has crept up on me. I was actually an active downloader on the PlayStation 3, but I was mainly purchasing smaller, cheaper titles like Flower and Journey to supplement my physical blockbusters. Sony eventually got me downloading bigger games as part of my PS Plus subscription; those early days of the Instant Game Collection were insane, with massive titles like inFAMOUS 2 and Red Dead Redemption available as part of the membership. I ended up enjoying the convenience of having major PS3 titles installed on my hard drive.
When the PS4 released, I felt like I’d been conditioned to play digital downloads, and I generally preferred them at this point. But I still wasn’t a complete convert: replayable titles like Hitman and Rocket League I always wanted installed on my hard drive, but when it came to major single player experiences like Fallout 4 or The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, I’d always get the disc. My strategy was to have replayable games installed on my hard drive, and one big campaign in my Blu-ray slot.
Slowly but surely, though, with subscriptions like PS Plus and PS Now, and the insane discounts on the PS Store, I ended up adding more and more digital downloads to my library. I never bought a single physical game for PSVR, as staying inside the headset was part of the appeal of that peripheral.
And that takes me to the present day, where I’d argue 95 per cent of my game purchases these days are digital. That’s not an uncommon trend: earlier this year Sony financial data revealed that about 74 per cent of the PS4’s software sales were made through the PS Store – a number no doubt propelled by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but eye-opening nonetheless.
With the PS5, the convenience of having games installed cannot be understated. Using the Activity Cards, you can jump around your software library with such ease that I’m not sure I ever want to change a disc ever again. It’s just so fast and convenient that it’s hard to go back. Now obviously restricted storage space, bandwidth caps, and high prices in European territories mean that it’s still not viable for everyone, but the industry is only moving in one direction.
I think, with the way Sony has handled PS Store sales and subscriptions like PS Plus, it’s gradually pushed its fanbase in that direction. And it’s done so without eradicating the traditional physical option entirely. Slowly but surely, game sales are going to skew more and more towards digital downloads. It’s been a gradual change; the platform holder’s played the long game. But we’re well on our way now – heck, I think I’m just about there myself.
Are you finding yourself buying more games digitally these days? What do you prefer about downloading your games, and what puts you off? Add to your library in the comments section below.