GameStop’s Executive Vice President Frank Hamlin considers it important for the next generation of consoles, both Microsoft’s Project Scarlett and Sony’s PlayStation 5, to retain disc drives for players to have a choice about how they acquire their games.
The statement comes not long after Microsoft released its first all-digital Xbox One S model, which functionally is identical to other consoles within the Xbox family, but has no disc drive and relies on its users solely purchasing games by digital download. Hamlin continued by stating that Microsoft and Sony were “keenly aware” that consumers want the option to use a disc if they choose. Although digital sales continue rising, it is the choice that matters, according to Hamlin.
The reasons that some wish to have physical copies of a game are many, according to Hamlin. First, games continue to grow, unlike most shows, films, and music. If we consider the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 game, conservative estimates place that download at over 80 GB, and the 8K graphics of both the next generation consoles may place games at around 400 GB.
For a lucky few, that amount of a download is not enormous, but for many consumers all over the world, such a download may exceed the cap of an entire monthly data plan, and without a reliable download speed, could take days or weeks to acquire in some cases. Although games do have updates, often on day one of launch, if the majority of the game comes on some form of physical format, the problem is reduced immensely.
There is of course another reason that Hamlin argues for physical copies, and it is perhaps the most obvious, as the future of GameStop depends on consumers who come in to trade old games and buy new. If everything is digital, their business model is obsolete.
Still, the interests of Hamlin aside, his points are valid. There is also the notion that consumers often enjoy having a tangible good, especially for expensive games. Many are collectors and want the game and its case on their shelves.
Most important of all is that buying a physical good means that a consumer can do with their property as they wish. Once they are finished with a game, they can sell it, trade it, or gift it away. Digital games offer an illusion of ownership. Yes, a consumer has purchased a game for use, but not in the same way. In a sense, they do not actually own the game, since they cannot sell it.
Of course, nothing would make developers happier than if all games went digital. They would not have to spend on production, distribution, shipping, or any associated costs. Still, the day when games are all digital is likely still far, far away, as consumers still demand their physical games.