This is a topic that has been on my mind for a very long time, and it’s very depressing to think that not much has changed in that time. Ever since full retail games started being sold for download from playstation store, xbox live and nintendo eshop, the prices have almost always been considerably higher than their disc-based counterparts sold at retail.
There are the occasional exceptions to the rule, and some have a bigger price gap than others. For example, The Last of Us launched on playstation store for £40 which was great, but I can’t remember a deal that good since that time. You could argue that even £40 is overpriced for a digital version that you can’t share, sell or trade-in, especially considering the fact that the costs for game cases, discs and logistics are eliminated. A few years ago I would have said that they really need to go lower than that, but given the rising prices of retail games in the last several years, it seems unlikely that they will lower back down to those prices, even if they do get their act together with regard digital pricing.
The time is now for something to change. There are far more incentives now to go all-digital due to features offered with the latest generation of consoles, as well as the clear benefit of digital games for handhelds.
The PS4’s remote play feature makes digital gaming a lot more attractive even now, but as we go forward with faster 4G, people will want to take advantage of the ability to play remotely over the internet. With digital, you could switch games instantly and play anywhere, without having to phone home and ask someone to swap the discs.
The same could be said to a lesser extent with Wii U. Due to the gamepad’s ability to play remotely (albeit in close proximity to the system), you could leave it upstairs and continue playing later on, switching games instantly without having to go downstairs. Admittedly, there isn’t as much of a advantage with Wii U as there is with the PS4 / Vita combination, but it’s still got it’s benefits, especially at the right price. In the UK now, Nintendo have teamed up with GAME, who are selling eshop download codes for around £10 less per game than the actual eshop price. Not only this, but if you own a premium pack system, then you get points based on the higher eshop price added to your account, which is a nice bonus. Obviously, you’ll still be making an overall loss of around £7-10 per game if you take into account the possible trade-in price as well as the cheaper retail copy, but you may still find that it’s worth it for you. I’m certainly enjoying having less disc case clutter.
As far as handhelds, you could say that this is the most mature market for downloadable games due to the prevalence of mobile and tablet gaming, where there is no option but to download. Hopefully this will help the traditional gaming handhelds to move in the same direction more quickly. Unfortunately, it hasn’t made much of an impact so far, as prices are still high and Sony and Nintendo aren’t really pushing downloads in a serious way. It’s unfortunate because this is the market that digital is the best fit for. I can remember going on holiday multiple times and coming back with one less gameboy cartridge. As the cards have got smaller, the problem has almost certainly got bigger. I was talking to my cousin about a 3DS game a little while ago and she couldn’t find her copy. As I’ve mentioned before, GAME are selling codes of 3DS download versions but even though it’s a step in the right direction in that it’s far cheaper than buying directly fro Nintendo’s eshop, it’s still more expensive than the retail game that is purchasable on the same website. I don’t think many people who are on the fence who don’t understand the benefits of digital are going to be convinced by a £10 loss per game.
So in short, the situation is beyond a joke, but what should the prices be, if we had the choice to set a fair price taking into account the reduced costs of selling digitally for developers and publishers. How much does it cost per disc based game to be manufactured and distributed to stores? Whatever that amount is on average, it needs to be taken from the actual real-world retail price to get the digital one. Until digital costs less, it will never catch on with the money conscious masses, and that would be a real shame, as gaming is clearly the next medium ready to go predominantly digital. And just to be clear, if you’re dead set against digital and love discs. They won’t be going anywhere either way. It will be a long time before you’re resigned to mostly specialist stores as the vinyl fans of today are.