The physical video game doesn’t just disappear, it becomes a product for collectors


Video games in physical form are disappearing. Many say that like CDs or DVDs, they will go extinct. But, in the case of both music and audiovisuals, the process appears to be the opposite. Perhaps these niche media are dead, but vinyl and Blu-ray have established themselves as luxury products, as something special that excites us for one compared to the excesses and ephemerality of digital.

For many years, sales of video games on discs or cartridges have declined sharply. as he tells White Paper on Spanish Video Game DevelopmentIn our country, for example, physical sales represented only 3% of the national studio’s business during 2021. in the case of playstation Globally, 66% of sales conform to the digital format. this number is low on Nintendo Switch42.6%, although it is still notable.

Distribution of turnover by business model of Spanish video game companies in 2021


The data is not very encouraging for the physical format. According to one discovery of a specific environment Ars TechnicaIn the United States, only 10.3% of new console video games were published in physical and digital simultaneously during 2021. 89.1%, on the other hand, were launched digitally only. But why does this happen? What does this trend react to?

Features of Digital Format

What is happening now in the world of video games has been happening in the arts, leisure and other areas of culture for many years. Thanks to platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, Prime Video and Netflix, most music, movies and series are only used in digital format.


Growth in the proportion of physical and digital releases of new console video games in the United States between 2018 and 2021

Ars Technica

These platforms have made culture and entertainment very accessible and easy to consume and have removed most of the hurdles hindering the process. If Spotify is compared to buying a record, for the price of a new album, the application allows millions of songs to be accessed legally, with great sound quality and can be played anywhere and in almost any circumstance can go.

Something similar happens with films and series. DVDs and Blu-rays are very expensive products compared to a subscription to Netflix, Prime Video or HBO Max. In addition, many people no longer have the equipment at home to play these formats, while the use of smart TVs or devices such as Google’s Chromecast is becoming increasingly widespread.

The Xbox app will arrive on Samsung's 2022 Smart TVs on June 30

The Xbox app will arrive on Samsung’s 2022 Smart TVs on June 30

It is common that, in a globalized world, trends that previously appeared in music and audiovisuals now extend to video games. and not just digital formats, but subscription platforms such as xbox game pass either new playstation plus, But beyond a social phenomenon, there are other reasons, perhaps more practical and industrial.

It’s cheaper to publish digitally

Publishing only in digital format is much cheaper than doing it in physical format. The production and distribution of games to imitate discs and cartridges required a complex infrastructure and a large logistics system. For this reason, the physical format is mainly limited to large video game publishers such as Xbox, PlayStation, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Activision Blizzard, and Rockstar Games.

Image from 'Horizon Forbidden West'

Image from ‘Horizon Forbidden West’

guerrilla game

On the other hand, independent developers and publishers often limit the distribution of their works to digital only. It requires very little investment, and also has low risk. It is for this reason that only the most successful independent games usually have physical editions, usually very limited editions and they become almost collector’s items or for already established fans.

according to the study of Ars TechnicaIn the United States, during 2021, 56.4% of games from major publishers were published simultaneously in physical and digital. Whereas in case of small companies this percentage has come down to 8.1%. In fact, this percentage has been halved since 2018.


Graph of the growth of independent video games published in physical and digital format in the United States between 2018 and 2021

Ars Technica

Other digital incentives

Large video game companies also benefit greatly from digital formats. This gives them more control over distribution and also allows them to earn more revenue from each sale. With digital games, companies save on manufacturing and distribution costs, but also reduce fees from middlemen and brick-and-mortar stores.

For Sony or Xbox, for example, it is better for the user to buy their games directly from the console’s digital store, as they receive almost the full price of the product as income. It’s also a lot more profitable as far as third-party titles are concerned because Sony and Microsoft hold about 30% of all transactions Made in their store.

Image of PS5 Digital Edition (left) and Xbox Series S (right) without disc drive

Image of PS5 Digital Edition (left) and Xbox Series S (right) without disc drive

third parties

This explains why consoles for digital games only and without disc readers have become so fashionable. An Xbox Series S or PlayStation 5 Digital Edition is cheaper than their disc-based counterparts, as the companies hope to offset this Shortage With the sale of digital games.

physical as a collector’s item

With every year that passes, the consumption of games in the physical format further diminishes. But it won’t go away. Many users like to be able to keep their favorite games in their hands or to collect them and display them on the shelves. It’s likely that the same thing happens with music, movies, and series as with video games: vinyl and Blu-ray haven’t disappeared, but they have become a luxury or collector’s item.

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Albert Garcia

Mark Brugato

Mark Brugato

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