Are “Digital Edition” Consoles Worth It?

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So, are Digital Edition consoles worth it?

That’s really a personal choice. I am less apt to think its a bad thing than I once was. Heck, even since setting out on writing this piece, my mind has changed some. I was strongly in the category of thinking that all-digital consoles added a degree of frustration for consumers. The source of that was from game and console makers using it to control their revenues. That, of course, is business.

On the one hand, it does remove the consumers’ ability to get at least a partial refund on a game they didn’t care for or have simply played-out. I am a little sticky on this. If game makers and sellers had a more robust refund policy than exists. There is generally a NO REFUND policy on open products. Steam has one of the better policies, allowing a 24 hour window for returns on games where the player has spent less than 2 hours in game. Its not great, and we all know from experience that 2 hours can be barely enough time to learn the mechanics, and hardly sufficient time to evaluate whether a title is total garbage. (Here’s looking at you Red Dead Redemption 2.)

It IS, however, better than most refund policies. This is likely due to, in part, that Steam can verify through their interface the amount of actual usage time that was invested in the product. e could sit here and debate over what is a reasonable usage time frame to allow a proper assessment. Any time frame is better than none at all.

The more frustrating issue I see with all digital consoles is the lack of portability of the games. In yesterday’s world, you could take your cartridges and game discs and lend them to your friends and family. In my daughter’s and my case, the only way for she and I to share digital download games is for me to sign into her device from my Xbox account so I can download my games to her console. Not a challenging notion inside of the same house, but it severely limits who can play those games otherwise.

What benefits or reasons are there for going in on all-digital? Well, for one… no more game discs or cartridges to lose, store, and/or damage. Lets face it.. They take up space. A LOT of space. And I have, by all accounts, a small collection. Some can be lost. EASILY. (I’ve left the Switch out of this argument entirely up to now,) but what the HELL was Nintendo thinking with the Switch, except that they could get repeat sales from all the 10-year-old’s parents who had crying babes loose their copies of Cooking Mama and Mario Party behind so many baseboards and couch seat cushions. I don’t trust my teenager with those damn chips any more than I can throw her, forget about young children.

Also, despite the fact that I COULD take them to Gamestop and trade them in, I don’t most of the time. Why? I hate Gamestop. I do attempt to trade them in from time to time at the local B/S/T book and media store (that’s Bookmans, in Tucson, AZ – yeah free shout-out…) who gives much better credit for this sort of thing… However, in the end, the games that I actually buy on disk are very few and far between. Case-in-point. The last media-based game I bought for my Xbox One?… Battlefront. The first. Which I played for two weeks. Hated it after the brief “campaign” and I’ve never played it since. It now sits on a shelf in my living room, collecting dust.

If anything, I mostly use the optical drive on my Xbox One for movies. It is the main, and pretty much only, thing I am actually using the drive for, because the local Redbox is still a great option for renting a movie on a Friday night, and who the heck owns a Blu-ray player, except people that don’t have a PlayStation 4 or an Xbox One?

So, where does that leave me?

In the end, especially given the likely performance differential I alluded to earlier, assuming the performance variance between the all digital and “full” versions that are rumored right now, and even knowing I’ll almost never use it, I’d go with the higher performance factor and pay for the device WITH the drive. However, many-a-gamer with limited budgets or and/or less desire to shell out more money for the ultra-high performance the PS5 and XSX are supposed to put out will be looking for a budget conscious option. It looks like Microsoft and Sony would be smart to, and perhaps are, preparing to deliver.

Human’s hate change. It is in our DNA.

While there is definitely a desire for the physical media, it almost seems that is more of a holdover to cater to black-Friday sales and the like. Maybe it’s the sense of nostalgia, or that it feels more “real” to us. Eventually, media delivered gaming will be solely something reserved for the dealers of electronics antiquities.

Really though, what IS the incentive keeping Microsoft and Sony putting in the drive. They are likely anticipating the dissatisfaction that customers would spew there way, in the same way that Samsung took a lot of flack from their devotees when they decided to SUGGEST purging the Galaxy of an slot for external media (they finally relented with the Note10.) This, plus the usefulness to its customers of having an optical drive to play UHD movies are good incentives. Pretty soon though, the drive will be irrelevant.

In reality, PC/Mac gamers have been doing largely media-free gaming for years, (and smartphone and tablet devices exclusively since their advent.) Because of services like Valve’s Steam, a demonstrably huge success, I have been buying games from them for years with good reason. They frequently have huge sales with large sums marked-off of debut prices, just months after launch of popular titles. I’m patient, and as there are SO MANY games I have yet to play, I just buy the ones I want when they go on sale. I NEVER go looking for PC games on disc. Seriously. Who even does that? I don’t want them. I have tons of them that take up closet space. I don’t need more.

And despite the promise of discounts, I rarely step foot in a Gamestop to buy used games. Why not? Not worth it. As I said, I hate their guts. Why? They sell pre-owned games to gamers by cheating other pre-owners out. They sell the games new at release for decent margins. They then buy them back for significantly less, less probably than they paid for them the first time they bought them for sale. (Naturally, they ARE used.)

It’s why they make the great margins I quoted them talking about in their annual report. Because they then resell the games for a minimally discounted price off an unopened box. Peruse their website for used titles, and they will show side by side the new and pre-owned pricing. No big values here. (Leaving out the fact that they sell a premium membership to their most dedicated customers for the enticement of a slightly larger trade in, and a slightly better discount on SOME things. However, you need to use it A LOT to make back that membership fee. And all to the benefit of Gamestop.)

As a result, they often make more the second time around, even while loyal customers get marginal benefit. I’m all for free market capitalism, but its among the reasons why many people dislike Gamestop.

I’d rather just give my money over to the Microsoft Store, Steam, etc. so the developers get at least SOME of the money, though we could debate about their rights to control proceeds from their IP all day.

What does the future hold?

I think that in a (near) future world, we can largely expect the trend to continue to go toward all-digital and even (eventually) entirely cloud-based gaming. I imagine eventually, it won’t be dissimilar in ways from the world depicted in Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One (less the whole dystopian aspect.) It will take time. Humans hate change. It is in our DNA.

I would be hardly surprised if, by the time the NEXT nextgen consoles come around- that being the Sony PlayStation 6 (yeah, I don’t see them changing their naming scheme) and the Xbox whatever-the-hell-random-name-it-will-be come out, one or both will abandon the optical drive entirely. If it was a bet I could take right now, I’d put my money it.

I’ve given this a fair amount of thought, but we’d love to hear your opinions on the topic. Post in the comment section below. Happy gaming!

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