One of the promises of this new generation was that if you wanted you could have your entire game library digitally available to you. But like most things the reality isn’t exactly as promised. It is in fact possible to buy every game you want for either your PlayStation 4 or Xbox One digitally and on the same day it’s released in retail stores. This lets you have all of your games available to you on your system or even on a friends system after logging into your profile and re-downloading anything you need, no disks required. The downside is the pricing. Without any physical items or boxes, and no logistical back-end costs associated with shipping, digital prices remain exactly the same as retail at launch and surprisingly digital prices stay the same long after retail has started to offer discounts.
To help make better sense of this I’ll use actual examples. As of today if you were to look at Bestbuy.com you would see Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4 on sale for the Xbox One for $49.99 either in store or for online order and shipment. On the Xbox Live Marketplace those titles are full price, $59.99. Forza Motorsport 5 and Dead Rising 3 are both listed on bestbuy’s site for $48.99 and are also full price on Microsoft’s digital store. All of these titles have been available for the same amount of time on the Xbox One which is since launch, yet the digital store has never had any sort of sale or reduction in pricing. When retail stores have to account for physical items and costs associated with shipping and displaying games why is it that they are faster at offering a discounted price then a digital store that does nothing more than host a file for customers to download?
From day one a digital version of a game should be cheaper, there’s simply less cost associated with delivering that code to the customer so they should receive a lower price. The reason they don’t is likely pressure from retail partners who are scared to death of an all digital model. Not everyone is comfortable or even able to download every game they want for a console. It’s possible they prefer the ability to trade titles back in or have slow unreliable internet which would make the actual act of downloading a pain. Game publishers still need a strong retail presence so to make those partners happy digital versions of games go up at the same price, but I fail to see why they stay the same price for so much longer. The PlayStation Network is guilty of the exact same thing though a little bit of leeway can be thrown in their direction due to the incredible value of their subscription service PlayStation Plus.
I’m sure eventually the digital prices for these particular games will drop from anywhere between 10% to 50% off, but sometimes they don’t for excessively long periods of time, particularly very popular games. Many money conscious consumers will wait to buy new titles several weeks after release knowing that they tend to drop in price, the convenience of a digital purchase at full price wouldn’t out-way the savings. Until these digital storefronts are free to compete with retailers they aren’t a very viable option for most consumers. I was excited about building a digital library that could follow me anywhere but the truth is I couldn’t afford it.