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Frontier CEO David Braben believes the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the transition away from physical video games.
Speaking during GamesIndustry.biz’s Investment Summit Online, the Elite Dangerous studio founder noted that a significant amount of people had turned to digital video games during the pandemic, and suggested that as a result, it could be just a number of years before physical “more or less goes away.”
“We’ve seen an acceleration in the transition from physical to digital,” he said. “That is a good thing. It’s probably two to three years before physical more or less goes away, and it’s probably accelerated that timescale a bit.”
Digital sales for both PlayStation and Xbox games have increased significantly in the past months, which GamesIndustry’s Chris Dring noted is “unheard of in a year where new consoles are due to arrive.”
In their latest financial results Electronic Arts, Sony and Take-Two all reported that digital now accounts for half of their console game sales, with that percentage expected to grow as the year progresses.
NPD and GfK figures also showed a dramatic increase in physical game sales last month. Over one million games were sold in the UK in April, making it the most successful April for physical game sales in five years.
Frontier’s Braben suggested that the benefits the games industry has felt during the pandemic could continue even after social isolation, but cautioned that the business should be aware of how fortunate it was to be in such a position.
“We’re very lucky to be in a really great industry where, from a financial point of view, things are going really well,” he said. “Sales are up, the number of players in our games are up quite substantially, so there’s that really positive side [to things].
“Some of this is actually quite sticky. We first saw this in China, where there was quite a big uplift in players during their lockdown back in February. What’s interesting is we get foresight of things with China going back to work, and we do see a slightly higher level of sales still persisting than we did beforehand.”
He added: “There’s a really strong silver lining here. The difficulty is you don’t want to be going, ‘Oh, this is all great’ because we know some people are finding it hard, some people’s partners have been made redundant or are struggling, so there’s a balance there. But overall, it’s been pretty good for our industry.”
Braben’s full GamesIndustry.biz Investment Summit Online talk can be viewed via the video below.
Gaming platforms have seen a significant rise in engagement in recent months, as many countries around the world advised their citizens to stay at home due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Gaming content on YouTube generated 17 billion views during the week of March 30 – a record high for the video sharing platform.
Microsoft also announced record engagement figures for gaming services, with Xbox Live active users approaching 90 million and Game Pass subscribers topping 10 million during the company’s third financial quarter ended in March.