Ubisoft executive Chris Early foresees a future where physical game sales may continue to decline, but he doesn’t think they’ll ever go away completely.
And while the company’s is betting on streaming revolutionising the games industry in the same way it has transformed the TV and film businesses, Early, who was an influential figure in the negotiations for the Activision rights, thinks physical sales will always have a place.
“There’s a collector edition market,” Ubisoft’s SVP, strategic partnerships and business development, told the company’s website. “There’s the aspect of gifting physical items and allowing access for people to be able to easily purchase a game in a store and gift them to their friends or family.
“Some people will always want to own the physical disc. I just don’t think it’s going away. Do I think physical sales might get lower over time? Sure, but will it ever completely go away? I don’t think so.”
Sony, which currently offers disc-based and all-digital versions of the PS5, said digital accounted for 67% of the 264.2 million games sold for its consoles during its last fiscal year ended in March.
While most triple-A games currently receive dual physical and digital releases, some are only available to download.
Alan Wake 2 will be released this month as a digital-only game. Explaining the decision not to release a boxed copy, developer Remedy said: “For one, a large number of [players] have shifted to digital only. You can buy a Sony PlayStation 5 without a disc drive and Microsoft’s Xbox Series S is a digital only console. It is not uncommon to release modern games as digital-only.
“Secondly, not releasing a disc helps keep the price of the game at $59.99 / €59.99 [£49.99] and the PC version at $49.99 / €49.99 [£39.99].”
In June, Circana (formerly NPD) analyst Mat Piscatella said players should expect digital-only releases for consoles to become commonplace over the next few years.
“Digital only AAA releases are here,” he wrote. “Over the next 2 years this trend will accelerate, and by 2028 or so I think it’ll be the norm for most Xbox and PS releases. Nintendo likely won’t move as fast, but then again it’s Nintendo and they’re always full of surprises.”