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Back in 2013, the gaming public was not ready for what Microsoft wanted to say. The era of physical discs was ending. If they still existed, they’d be little more than licenses for digital copies of games, rather than games themselves.
Everyone hated it. No more game sharing (as Sony demonstrated in a now famous video). No more physical collection. No more resales to GameStop. Microsoft would be shattering decades old pillars of the industry. Eventually, the pushback was forceful enough where they had to relent.
Now in 2023, they’re about to do it again. Though this time, pushback is so far a lot more muted. The just-leaked Xbox Series X redesign is not just a cylinder instead of a box, it also has no disc drive, a difference from the current Series X and joining the Series S, which didn’t have one from the start.
And it may simply be the inevitable end of the road. While video game consoles are not going away, as has been previously predicted, the discs themselves are now not long for this world. And once Xbox stops selling its current disc versions of Series X, replaced by the digital cylinder, that will be zero current Xbox hardware that uses them.
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The writing is on the wall here. In 2022, a reported 72% of console sales were digital . Something like 99% of PC sales are digital. Mobile games obviously don’t have physical versions at all. And those console numbers keep climbing and climbing year after year. For that remaining 28% (and shrinking) what are the odds that when discs go away they just stop buying games, or they simply adapt? They’ll adapt, even if they won’t be happy about it.
This isn’t to say this is “good” for the consumer. The main reason this is happening is because it’s good for Microsoft or Sony. There is less overheard when you don’t have to print and ship physical discs. Sold through their native storefront, GameStop or Best Buy is not getting a cut. And yes, it does more or less kill the used games market entirely with no discs to resell.
The consumer benefits exist but they’re…somewhat minimal. Yes, I do prefer a download to having a disc mailed to me or buying it at a shop. I prefer playing games off my SSD rather than swapping discs around every time I want to play something different. But it wouldn’t matter to me if the disc option was still there. But now that will soon be gone.
For Microsoft especially, this was inevitable. Not only did they try to do something like this a decade ago, perhaps being way too ahead of their time, but they are moving toward Cloud gaming where even then the console won’t be necessary, much less a disc. Though no doubt they will keep selling consoles for a while yet, past this generation, certainly.
As for Sony, we know a PS5 Pro is in the works. It stands to reason Sony may make the call to have that be digital-only as well, which saves money (naturally, the disc-less Xbox Series X costs the same as the disc-having one), and would start pushing out the existing PS5 that uses discs..
But because disc-using PS5s and Xbox Series Xs will still exist in this generation, even if they stop being sold, physical games will still have to be made for them. But next generation? It’s over. Get ready for it.
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