Fewer and fewer console games are seeing a physical release


imagereader comments 160 with 107 posters participating, including story author Enlarge / The number of physical console game releases continues to decline even as the number of digital console games explodes.

Further Reading RIP Virtual Console: Nintendo will shut off Wii U, 3DS game downloads Anyone watching the game industry knows that the console market is quickly shifting away from games sold on physical media and toward the digital download dominance that PC gamers have known for years .But a new exclusive analysis of NPD Game Pulse data conducted by Ars Technica shows the extent of the decline in physical console game production, even as the number of digital console titles continues to explode.In terms of distinct game titles released in the United States, the raw number of new games available on physical media (i.e., discs or cartridges) dropped from 321 in 2018 to just 226 in 2021, a nearly 30 percent decline (games released on multiple consoles are counted as a single title in this measure).

The number of digital games released each year, on the other hand, remained relatively flat from 2018 through 2020.Then, in 2021, that number exploded to nearly 2,200 digital titles, a 64 percent increase from 2020.

Enlarge / The proportion of distinct console games released in physical form has consistently declined in recent years.

All told, the proportion of all new console games available exclusively as digital downloads increased from 75 percent in 2018 to nearly 90 percent in 2021.

An uneven trend The decline in distinct physical releases is not being felt equally across major consoles.Across PlayStation consoles, the total number of new physical releases declined over 38 percent from 2018 to 2021, echoing a nearly 31 percent decline on Xbox consoles.On the Switch, meanwhile, the total number of new physical releases decreased by less than 7 percent over the same period.

Enlarge Enlarge / Total physical releases have been down year over year across PlayStation and Xbox consoles.The number of distinct downloadable titles, on the other hand, increased significantly on all three console families in 2021.

That was especially true on the Switch, which saw a 63 percent increase in the number of new digital releases from 2020 to 2021.

Advertisement Enlarge / The number of physical Switch releases has been relatively flat, while the number of digital releases has exploded.These divergent trends suggest that the decline in new physical releases is not simply an artifact of consoles like the Xbox One and PS4 nearing the end of their lifecycles.Instead, as a whole, publishers seem to see a physical release as a less relevant market for an increasing proportion of titles.

But the transition away from physical console games is not distributed evenly across all publishers.The largest publishers are much more likely to go through the hassle and expense of a physical release for their marquee titles.

Enlarge Enlarge / A slight majority of console games from major publishers still merit a physical release.

Among major publishers, a slight majority (56.4 percent) of distinct titles released in 2021 were available as physical releases.That’s still a major decline from 2018, though, when nearly 80 percent of titles from those publishers merited a physical launch.

(For this analysis, we defined major publishers as those with the most total annual revenue, including: Activision Blizzard, Bandai Namco, Capcom, EA, Konami, Microsoft/Bethesda, Nintendo, Sega, Sony, Square Enix, Take-Two, Ubisoft, and Warner Bros.Interactive.)

Enlarge Enlarge / With major publishers removed, physical console game releases become relatively rare.When those large publishers are filtered out, though, physical game releases quickly become a very minor part of the market.

Just 8.1 percent of new games from those smaller companies were available on physical media in 2021, down in terms of both proportion and raw numbers from 2018.

Advertisement The niche-ening Looking solely at the number of unique titles released gives an incomplete picture of the console gaming market, of course.Games that merit a physical release tend to be some of the most popular titles of the year and probably attract more total sales than the vast majority of bottom-of-the-barrel digital releases.These release numbers also don’t give any visibility into what proportion of sales go to the physical versions of games that are available as both discs and downloads.

But data from elsewhere also supports the idea that games on physical media are quickly becoming a smaller and smaller part of the console market.Capcom said last year that a full 80 percent of its new game sales were digital downloads, while Sony’s 2020 fiscal year results showed a majority of PlayStation full game sales were coming as digital downloads.

There is plenty of other data going back years pointing in the same direction.The wide availability of cheaper, disc drive-free console options from Sony and Microsoft in recent years also suggests physical releases are becoming relatively less important.

Further Reading RIP Virtual Console: Nintendo will shut off Wii U, 3DS game downloads The decline in physical options is increasingly relevant to players given the limited life span of digital console game stores.The coming shutdown of the Wii U and 3DS eShops will mean hundreds of digital-only games on those platforms will no longer be available for purchase.If those games were also available on physical media, on the other hand, they would continue to live on in the secondary market.Physical games aren’t going to go completely extinct any time soon.

As long as there’s a market of game collectors who value a tangible product, there will be physical discs and cartridges to satisfy that market, akin to vinyl records in the music business (sales of which have actually been growing of late ).

But the physical release data makes clear that console gaming’s digital transition is quickly approaching its end game.In the coming years, games released on physical media seem poised to become an increasingly niche concern.

Promoted Comments Light Cavalry Seniorius Lurkius jump to post Articles like this coming out the same week as Nintendo shutters their eshop gives me shudders.24 posts | registered 9/2/2016 malor Ars Tribunus Angusticlavius et Subscriptor jump to post There’s a lot of risk involved in making discs and boxes; it’s a substantial capital investment, and historically, game devs didn’t know if they’d sell enough copies to make it worthwhile.They just had to invest and pray.It also takes real expertise to do it well.

Big companies know perfectly well that SkyDawn ZeroRim 23 will move a ton of copies, and they have the expertise on staff, so investing in boxes and disks is no big deal for them.But little companies probably prefer, for the most part, releasing digitally, because the cost there is a one-shot, and there’s no marginal cost of goods sold afterward.

It reduces their risk, and the only expertise they need is building a binary, not designing a package.9617 posts | registered 8/8/2003.

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