Are Lower Prices Worth Sacrificing Physical Media?

A soul for a soul.

Alan Wake 2 Editions
Alan Wake 2

Over the past few weeks and months, a trend has started to emerge regarding upcoming video games. Prices for certain games appear to be on the decline, which is great, but it’s come at the cost of physical media, and in an age where games are delisted on the regular, this could be a huge problem with regards to preservation. While lower prices for video games in a cost of living crisis is certainly a good thing, should physical media be sacrificed in that pursuit?

This debate has started with two games, Alan Wake 2 and the atrociously titled Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name, both of which will be releasing as digital only titles (in certain territories for the latter), with a lower price point to match. Both games will be available for around £45, and given that Alan Wake 2 and Like A Dragon Gaiden will likely offer an experience on par with a AAA game (that has the £70 price point to match), that certainly sounds like a good deal.

Alan Wake 2
Alan Wake 2

What’s perhaps most baffling is that Like A Dragon Gaiden in particular is receiving a physical release in Asia, but only for PlayStation consoles. For PC and Xbox, it’ll be a digital only title. Some sites have reportedly listed the game for pre-order physically, but there’s been no confirmation from SEGA that it’ll be a physical release. Considering how the video game market in Asia is dominated by digital media and mobile gaming in particular, the decision to release a disc-based version of Like A Dragon Gaiden there alone, and just for one platform, is strange to say the least.

Either way, physical media seems to be something that the gaming industry is attempting to phase out slowly but surely. PC has been a digital-only platform for years now, but with PlayStation and Xbox now offering current-gen consoles without a disc drive, a good portion of the gaming public can now only access video games by playing them digitally. At some point soon, it’s likely that we’re going to have a digital-only landscape in gaming.

Like A Dragon Gaiden
Like A Dragon Gaiden

Still, that’s not the reality we’re living in right now, as not everywhere in the world can support a digital-only gaming lifestyle, while there are others who simply prefer to own games physically. The threat of a game being delisted doesn’t mean so much when you’re holding the disc itself. But when bigger games start going down the digital-only route, citing the costs of producing the discs as the reason why, it’s hard not to think that physical media is going the way of the dodo.

So where does that leave the consumer? Again, cheaper prices for bigger games is a good thing, but so is the ability to choose. If a player wants to buy games physically, they should be allowed to do that, so when digital-only releases extend beyond just indie games, the physical consumer is receiving the short end of the stick. In those instances, most who prefer physical media would probably be willing to pay a little extra for the privilege, so you have to wonder if companies would be losing money in that instance.

Like A Dragon 8
Like A Dragon Gaiden

On the flip side, arts and recreation are an important medium that many seem to forget about when money starts getting tight, so publishers and developers that are offering AAA-like experiences for a much lower price point is a good thing. Gaming should be for everyone, not just those who can easily afford it, so a company doing something to drop that barrier to entry is nice.

Consumers should be given the choice above all else, as there’s costs and benefits associated with both physical and digital media. Physical media can be more expensive and restricted by limited stock, but from a preservation standpoint, it’s unparalleled. For the money savvy gamer, physical media can also be preferable due to pre-owned games and ability to resell older games, allowing them to save cash while still enjoying their hobby.

Like A Dragon Gaiden
Like A Dragon Gaiden

Meanwhile, digital is aimed more at the instant gratification crowd, allowing people to get their product as soon as possible. Instead of waltzing into your nearest gaming shop and hoping they have what you want in stock, digital games theoretically never go out of stock (until they get delisted, anyway), and you also don’t have to wait until whatever time Amazon delivers your game. If it’s available at midnight, you can play it from midnight.

Regardless of which side of the debate you sit on, gaming is currently trending towards all digital, with a reported 90% of gaming purchases being digital in 2022. Granted, that figure isn’t the full story, as mobile gaming accounts for a huge chunk of gaming sales in general, while DLC packs and microtransactions have also been big business for a lot of companies. Physical media is actually just one part of the gaming experience, for better or worse.

Unfortunately, the grim reality is that these lower price points for digital-only games like Alan Wake 2 and Like A Dragon Gaiden feel like anomalies that won’t happen again, and it’ll be our fault. Many have made the argument over the years that digital games should be cheaper than physical ones, due to the lack of production costs and the like, and now that games have moved to digital-only, the prices have shrunk drastically.

Alan Wake 2
Alan Wake 2

If these were the prices that games could have been digitally, but we’ve still been buying games digitally for £60-£70, what’s the incentive for games companies to keep the prices down if they go digital-only too? We’ve been shovelled slop for years and wolfed it down just fine, so they’re going to keep serving it to us.

Even though digital seems to be the future of gaming, companies like Nintendo have still been championing physical media, and have been rewarded for it by the consumer. Their most recent release, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, saw people queuing around the block for days at the New York City Nintendo Store, something that used to feel commonplace years ago. Now, most people are just content to hit download and be done with it.

While we’re being given lower prices now, the fact that gaming companies have been able to charge more for games already means that lower prices in a digital-only future probably won’t be the norm, meaning the death of physical media would have come for nothing. As always, it would just be corpos looking to do corpo things.

READ MORE: Digital vs. Physical Games: The Pros and Cons

Some of the coverage you find on Cultured Vultures contains affiliate links, which provide us with small commissions based on purchases made from visiting our site. We cover gaming news, movie reviews, wrestling and much more.