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Published March 25, 2015

Digital versus Physical: it’s the debate that continues to define this generation of consoles. Starting with the game trade-in debacle of the Xbox One announcement, all the way through the reality of needing to install every game - disc or otherwise - the impact of the new reality of game distribution is significant. Don’t get me started on how boring my unboxing experiences were for both consoles…

So what have people done in this new era of game ownership? Did the masses remain resolute in their preference for physical media? Did everyone switch to the bold new future of digital “ownership”?

I’ll start with what I ended up doing. I’m a pretty big proponent of digital media; just take a look at my extensive (shameful?) Steam library. But now that we’re over a year into these new consoles, what did I end up really doing? Here’s a picture of the top shelf of my current DVD rack:


A decent selection, but you’ll see these titles fall into two different categories: launch window and gift.What remains are:

  • inFAMOUS: Second Son
  • Mario Kart 8
  • Super Mario 3D World
  • Pikmin 3

I traded two other launch games you don’t see - NBA 2K14 and Killzone: Shadowfall - for inFAMOUS when I realized I would never play those, and I purchased Super Mario 3D World at the same time as my Wii U. It’s basically a late launch game for me. Mario Kart 8 was purchased while I was away from home in a moment of weakness, and Pikmin 3 was picked up used.

So, yeah, I’m not big on purchasing games on physical media, but it happens from time to time.

Am I alone in my preference or is the tide turning on physical media?

There aren’t many good resources on this; the NPD doesn’t have a good estimate of digital sales so their estimates are suspect. Valve, Nintendo, Sony et al. don’t have a lot of incentive to divulge those numbers as long as retailers continue to be happy enough to stock their consoles. Valve sort of gets a pass on this one due to the likelihood that Steam Machines will be sold through the individual companies producing them more than on brick-and-mortar shelves.

Luckily, there was a NeoGAF post concerning this very topic in which posters divulged their ratios of physical to digital purchases in the most recent console generation. I tallied up the first 50 posters that responded with specific numbers - a lot of people just posted a ratio - so this is by no means a definitive or truly statistically significant survey. I’m sure some six sigma black belt out there will tell you that you only need three responses to make decisions. Engineering smack-talk!

Here’s a quick scatter of the responses I recorded:


The total ratio was 432 physical copies to 968 digital versions (2.24:1), which means I’m the norm, right? Unfortunately, there are some problems with the population. The responders represent the behaviors of NeoGAF posters, not the behavior of the average consumer.

A couple things did stand out to me reading through the responses. Firstly, the digital folks tended to go hard into digital; just look at the density on the left side of the graph. Second, Xbox One owners tended to go digital more than Playstation 4 owners. Moreover, people who gave both ratios tended to go physical on PS4 and digital on Xbox One. Not sure why that is, though I should note I did the same thing; the bulk of my PS4 games are physical and the majority of my XB1 games are digital.

Going forward, I can give you one more chart to watch in order to see the general consumer behaviors:

GME Stock

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