While I don't have glass cases full of rare items or a complete set of every game released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in North America, I do consider myself a bit of a video game collector. I have thousands of games from across the decades, ranging from the Atari 2600 and Intellivision all the way up to the current era with the Nintendo Switch. It's materialistic, but I take pride in my shelves full of games.
And yet, with the release of the PlayStation 5 and the new Xbox, I can't tell you with any certainty that I will ever buy a physical game disc for these new systems.
This will not be a surprise to Sony or Microsoft. In fact, it's likely exactly what they want to hear. Both hardware makers have come out of the gate this time around with digital-only consoles that do not support physical media at all. Microsoft even boasted in a press release after launch that its digital system, the Xbox Series S, resulted in "the highest percentage of new players for any Xbox console at launch." Heck, at a mere $300, it is by far the cheapest way to get a cutting-edge game console right now. That alone is worth the lack of a disc drive to many people.
There are a lot of benefits for Sony and Microsoft in this deal, not the least of which being that they are now less likely to have to share any profits with a brick-and-mortar retailer, since most games will be purchased directly via the console storefronts. This will also deal a major blow to the used game market, which could be particularly worrisome for GameStop, considering that's been its bread and butter for some time.
But there are major benefits for me as a consumer, too. For starters, going all-digital means I will never again have to get up to swap discs if I decide I want to play another game in the spur of the moment. This will be especially noticeable on the Xbox thanks to the system's Quick Resume feature, which allows players to switch between multiple games in a manner of seconds without requiring them to go back to a main menu.
There is also the simple fact that for most games these days, the physical disc is kind of pointless. I can't tell you how many times I have come home from the store and eagerly inserted the disc for a brand new video game only to have to wait for the console to download 50 GB of updates anyway. Buying a disc at retail doesn't save me any time at all, and in fact only adds to cost of gas to the equation.
Microsoft pushes even harder toward a digital-only utopia with Game Pass, its Netflix-like subscription service that provides all-you-can-play digital access to more than 100 games at a time. Why go buy the new Halo for $60 on a disc when I could just play it alongside a ton of other great games for $10 a month?
There are downsides, too, of course. As we rely more and more on digital downloads for games, anybody suffering under a strict data cap from their internet service provider is going to have a rough time. Are you only able to download 1 TB per month without incurring overage fees? I hope the 10 games you keep on your system don't all have updates too close to each other.
As a lover of game history, I also have significant concerns about the future of game preservation. Retro games on cartridges are wonderful because you can expect them to just work if you put them into a console, even if they are decades old. Sure, the watch battery that stores saved games might be dead, but you can still stick Super Mario World into a Super Nintendo and have a good time within minutes, playing the exact same game you played years before. But if you want to play Ubisoft's The Division in 10 years, will you even be able to, or will the fact that its servers are offline prevent you from ever reliving that experience again?
So I'm not exactly singing from the rooftops about the fact that physical video game media might be dying, but I grow increasingly accepting of the idea every day. I will miss having shelves filled with the latest and greatest games, sorted alphabetically for all my friends to ogle at, but I think it might be time to let go.
(Besides, that just means I have more room in my house to collect old Game Boy cartridges.)