Whether you like it or not, convenience will always triumph over perceived treasures. Physical media is one such treasure for most people. Even I have a collection of blu-rays, CDs, and video games discs. I think it also safe to assume we all do. But over the years, we have seen physical media shrink. More people have moved to listening to music via streaming apps. As well as digital movie sites, like Vudu and others allow people to buy digital copies and watch them whenever and wherever they want. It was nostalgic to have cassette players clipped to our belts or holding onto a CD player while wandering about. As well as blowing into a cartridge from the N64 days to the Gameboy if you were around for that time.
But times always change and it’s becoming increasingly apparent that digital is going to be the way all of us consume media. It has already begun with music due to services like Spotify and TV shows and movies, with streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Prime Video and making the anime space become more popular with services like FUNimation, Crunchyroll and Hidive. But surely it would remain two separate markets, right? Where these services would exist for the target demographic and physical media would remain for those who go out and collect.
Well, unfortunately, that is not the case. As it has been confirmed that Best Buy, following Target’s lead is going to be removing physical media. Such as DVDs and the like starting next year. This is of course upsetting, but there is a reason for this, whether you like it or not.
Services Took Over
When it comes to streaming services, there are a lot that popped up prior to the pandemic years ago and more afterwards. The most popular of the bunch being the aforementioned Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ and Prime Video. These services offer countless people the ability to watch whatever they want, whenever they want. Instead of going to a theater, or going to a supermarket or mom and pop shop to pick out something to watch. It allowed people to just pay a small fee and enjoy everything those services have to offer. But for those who are not necessarily interested in those services, sites like Vudu offer the ability to watch new releases digitally for nearly the same price as the services themselves or going to a theater.
Obviously with these in the way, it has eventually led to the physical market to shrink, and why? Well, making DVDs and shipping them to a store is not a great process for those in the know. I work at a retail store in the department that handles this stuff, and I can guarantee you it’s becoming annoying to maintain. We get almost every single new release and outside of certain popular releases. Such as Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3, and soon Barbie, they just do not sell. Even with popular releases, we would sell maybe a handful and the rest get shuffled to other sections before being sent back and whatever happens afterwards, I have no info on.
The process of just going to a store and finding what you want in whatever version you would like. Considering it is not just DVDs, it’s also Blu-ray and 4k Blu-ray becomes too much to figure out for the average person. Everyone would rather just sit at home and buy it digitally or stream it leading to fewer and fewer sales. Convenience is always going to triumph on that front. Some movies that arrive in the store I work even have the words “Collector’s Edition”. Signifying that the market understands that physical media is not the norm anymore.
But this will also start to affect other forms of physical media, such as video games.
All Digital Future for Video Games
As rumored by Josh Fairhurst, the CEO of Limited Run Games, Wal-Mart may be removing physical Xbox games. With more shrinkage to other game platforms sections eventually.
I would expect to see this trend continue in 2024. I've heard rumblings that Wal-Mart is dropping physical Xbox games soon, and I have to imagine further cuts to physical gaming sections will be made as we get deeper into next year. https://t.co/iKIEaDEGmf
— Josh Fairhurst (@LimitedRunJosh) October 12, 2023
Obviously, this is just a rumor but one I can back up with the state of physical games in my store.
Xbox games, similar to the PlayStation in my store are overflowing with game boxes we cannot send back nor mark down. The PlayStation section is especially worse than the Xbox section considering more copies are shipped for PlayStation games. Taking up so much space that it eats into the console cabinets. These are losses for the store considering unlike DVDs and the like, we are not permitted to remove them. If the rumor is true, then eventually this issue will be resolved. But for gamers who enjoy physical media, it is going to be more upsetting when companies exit physical media altogether.
I think you are correct – if I had to guess, Xbox will probably be out of physical media worldwide in the next five years.
— Josh Fairhurst (@LimitedRunJosh) October 12, 2023
Twitter user Rodrigo Ferro does match up with speculation of where physical media is heading. As the only games we consistently sell a lot of are blockbuster titles. Such as:
- Grand Theft Auto.
- Call of Duty.
- Mario, Legend of Zelda, and other various Nintendo properties.
My store has a dedicated section to games that we consistently sell, and that might be what remains of the physical media if the rumors are true.
The Nintendo case in my store is nowhere near in the state as the other two. Considering the Nintendo Switch by design feels catered to physical media releases. Considering the small amount of storage that comes baked into the system, and the clunky digital storefront. But despite all of that, all three console platforms, Xbox, Nintendo, and PlayStation have seen more digital sales than physical.
It will always come to the convenience factor as well. Considering digital pre-load for games make it easier to enjoy modern game releases over the physical counterpart. Not to mention that both Xbox and PlayStation have their own multi-game subscription services that allow people to enjoy games similar to how they currently enjoy movies, TV shows, and music.
Why is Physical Media Dying?
Well, as mentioned over various forms of media and the state of those markets, it was and will continue to be sales. When things do not sell in the physical market, they are left to be marked down, or shipped back. Maintaining thousands upon thousands of individual pieces of media is difficult and not sustainable in the current market.
CDs and Vinyl made a comeback recently but even in my store, those do not sell as well. The same can be said for books, people would rather buy audiobooks or read them from their phone, or tablet. It is no one’s fault specifically, it is just convenient for consumers and retailers to not hang on to physical media. Sites like Limited Run Games may be the last bastion for games on that front. As well as Nintendo probably being the last one to cater to physical games.
Both PlayStation and Xbox are also going to eventually focus on just digital media, as both companies this generation released digital-only consoles.
In fact, as recently leaked, Xbox will be releasing a mid-generation refresh of the Xbox Series X to be focused on digital-only. While PlayStation is also playing around with the idea of removable disc drives in an upcoming refresh. That could mean that both companies can try to offer disc drives on the side. While also selling you a digital-only console.
The all-digital future is on the horizon. But you should not worry about it too much, however. As most games even those with discs always have day-one patches or are unfinished for weeks. Such as the recently released Lords of the Fallen. You cannot avoid it, but you can always wait to ensure what you buy or download from subscription services are good for you.