The Xbox One and PS4 are the first home consoles to truly embrace digital game distribution. With first-tier game titles appearing digitally day and date with their traditional retail counterparts, gamers now have two ways to get their games. But despite the best efforts of marketers to convince us otherwise, consumers have always felt that digital goods should carry at least some cost benefit over their physical equivalents. While the manufacture and distribution of items like video games isn’t responsible for the majority of a publisher’s expenses, there are almost always cost savings involved in distributing the same content digitally compared to physically, and consumers want some of those savings passed on to them.
Now Microsoft has decided to “test” assuaging this consumer desire with the rollout of sale prices for the digital versions Xbox One games. Today through Monday, February 24th, the Xbox One-exclusive title Ryse: Son of Rome is available on the Xbox Marketplace for $39.99 instead of its standard price of $59.99. This discount, which represents about 33 percent off, makes the digital offer less than a used physical copy at a retailer like GameStop, as Xbox Studio Manager Mike Ybarra was quick to point out.
But beating the used game prices at GameStop isn’t much of a challenge, as the retailer is notorious for its high prices and low trade-in values. Digital games also offer the gamer less overall value due to their inability to be sold or traded after purchase. Microsoft will therefore have to expand the availability of digital discounts in order to reach what many would characterize as fair pricing, and Mr. Ybarra claims the company is considering such an initiative.
Ryse may be just the first in a broader push to make digital purchases more appealing to consumers. “[A] lot of people asked for better deals on our digital marketplace, so we’re testing some,” Mr. Ybarra said on Twitter, referring to the aforementioned Ryse and suggesting that others will follow. He also hinted that the company is considering Steam-like pre-orders, which let customers who pre-order a game have it automatically downloaded to their consoles on midnight of the game’s release date. With current-generation games reaching 40GB in size, such a move would help gamers who choose to purchase digitally start playing as soon as possible.
But Microsoft and its publisher partners have the burden when it comes to convincing gamers to switch to digital purchases. Many gamers have responded to Mr. Ybarra’s tweets by pointing out that while GameStop prices are indeed high, other retailers have offered games like Ryse at a discount for some time since its late November release. It’s also unclear how gamers will respond to periodic and limited-time sales of digital content, when the expectation is that such content should always cost less than physical media.
Overall, gamers will likely appreciate the discount on Ryse, but until we get a better picture of where Microsoft is going with digital pricing, we’ll stick to our physical discs.