Why Aren’t Digital Games Cheaper?

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It has been clear since E3 2013 when the Xbox One and Playstation 4 were announced that Microsoft and Sony wanted this generation of consoles to be mostly, if not, all digital.  This was apparently when Microsoft fumbled their presentation saying there wouldn’t be any used games (which they later walked back and rescinded).  Also both systems require you to install the entire game onto your hard drive, no more popping the game in and playing when you first get it, nope it needs a lengthy install.

We are living in a digital world now, most of us have had an all digital music library for about a decade now (I almost never buy physical copies of music unless it’s a lot cheaper than the Mp3 album, which I then upload to my iPod and promptly lose the CD), and many people download their favorite movies or just stream them off of services like Netflix and Hulu.  Shoot most PC gamers have been digital with their games since 2003 when Valve’s Steam showed up on the scene.  Now consoles want in on that, shoot there are rumors Nintendo’s next console or an update to the Wii U might be all digital.

So with this move to all digital why are we still paying the same $59.99 for a game as if we were getting the physical copy?  When the 360 and PS3 came out game prices were raised from $49.99 to $59.99 causing so much outrage by the gaming community.  Game developers defended the ten dollar increase by saying that it was due to the increase in production costs for the newer discs.  We didn’t like it but accepted it as a price we’d have to pay to enjoy the next generation of gaming.

This generation there was no price increase on the games, at least not one we took notice of.  This generation, most people I know have been buying their games digitally instead of going to Best Buy or Gamestop, but yet they still pay the same $59.99 I am when I buy a physical copy of the game (I can’t help it, I like to actually have a disc).  Though I have purchased a few digital games when they’ve had steep discounts.

I accept my $59.99 price tag for games because there is the packaging and disc (no more user manuals though, sad face), but if I buy the digital copy shouldn’t there be a bit of a discount since there is no packaging and no disc.  Granted I don’t know how much it costs to make those things, but by not having them,  I should be entitled to a couple of bucks off the game, shouldn’t I?

Not to mention that I can trade my game in when I’m done playing it.  For instance, right now I have a copy of Batman: Arkham Knight, because I’m a Best Buy Gamer’s Club Elite member I save 20% off of all new games, so I paid $47.99 for Arkham, and if I wanted to trade it in today I would get a grand total of $38.61 back in credit because the trade in value for the game is $27, plus Best Buy is offering an extra 30% credit when you trade a game in and my elite membership grants me an extra 10% on top of that.  So if I buy a game, beat and don’t want to play it anymore I can get a pretty sizable chuck of my original investment back, for Arkham I would have only lost ten bucks on that deal and could but that $38 in credit towards another game.  You don’t have that option with buying it digital.

One thing that keeps PC gamers coming back to Steam is that games are usually cheaper there than on console (most launch between $39.99 and $49.99) but they also offer steep discounts from time to time on games, some new and some old.  If Sony and Microsoft are serious about going all digital and pleasing game makers by pushing out the used game market then they should follow Steam’s model and offer digital games at a discounted price, not to mention offer up sales on the games from time to time along with sales on DLC.

So to answer the question I posed as to why console digital games aren’t cheaper than their physical counterparts?  It’s easy, they don’t have to because people are paying the full price for these digital games.  As long as those sales are strong then the prices will stay up there.

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About Josh McCain 984 Articles
Where are my manners, allow myself to introduce... ah... myself. I'm Josh, I'm a proud dad and I will probably write the majority of the content you see on this site (and editing 100% of it) because that's my background, writing. I'm an author of two books (Ripper, and Suburban Sky: American Tales) with books three and four on the way... eventually. I also have experience writing for various sites, including Bleacher Report, Redskins101, and more currently you can find me at Goingfor2.com where I write a weekly-ish satirical column. Here are the links to my books if you wish to check them out. Click here for Ripper: http://goo.gl/YGKNSj Click here for Suburban Skies: http://goo.gl/1zrZ6d So that's me in a nutshell. I hope you enjoy the site.


  1. This is one of the most asked questions in regards to e-books as well. Why should an e-book cost as much as a physical copy? Why would I pay the same price for the e-book as the cost of the hard copy? The production costs associated with digital vs physical are probably way different. However, the infrastructure costs for digital content are not inexpensive. To house digital content can cost a lot. But, most of those are sunk costs. They are one time costs. Once the servers are up and running then you only have energy costs associated with powering the hardware. You can account for maintenance and refurbishment of the H/W or the purchase of the H/W, etc, but I am guessing that is not what goes into the pricing model of digital content. I bet the decision makers say to keep the price around the same for digital content because at least the consumer won’t complain too much and since they are used to paying that much anyways, they will just continue to throw money at the screen.
    This all reminds me of the digital revolution that was all started by Apple. The iPod and iTunes completely changed the landscape for music. With everyone carrying a music player in their pocket there was no longer a need to purchase CDs/Vinyl in order to listen to music. Why are the costs the same once the production costs of physically making the CD/Vinyl are out of the picture? I did a quick search on Amazon and the new Disturbed album is $12.49 digitally and $14.88 for the CD. There is no reason the digital version should be 83% of the cost of a physical copy. I suppose if you then account for the cost of Amazon hosting the mp3s on their server and then the associated cost with that hosting (server space, etc etc) then maybe. I completely understand that content makers wish to recoup costs and then also make money, but the 83% cost comparison doesn’t justify the digital cost.
    Bottom line it all comes down to the idea that people are used to paying X cost. Once the industry sets a presidence of cost and the consumer is willing to pay that cost, then they will continue to charge that price for the product. Plus the content makers like this because that is more money in their pockets since now they are removing the cost of most of the physical aspects of the product.

    The pricing model has changed in regards to digital content for games somewhat due to Steam. Most games on Steam are usually less in price than their physical counterpart. Actually… good luck finding a PC game that you can physically buy.
    So, now that digital media has come into the new gen consoles, why do the games cost the same price? It comes down to the consumer willing to pay that cost.
    Ha, most of the time you are better off buying the physical copy because you usually get a nice box and some extra physical goodies. For instance the Collectors’ Edition of Destiny’s The Taken King.

    • Great points James and thanks for reading and the comment. I’m right there with you on buying the physical copies of games, I love having the box art and for certain games I like getting the Collector’s Edition for the cool nick nacks that they come with (though they rarely justify the price we pay for them, except the Pip Boy Fallout 4, I curse the day I hesitated to preorder and now I won’t get one).

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