"Death of singleplayer games", underperforming games, and Digital vs Physical copies

  • There is a Tl;dr.

    Most that could be said about Viscerals closure has been said, even going so far to say that "It's the death of singleplayer games". There might be fewer, but I'll get back to that.
    What caught my eye was an article where an ex-Visceral games employee said that at 4 million copies sold, Dead Space 2 underperformed. But it's not the first time we've heard games doing considerably well but still "underperforming". Same thing with Tomb Raider at 3.4m and Hitman: Absolution at 3.6m.
    So most of us know that video game budgets have been getting bigger. Dev teams are getting bigger to match the equally greater ambition and scale of todays games. So if games are getting more expensive to make, then it raises bar on units moved to break even.
    Enter microtransactions (loot boxes or not), DLCs and Season passes to make up for the lost profit margin. Traditional AAA singleplayer video games just aren't as profitable anymore. The rise in prevalence in microtransactions, loot boxes, seasons passes and "games as a service", and Konami reorganizing to move away from video games to focus on pachinko machines and mobile are just some examples to strengthen the point.

    Now, stay with me, let's talk digital and physical sales. Why? because:


    Granted these numbers are from 2010, when the market share between physical and digital was nothing like they are today.


    But I couldn't find anything on how a physical games price tag is split up that's more recent. And I couldn't find anything on how a digital games price tag is split up.

    This is where I go into assumption mode. But bare with me. This is given that the numbers I could find are somewhat relevant and accurate to begin with.
    If you sell online, you don't have to pay a physical retailer cut. No one has to buy a stock of your games. You don't have to produce and ship and stock of your games, that will be returned to you if unsold. "Retailers margin" cut, "Returns" cut, and "Costs of Goods. Disturbution" cut, are no longer a thing. That frees up $26 per $60 game sold. But then there's the cost of putting it up on a digital store, and a digital store cut. But I doubt they are getting up to $26 per $60, because that's almost the same as the publishers and I just don't see that sitting good with someone like Activision, Squenix or EA.
    What I'm thinking is, does going digital help the developers more than buying physical? Could me buying a physical game hurt the developers more than if I had bought it digitally? Could going digital help keep these studios, making singleplayer games, stay afloat in this ever costlier growing industry of ours?

    Could going digital help developers survive by cutting out the unnecessary costs that come with physical copies?

  • I think going digital would help with over all costs. However, the world isn't ready for digital only yet. Its been a slow transition and will probably get there eventually. Two reason for that is because people still buy physical, and second if say Sony pushed digital games over physical one by not producing as many physical or even lowering the price it would create partnership issues with physical retail stores, which even today sell a big chunk of their games for them still. So until customers are buying 90 percent of their games digitally, i don't think its going to help much. Either way, as of now if you buy digitally i doubt developers are bringing in the extra margin, most likely publishers are pocketing that.

  • Can't say anything for sure without concrete data, however, I wouldn't be surprised if it is true that physical releases are becoming increasingly less beneficial for developers/publishers, and that they mostly remain as a remnant of how things have worked in the industry historically, and I wouldn't be surprised if data suggested that physical releases are only beneficial to the biggest of games with the most name/image recognition.

    That said I do think that the real problem with the profitability issues in many cases with the big publishers is because of their stupid expectations, and likely inefficiencies in the development process along with unrealistic expectations, case in point there's no reason as to why Dead Space couldn't still be a success, other than EA not understanding its potential and forcing it to be something it couldn't, which ended up with them losing money (hopefully lots) instead of making money (just not as much as they wanted), and with the mentality of the company the natural reaction was to close a studio with potential, simply because it couldn't meet their ridiculous expectations.

  • I'm no expert in marketing, but it seems absurd to me that anyone would need to spend equal to or more than the development costs of the game to market the darn thing.

    But from a "marketing perspective" I'd think going digital only would lower your presence in the public eye, which, unless you're doing it because you don't expect it to sell enough to cover the costs of a physical release seems counterproductive. Digital sales are growing, yes, but the vast majority of sales are still physical copies.

  • I'm considering going digital because of this. I have adamantly been getting physical copies if I could get my hands on it because of the collection aspect of it. But if it helps the devs more to get digital, while at the same time lessening the enviromental impact, I might just stop collecting.

  • Global Moderator

    This makes you think. I have always prefered physical games. I love the idea of being able to hold it, smell it and it feels more like "mine" when having an actual disk. I guess I dont trust digital enough and what happens when/if digital services closes? However, seeing that developers can save a lot on digital really makes me wonder if its worth going more and more digital for their sake.

  • I will always go for physical, in fact I have no problem paying up to 60 bucks for a physical copy, but digitally my limit is 20, and that has to be an outstanding game I really really really really want (like in the past HuniePop, Rabi-Ribi (which I now have physically as well), and Cuphead). I mean, when i see a PSN sale and a 40€ digital only game was reduced to 30 or so, I'm like "nah, that still way too much" on the other hand when I want to buy a physical game and one store has it for 55 insted of 60 I'm like "sweet, I'm saving 5€ :D".
    And here is another thing, the promise of digital reeases was that the costs for making physical copies would be removed and in return digital games should be cheaper, but no, most of the times I'd actually have to pay more for a digital copy of a new release, like for example, Mario is 59,99 on the e-shop, Amazon sells the physical copy for 54,99, there is that sweet 5€ saving.
    Also, my country still sometiems bans and censors games, easily bypassable by importing physical copies, impossibe to do that digitally thanks to geo locking which means digital only would actually prevent me from buying games I want (like Valkyrie Drive).

    Why does this seem to be an AAA only problem? Niche and indie games constantly get physical releases, but they don't waste millions on marketing. I mean something like Halo doesn't need a multimillion dollar marketing campaign, it's fucking Halo, huge waste of money really.

    Here is what the AAA industry needs to do:
    Lower your fucking expectations
    Stop wasting millions on marketing
    Maybe stop releasing your big game at the same day as another big game comes out (coughLastFridaywithMarioWolfensteinAssGreedcough)

    Also the "Death of Singleplayer" is just EA trying to justify their bullshit, not gonna happen anytime soon, I have bought like 40 physical games this year so far (some more will be added) and every single one of them at least offers an offline singleplayer experience, and the vast majority of them focus on that or don't have an MP to begin with.

  • Banned

    Digital is always cheaper and more convenient, I rarely buy physical copies anymore, not even for my PS4.

  • Like almost any video game statistic, the percentage of digital vs. physical isn't very meaningful without knowing how it's calculated. The figure from the OP most likely takes into account mobile games, as well as in-game purchases, which makes it almost irrelevant in the realm of traditional console games. Actual console game sales are still mostly physical. http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2017-05-10-ea-reckons-40-percent-of-console-game-sales-will-be-downloads-by-the-end-of-2017

    Unrealistic quality and price expectations of the consumers, free full playthroughs on YouTube and Twitch, stagnant market size - I think those are the biggest issues single-player devs are facing right now.

    Oh, and by the way, Steam also takes a 30% cut from your sales. It doesn't take physical releases to end up with a tiny profit margin.

  • really good and interesting topic