Physical Console Games Are Quickly Becoming a Relatively Niche Market

According to a new exclusive analysis of NPD Game Pulse data conducted by Ars Technica, the number of physical console game releases continues to decline even as the number of digital console games explodes. From the report: In terms of distinct game titles released in the United States, the raw number of new games available on physical media (i.e. discs or cartridges) declined from 321 in 2018 to just 226 in 2021, a nearly 30 percent decline (games released on multiple consoles are counted as a single title in this measure). The number of digital games released each year, on the other hand, remained relatively flat from 2018 through 2020. Then, in 2021, that number exploded to nearly 2,200 digital titles, a 64 percent increase from 2020. All told, the proportion of all new console games available exclusively as digital downloads increased from 75 percent in 2018 to nearly 90 percent in 2021.

These divergent trends suggest that the decline in new physical releases is not simply an artifact of consoles like the Xbox One and PS4 nearing the end of their lifecycles. Instead, as a whole, publishers seem to see a physical release as a less relevant market for an increasing proportion of titles. But the transition away from physical console games is not distributed evenly across all publishers. The largest publishers are much more likely to go through the hassle and expense of a physical release for their marquee titles. Among major publishers, a slight majority (56.4 percent) of distinct titles released in 2021 were available as physical releases. That’s still a major decline from 2018, though, when nearly 80 percent of titles from those publishers merited a physical launch. When those large publishers are filtered out, though, physical game releases quickly become a very minor part of the market. Just 8.1 percent of new games from those smaller companies were available on physical media in 2021, down in terms of both proportion and raw numbers from 2018.

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