ROM-COM: Australia’s still in love with CDs when it comes to gaming

- June 28, 2024 4 MIN READ
PS4 gaming console
Photo: AdobeStock
Despite a global push for download-only gaming, the latest data confirms we’re a holdout country for physical copies.

Australia has always been quick to adopt technology trends. Nine out of ten of us own a smartphone and unlike many other developed economies the vast majority of payments in this country are made digitally. We’re even debating whether cash has a future here.

Yet, there’s one category where we’re content to lag slightly behind: the digital-only purchase of games.

While headline figures show that spending on video games in Australia is growing (up 5% on 2022), a deeper dive into 2023 Australian Consumer Sales Data reveals more nuanced insights.

The latest data confirms we’re bucking the global trend regarding digital-only game purchases. While over half of Australians are happy to purchase games digitally, we’re still below the latest global benchmark of 70% digital purchases for new releases.

Moreover, digital sales in Australia are fluctuating rather than growing, despite the introduction of disc-less gaming consoles in 2020.

Physical vs digital game sales in Australia

So why is this the case?

The Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (IGEA) publishes the data in partnership with game industry data companies Sparkers and Newzoo.

IGEA’s CEO Ron Curry says the data shows a preference in Australia for traditional retail services.

“Retailers continue to provide a customer service experience that many consumers desire,” he says.

“Certain players also like owning physical copies of games, and with console units and associated accessories still incredibly popular, we expect physical products to be around for a long time.”

Yet, there are other factors at play.

One key difference between Australia and other markets that may explain our trend-bucking is the price discrepancy between digital-only games and their physical counterparts. Take, for instance, Rise of Ronin, a premium PS5 game released earlier this year.

In the US, the game pre-ordered and sold for US$70 (A$105) in both retail stores (Walmart, Kmart, BestBuy) and on the PlayStation digital store. In Australia, however, the same game sold for A$109 on Amazon, Big W, and JB Hi-Fi at launch, and A$124.95 on the PlayStation digital store and at EB Games — which price matches other retailers on request.

What makes this price discrepancy even more baffling is that video game publishers earn less from physical sales. While the industry is generally opaque about its costs and revenue streams, a 2020 post from Japanese gaming analyst firm Kantan Games contends first-party publishers make 53.8% less revenue on the physical sale of a US$70 game.

This calculation may not be representative of the arrangement publishers have with Australian video game retailers. However, it suggests that the digital stores run by Nintendo, Xbox, and Sony could easily afford to match prices offered by retailers if they wanted to promote further digital sales.

There are a couple of ways to look at all of this.

Either Australians are paying a premium for digital distribution, and by the numbers, most of us are happy to pay it.

Or, retailers in Australia are holding the line against digital distribution by eating into their own margins with new release titles.

And in an era where video game publishers can simply remove a game from an online store at a moment’s notice, regardless of whether you’ve purchased it, there is still merit to owning a physical copy.

All in all, the data positions Australia as an unusual outlier in a global push toward digital-only gaming. One that we can only assume will intensify given it increases the margins of game publishers.

What I’m Playing: Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree

After a long slog, here’s proof I actually made it to the expansion.

Within a week, Shadow of the Erdtree has become the highest-rated downloadable add-on to a game of all time. It well and truly deserves this praise… but I have concerns.

I’m a huge fan of FromSoftware games and know their expansions to be notoriously tough — I don’t think I’ve finished one.

This latest one is no exception, and to the surprise of many, it’s huge. I’d consider it the equivalent of Spider-Man: Miles Morales (an unusual semi-sequel to the PS4’s Spider-Man) in terms of size, and this was sold for less than a typical standalone game.

My issue stems from how inaccessible this add-on is. First off: You need to beat two tough (somewhat optional) bosses to access the content. That’s fine, and somewhat normal for FromSoftware expansions. They also flagged this a month ahead of time.

The subtext, however, is that you really need a character that has beaten Elden Ring and is above level 150 to progress through Shadow of the Erdtree smoothly. Beating the main game — or at least getting up to the final boss — unlocks a lot of time-saving hacks that will make using new, but incredibly strong weapons in the expansion easier through being able to level them up quickly.

Why is this an issue? Elden Ring has an interesting New Game Plus mechanic that allows you to reboot the world of the game and start again on a higher level.

If you’re like me, you beat Elden Ring, started a New Game Plus, and then never finished that second playthrough. That creates an issue for accessing the Shadow of the Erdtree content that we haven’t seen before in earlier FromSoftware expansions.

There is no elegant workaround here. You have to put in the work. The same goes for starting a new character just to see the new content (which I did).

Take it from me: Beelining the game to hit Shadow of the Erdtree is not advised.

Other than this, Shadow of the Erdtree is an absolute blast. The new system of “levelling” your character through collecting fragments in the world is a lot better than how progression has been handled in past expansions.

Fights with bosses are challenging but fair and present unusual attack patterns and mechanics not seen in the main game. The ‘classic’ dungeons are vast and unique. You’ll be doing a lot more jumping in Shadow of the Erdtree, as platforming mechanics feature heavily in the level design compared to the base game.

And they already had me sold when it was announced there are new martial arts based weapons for your character.

Worth trying if you like: The base game of Elden Ring, Nioh, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Ghost of Tsushima.

Available on: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S

Harrison Polites writes the Infinite Lives newsletter. Follow him here.