In a move to digital-only consoles, physical copies of games are on the way out. In this, Sony is creating a monopoly that's bad for gamers.
When I first heard that you could get a digital version of the PS4 and now the PS5, I immediately suspected some nefarious profiteering shenanigans in the death of physical-copy games.
Now a consumer champion in the UK is taking Sony to court for overcharging PlayStation gamers for six years.
Gaming is the biggest entertainment industry in the UK—bigger than TV, movies, or music. Many traditional consumers are unwarranted in often dismissing gaming since it is such a large industry (and with a great pedigree in terms of design in Britain).
There are two things going on here, and both involve Sony making unreasonable profits.
First, Sony has been accused of abusing its dominance in the UK market to impose unfair terms and conditions and prices in its online PlayStation Store. Because they impose a flat 30% fee on developers who want to sell their games in the store, the digital versions are most often more expensive than the physical copies, even though those physical versions incur far greater costs in the production and supply chain.
Consumer advocate Alex Neill has filed a claim, which, as The Guardian reports “uses a British right to collective redress for consumer harms, on behalf of anyone in the UK who purchased digital games or add-on content on the store since 19 August 2016. It seeks damages of between £67 and £562 per individual member, which could take the total sum paid out up to £5bn if successful.”
The second element is the move toward selling digital consoles with no disk drive. They are less expensive consoles to buy, an initial value that attracts the consumer. But this then restricts the gamer to buying games from the PlayStation Store only, thus creating a monopoly. While there are some ways to circumvent having to buy digital games from the PlayStation Store (such as with CD keys), the reality is that phasing out physical copies for games is a way for Sony to completely control pricing.
Soon you will no longer be able to play secondhand games found in a store or a yard sale, or get reduced-priced games in a supermarket sale. Instead, we are moving toward a reality where games will only be obtainable through the PlayStation Store where Sony will monopolistically dictate the price we pay.
It will be interesting to see how the case develops. The lawyer leading the case against Sony, Natasha Pearman, has said: “Sony dominates the digital distribution of PlayStation games and in-game content. It has deployed an anti-competitive strategy which has resulted in excessive prices to customers that are out of all proportion to the costs of Sony providing its services.”
Beware the convenience of a digital-only world. Things may not be as favorable as you might hope.