The $399 digital edition of the PlayStation 5 without a disc drive may be available at US retailers for a much shorter time this holiday season than the $499 version with a standard disc drive. That’s based on an Ars Technica analysis of PS5 pre-order hardware assignments this week at GameStop locations across the country.
Ars was able to confirm the first pre-order assignments for PS5 for nine separate GameStop locations. All told, about 24 percent of the inventory available in these locations was taken up by the digital edition, and the remaining 76 percent for the standard edition.
Digital Edition ratios at individual locations ranged from 13 to 33 percent of all available PS5 preorders, with 20 percent being the most common ratio. Each individual GameStop location in our sample received a total of 15 to 30 PS5 units, with 20 being the most common.
While this handful of stores doesn’t quite represent a scientific retail study, the story is consistent enough across multiple locations across multiple geographies to suggest a nationwide trend. And while we couldn’t confirm the allocations at other retailers, Ars Technica has confirmed with well-placed sources familiar with at least one other retailer that there are similar allocation ratios for the PS5 Digital Edition.
[Update: Best Buy Canada’s web site reportedly showed 19,000 Standard Edition and 3,000 Digital Edition pre-orders available on Wednesday, which would mean just 13 percent of stock was reserved forthe Digital Edition.]
The numbers reported here reflect the first pre-order to deliver of available PlayStation 5 units in these stores; it is not necessarily the family member question for any type of system. All the stores Ars spoke to sold out within minutes of their original PS5 pre-order assignments, so it’s hard to tell how demand for either option matches these supply numbers. However, we’ve heard some anecdotal reports from pre-order customers looking for the digital edition but settling for the more expensive standard edition when the first sold out.
Does Sony want to make them?
Neither GameStop nor Sony have responded to an Ars Technica request for comment as of press time, so we’re left speculating a bit about the reasons behind the apparent lack of Digital Edition consoles thus far.
One possibility is that Sony’s initial allocation of PS5 units across the board is just skewed toward the Standard Edition. That could reflect Sony’s belief that demand for the cheaper system is generally lower and that the majority of PS5 buyers are willing to invest the extra cash in a disc drive. Failing that, it may reflect a belief that early adopters in particular, are willing to spend more on the “full-fledged” version of the system, while budget-conscious buyers are more willing to wait until the launch zeal has abated before purchasing the digital edition.
A lack of Digital Edition consoles may also reflect Sony’s desire to maximize hardware revenue at launch. Since the drive in the system is likely to cost much less than $100 for Sony to manufacture, the Standard Edition is likely to deliver better profit margins. However, a sale of the digital edition could be worth more to Sony in the long run, as selling software to those customers will avoid any cuts made by retailers.
The first (and only) previous time Sony launched gaming hardware that couldn’t play games from physical media was the 2009 PSP Go. However, low initial demand for that device led to a massive price drop and eventual discontinuation in less than two years. year.
The digital game download market has changed a lot since then; Sony said 74 percent of all game sales were digital downloads for the most recently reported fiscal quarter (up from 53 percent a year ago). Still, after experiencing the PSP Go experience, Sony can still be a little shy about going too hard with the idea of a purely digital system out of the gate.
Do retailers want to sell them?
The other big possibility is that GameStop as a whole (and maybe other retailers) simply ordered fewer units of the Digital Edition than the Standard Edition. Again, that could simply reflect retailers’ expectations regarding relative demand for both options.
However, in the case of GameStop, there may be an added incentive not to sell a console that cannot play discs. After all, GameStop still makes most of its money from selling physical games, including the high margins from buying and reselling used discs. When a GameStop customer buys the PS5 Digital Edition, it could be the last time that customer ever buys a game from GameStop.
When GameStop confirmed in a recent earnings call that it would be selling the digital edition of the PS5, CEO George Sherman expressed his skepticism that the era of games on discs would soon come to an end. “Consumers like the physical aspects of games,” he said. “They collect them and they add value in return. So as software continues to evolve with dramatically better graphics, it doesn’t take up valuable storage space and drives are available to those without broadband internet.”
That may well be true. But if more people start buying the digital edition of the PlayStation 5 (or the comparable discless Xbox Series S), it’s a good sign that consumers generally aren’t living up to Sherman’s expectations.
With initial PS5 deliveries likely to sell out quickly over the holiday season, it may be a while before we see if Digital Edition’s PS5 deliveries closely match demand for the cheaper option. If they do, we expect Sony to adjust its production ratios up or down relatively quickly according to what the market says. For now, it seems clear that the lion’s share of PS5 sales will come with a disc drive.
List image by Sony Interactive Entertainment