It’s been announced that Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II isn’t getting a physical release, and that seems to be continuing the trend that has been started with Alan Wake II. While Alan Wake II found itself on many game of the year lists, it didn’t find itself on store shelves in physical form since it was a digital-only release. It looks like Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, the follow-up to 2017’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice will also stay digital only as developer Ninja Theory has recently confirmed.
Digital only looks to be our future, but it’s definitely bad for consumers. And this is the (extremely simplified) reason why: When you buy a digital product, you’re not actually buying the product itself. Instead, you’re often just paying for access to it. With physical media, the agreements are pretty similar, but the access to your physical media can’t be taken away. With a digital product, there are all sorts of reasons and/or ways your access to that piece of media can be revoked.
This loss of access to digital media is already creating a sort of crisis. Some classic movies are almost impossible to find online. For instance, when I look up George Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead on Justwatch.com it succinctly informs me that “This title is not available for streaming.” It’s not like you can run to a video rental store (RIP Blockbuster) or even a Redbox and pick up this movie, so your options truly are limited. You can either pirate the movie (if you have the knowledge and want to take the risk) or you can find a physical copy.
I was a digital only proponent, until I started to lose access to my stuff as the servers providing it went down. I paid for games that I couldn’t even download anymore. Over the last few years, I started retro collecting because I found that games running on emulated versions didn’t feel the same as they did on original hardware.
There certainly is a convenience with digital only. We don’t have to lug our CD collections around in those CD sleeves. And having instant access almost anywhere is definitely an advantage of the more limited physical only versions.
But with that convenience we’re giving up personal ownership. I’m not saying that the days of showing off your DVD/Blu-Ray collection should return, but there is a real danger of losing access to media–and even a danger for media to be lost to time.
The way of digital only looks to be the prevalent trend, however, with leaks of new digital only Xbox Series consoles and PlayStations with optional optical drives. Hell, Microsoft just let go most of their physical media team during its recent massive layoffs. it’s hard to ignore the writing on the wall: digital only is probably our future.