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PlayStation 5 owners prefer boxed games to downloads

For the PS5's first ten months, GSD data shows three physical titles were sold for every two digital

PlayStation fans across Europe and beyond heavily favour retail for their game purchases.

The figure comes from Games Sales Data's presentation at GI Live: London last month, where the firm's video games consultant Sam Naji took a deeper look at the console's cumulative sales from its launch in November 2020 to the end of August 2021.

GSD tracks full-game boxed sales from 23 countries and digital sales from 49 and covers all the major publishers.

Looking at a sample of six territories -- France, Italy, Benelux, Iberia, Nordics and Oceania -- the company found that the cumulative attach rate for physical software sales has been consistently higher than digital since the PS5 launched.

In its first month, physical games achieved an attach rate of 0.95 software units for every consoles sold. By comparison, the digital attach was 0.84 units sold for each PS5 console.

These are low attach rates for a new games device but the situation is slightly more complex giving the backwards compatibility with PS4 games, suggesting some people are happy to buy the new hardware for their existing library and pick up new PS5 titles at a later date.

This is also complicated by the fact that digital purchases on the PS4 can then be accessed on the PS5.

GSD's chart is based on digital data identified by publishers as PS5, whether bought through the PS5 console's store, or codes redeemed on a PS5.

Nevertheless, the cumulative attach rate for physical saw five months -- December, January, June, July August -- where the number of total units sold exceeded the number of consoles in consumers' hands. And it has been consistently above 1.0 from June onwards.

Digital, meanwhile, never managed a cumulative attach rate higher than 1.0 throughout the first ten months. In fact, its best attach rate -- 0.87, as seen in December and January -- is still lower than the worst physical attach rate (0.88 in March).

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

GSD also shares cumulative units sold for both digital and physical PS5 titles across the six-region sample.

By the end of August, around two million physical games had been sold for PS5 -- 51% higher than the total digital units sold in the first ten months.

This gap has increased over time. In December there was only a 26% difference, and by April this had grown to 36%.

Given the increasing shift to digital purchases across the industry, Naji offered four factors that may explain why PS5 owners prefer box games to downloads.

Firstly, the high price tag for new PS5 titles -- around $70 -- means consumers prefer to invest in a physical item. This is combined with his second point: that console owners like to build a physical library of games for their new device. Naji also pointed to the ability to sell and lend boxed games as a factor, before adding that download sales typically favour back catalogue titles. Since the PlayStation 5 is only a year old, there is not an extensive digital catalogue of past releases to choose from.

You can read more about digital sales and the preference for back catalogue games in our full write-up of the GSD presentation, in which the company explored the impact of COVID-19 on both 2020's growth and 2021's muted release slate.

Elsewhere in the presentation, GSD's senior games analyst Aidan Sakiris compared PS5 software's retail performance to that of Xbox Series X|S.

Sony's console shifted 1.9 million boxed games from January to August 2021, compared to 400,000 Xbox Series X|S games.

Sakiris added that, while all four Sony and Xbox consoles -- PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One -- have helped grow the industry, this has been hindered by a lack of key releases due to COVID-induced delays.

For the record, this article previously contained erroneous analysis regarding the cumulative attach rate, mistaken for monthly sales date. We have worked with Games Sales Data to address all errors and the article above has been amended.

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Latest comments (1)

Sam Stone Software Engineer, Sony PlayStation9 days ago
The sentence, "November 2020 was the only month where full-game downloads have outperformed retail sales at 950,000 units compared to 840,000", doesn't currently match the graph, which shows retail ahead over every month including Nov 2020.
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