What a difference a few years makes. I remember, very actively, when Microsoft first brought out the notion of a disc-free system when it introduced the Xbox One back at E3 2013, a debacle so pronounced that the derisive laughter spawned by the "Official PlayStation Used Game Instructional Video" still echoes throughout the E3 floor. Now, however, there are reports to say that some gamers are ready for a disc-free future. I'm personally not one of them, but even I must admit, I can see their point.
Essentially, some are suggesting that a disc-free system could survive in the world of the present, at least potentially as a separate version to be sold alongside the standard disc-driven version. The standard benefits of convenience and lower costs are suggested as reasons, as well as potentially more reliable systems since there are fewer moving parts involved. Additionally, many point to the loss of disc-based sales in recent years, especially as compared to downloadable games.
There are reasons to go discless, and even I've discovered some value here. It is indeed much more convenient to switch from one game to another seamlessly, without ever getting out of one's chair. Reduced clutter, less potential damage to discs, and other reasons come to mind as well. A personal favorite of mine is the potential to have a game ready to play promptly on its release date; I bought Fallout 4
ahead of release, and downloaded it over the course of the following few days, such that when 12:01 hit that Tuesday, I was playing Fallout 4. I wasn't in line at the game store, or driving home, I was playing Fallout 4.
However, there are plenty of issues. For instance, the "lowered costs" arguments don't exactly resonate well in the face of the used game market; seems like even Microsoft's biggest sales end up more expensive than buying a used game on Amazon. What's more, game rentals are just about done for in the face of digital-only, and I can confidently say that I've saved some significant cash in just renting a game I found too unpleasant to carry on with beyond its rental period. The randomly-crashing glitchy mess that is Mafia 3, for example, is one key point. Additionally, there's the issue of game size; many Internet systems aren't equipped for such downloads. Even my unlimited-access DSL--thank you, Frontier!--is slow enough to make multi-gigabyte downloads an overnight affair, or even trending into a couple days. Disc-based games are permanent--just ask anyone who bought TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan
or The Amazing Spider-Man (either one or two) what they think of digital-only gaming--and with a disc, there's also a way to play movies, useful for when the main player dies.
I'm personally torn here. I love the convenience of going from Stardew Valley to Sunset Overdrive in a few button presses, but even I see the value of having physical backups on hand. I love being able to rent games, and see what I like before actively dropping the better part of a hundred bucks on one title.
There's room for digital downloads, make no mistake about that...but there's a lot that needs to change before full digital download can be in play. Faster, uncapped Internet access
for all is just a start, as well as some significant price drops on digital titles. It's not out of line to think it could happen as early as the next generation--the commercial rollout of 5G Internet access, often called "fiber without the fiber" may do the job--but there's quite a bit that needs to change between here and there first.