The $399, disc-drive-free Digital Edition of the PlayStation 5 may be in much shorter supply at US retailers this holiday season than the $499 version with a standard disc drive. That’s based on an Ars Technica analysis of PS5 preorder hardware allocations this week at GameStop locations across the country.
Ars was able to confirm the initial PS5 preorder allocations for nine separate GameStop locations. All told, roughly 24 percent of the stock available at these locations was taken up by the Digital Edition, with the remaining 76 percent for the Standard Edition.
The Digital Edition ratios at individual locations ranged from 13 to 33 percent of all the available PS5 preorders, with 20 percent being the most common ratio. Each individual GameStop location in our sample received anywhere from 15 to 30 PS5 units total, with 20 being the most common number.
While this handful of stores doesn’t exactly represent a scientific retail survey, the story is consistent enough across multiple locations in multiple geographic areas to suggest a nationwide trend. And while we weren’t able to confirm allotments at other retailers on the record, Ars Technica has confirmed with well-placed sources familiar with at least one other retailer about similar PS5 Digital Edition allotment ratios there.
The numbers reported here reflect the initial preorder supply of available PlayStation 5 units at these stores; it’s not necessarily the relative demand for either type of system. All the stores Ars talked to sold out of their initial PS5 preorder allotments within minutes, so it’s hard to determine how demand for either option aligns with these supply numbers. However, we have heard some anecdotal reports of preorder customers seeking the Digital Edition but settling for the more expensive Standard Edition when the former was sold out.
Does Sony want to make them?
Neither GameStop nor Sony has responded to an Ars Technica request for comment as of press time, so we’re left speculating a bit on the reasons behind the apparent dearth of Digital Edition consoles thus far.
One possibility is that Sony’s initial allotment of PS5 units is simply skewed toward the Standard Edition across the board. That could reflect Sony’s belief that demand for the cheaper system is lower overall and that the majority of PS5 buyers is willing to invest extra money in a disc drive. Failing that, it could reflect a belief that early adopters specifically are willing to spend more money on the “full-fledged” version of the system, while more price-conscious shoppers are more willing to wait for the launch fervor to die down before buying the Digital Edition.
A lack of Digital Edition consoles could also reflect a desire by Sony to maximize hardware revenue at launch. Since the disc drive assembly in the system likely costs much less than $100 for Sony to produce, the Standard Edition likely brings in better profit margins. A Digital Edition sale might be worth more to Sony in the long run, though, as software sales to those customers will avoid any cut to retailers.
The first (and only) previous time Sony launched gaming hardware that couldn’t play games from physical media was 2009’s PSP Go. Low initial demand for that device, though, led to a massive price drop and eventual discontinuation in less than two years.
The market for digital game downloads has changed a lot since then; Sony said a full 74 percent of its full game sales were digital downloads for the most recently reported fiscal quarter (up from 53 percent a year ago). Still, after living through the PSP Go experience, Sony may still be a bit shy about going too hard on the idea of a purely digital system out of the gate.
Do retailers want to sell them?
The other major possibility is that GameStop as a whole (and perhaps other retailers) simply ordered fewer units of the Digital Edition than the Standard Edition. Again, that could simply reflect the retailers’ expectations regarding the relative demand for both options.
In GameStop’s case, though, there may be extra incentive not to sell a console that can’t play discs. GameStop still makes most of its money on physical game sales, after all, including the high-margin business of buying and reselling used discs. When a GameStop customer buys the PS5 Digital Edition, that could very well 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 skepticism that the era of games on discs would soon be coming to a close. “Consumers like the physical aspects of games,” he said. “They collect them and they add value as a trade-in. So as software continues to evolve with dramatically better graphics, it does not take up valuable storage space and discs 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 similarly disc-drive-free Xbox Series S), then it will be a good sign that consumers by and large are not following Sherman’s expectations.
With initial PS5 allotments exceedingly likely to sell out quickly through the holiday season, it may be awhile before we see if Digital Edition PS5 supplies closely match the demand for the lower-priced option. If they do, we’d expect Sony will adjust its production ratios up or down to match what the market is saying relatively quickly. For the time being, it seems clear that the lion’s share of PS5 sales will be equipped with a disc drive.
Listing image by Sony Interactive Entertainment