The Digital-Only PS5 And Xbox Consoles Aren’t A Great Deal For Australians

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The Digital-Only PS5 And Xbox Consoles Aren’t A Great Deal For Australians
Image: PS5 Digital Only Edition

People will be grabbing their next-gen consoles this week — or frantically refreshing retailer pages to place their order for a PS5, Xbox Series X or Xbox Series S to nab one before Christmas. And this will be the first console generation where more than half of all games are sold digitally. That’s a huge shift, but if you’re in Australia, you might want to seriously reconsider being a digital native for this generation.

My apathy for the digital only consoles isn’t a specific knock against the discless Xbox Series S — which I’ve reviewed — or the digital-only edition of the PlayStation 5. Having more choice and up down the product stack is generally a good thing, and there will be people or whole households that have hard caps on what they can and can’t spend. For them, any option is better than no option at all.

But in the broader sense, consoles — especially at launch, or the month of launch — are a luxury purchase. If you’re buying one, you’ve generally got disposable income, you’ve been saving all year, or you have some other kind of arrangement where you can comfortably drop $749 plus extra on some video games.

Most by this stage will have likely already preordered an Xbox or PS5, and then the full or discless version of those two consoles. But if you missed out and you’re still weighing up what to buy, hear me out: don’t buy the cheaper consoles.

An Xbox Series S in the flesh. (Image: Kotaku Australia)

It’s not as if the PS5 Digital Edition, and especially the Xbox Series S, aren’t excellent pieces of engineering. The PS5 Digital Edition has the benefit of eliminating the biggest source of noise from the PS5 — the Blu-Ray drive. The chassis design of the Xbox Series S is simply spectacular — it’s one of the nicest looking consoles ever manufactured, for my money, and it’s obvious why Phil Spencer has so much faith in the cheaper console.

But that faith in the Xbox Series S — and Sony’s half-step towards the shift to digital — comes at a cost.

Let’s look at the raw pricing in Australia. Locally, the Xbox Series S will cost $499, while the PS5 Digital Console will set you back $599. If you’re buying either console, chances are you’re also buying into each console’s respective subscriptions. For Sony, the PlayStation Plus Collection is $11.95/month or $79.95/year. Xbox Game Pass Ultimate (XGP) is $15.95/month (often with a $1 deal for the first month), which is necessary if you want access to online multiplayer. (You can get Game Pass for consoles separately for $10.95/month, but not having access to online multiplayer is a huge dealbreaker for many.)

So all up, this is the total cost of the consoles over the course of a year:

PS5 Digital Edition + full year of PlayStation Plus Collection: $678.95 ($599 plus $79.95 for PS+ Collection)

Xbox Series S + full year of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate: $675.45 ($499 + $1 for first month of XGP + $15.95/month for XGP for the remaining 11 months of the year)

If you were to buy a regular PS5 under the same terms, you’d spend $828.95. The Xbox Series X would cost $925.45 with a full year of XGP.

So on the Xbox front, that’s a difference of $250. For PS5 users, you’re saving about $150 by going digital only.

Now here’s the problem.

Image: PlayStation Store

Above is a shot of the new PlayStation Store web interface. There’s a mix of titles from indies to AAA games, but I just want to call your attention to the bigger name titles for a second. Yakuza: Like a Dragon, which doesn’t get any PS5 upgrades until next year. There’s Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla PS4 & PS5 at the top, as well as the “Next Level” edition of Borderlands 3.

All of these games cost at least $100. On the same page, you’ll see other launch next-gen titles. DiRT 5 is $99.95 for the basic edition. Watch Dogs: Legion is $99.95. And if you wanted to preorder Cyberpunk 2077, you’re looking at the same price.

Comparatively, if you had access to retail discs, the situation is very different. Watch Dogs: Legion is only $68 at Amazon right now, and that’s the PS5 version. Same for Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. Want a decent price on Cyberpunk 2077? That’s $20 cheaper than digital at regular retailers like JB Hi-Fi and Mighty Ape. (The PC version is cheaper still, but that’s a separate conversation.)

The story’s the same for Xbox users. A game like Planet Coaster: Console Edition is $75 digitally, but $69 at retail. It gets worse when you get into AAA territory, of course. Yakuza: Like a Dragon? $100 digitally, but $79 at retail. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is $99.95 for the regular edition, but $109.95 if you want the Xbox Series X optimised version. At retail, that version is $94 at JB Hi-Fi and elsewhere.

Over the course of a year, chances are you’d probably still be ahead buying digital. (That’s if you’re not getting extra storage — Black Ops Cold War alone will eat up 135GB on both consoles, almost a third of the Xbox Series S hard drive, but once installed you can remove individual modes like the campaign and zombies to save space.)

But nobody buys a console and then swaps it out after a year or two, not unless it breaks. People generally keep consoles for the entirety of a generation, unless there’s a mid-gen refresh. Even then, many will use those consoles as a secondary unit.

So you have to think of these purchases over four, five, six or more years. If you’re buying multiple AAA titles every year — or even the AA games or indies that eventually see a physical release — it’s worth asking: is it worth saving $150 or $250 now, if you’re going to eat a $20 or $30 premium with every game you buy?

ps5 xbox
Image: Kotaku

Digital pricing has gotten better over the years. We’ve covered many of the Xbox and PlayStation seasonal sales before, and while not as aggressive as their retail counterparts, there have been better deals as the years have gotten on. But those are still months after the fact, which is fine if you don’t mind waiting! But anyone buying a console in the first week or month is the kind of person who isn’t going to want to miss out on a title like Cyberpunk 2077. Or something like Horizon: Forbidden West. Or Ghostwire: TokyoHitman 3Gotham Knights. The Harry Potter RPG. The new Final Fantasy.

Every time one of those games roll around, the value of the digital-only consoles gets a little bit worse.

That’s not to say there aren’t other considerations that would justify the cost, though. People concerned about the environment, rightfully, would probably want to consider a discless alternative. (That raises another question though: are you actually helping save on carbon emissions when considering the output of data centres versus the printing of physical media? And if you don’t care about ray tracing or things like 120 FPS, what about the difference in emissions from the power usage of something like the Series S vs. the Series X?)

Those who have been burnt before by failing Blu-Ray and DVD drives might also want one less point of failure. And if you already have a primary console, or you’ve invested more heavily in the Sony ecosystem, the Xbox Series S makes total sense as a great Xbox Game Pass box. It’s certainly a cheaper investment than building a new gaming PC, especially in Australia.

That’s getting heavily into first-world territory, though. From an economic perspective — and this applies to a lot of things outside of gaming too — you’ll save more money over the lifetime of your PS5 or new Xbox by paying more upfront. You can save even further on the Xbox front if you’re a Telstra customer.

But for most, it’s the savings at retail that will add up the most. So if you’re comfortable sticking with physical media for a little while longer, try and stretch your budget a little further.

Comments

  • To be fair ‘digital only’ isn’t a great deal for anyone. Ask any Stadia use when their library and cash goes up in smoke some time in the next 6 months. Not to mention the hard-drive sizes on this gen is ridiculously small and not appropriate for digital only users.

  • Related, it’s crazy how low Amazon’s prices have been on some of these titles, lately. Saving anywhere from $20-40 title isn’t something I can comfortably ignore anymore. I vastly prefer the convenience of digital over physical, but paying $110 for something that’s going for $70? Fuck right off. That’s just Christmas bonuses for publishing executives.

    • You miss the part were THAT is the RRP price, places like JB choose to take a loss (of profit) on games, in the attempt to get you through the door and take some money from their opposition. Meanwhile the consoles sells them at a premium because they are taking the loss on the machines themselves.

      Im not suggesting Sony and Xbox are completely angelic, yes they are out to make money, they dont make consoles for fun but the idea that Amazon is beacon of consumerism is pretty laughable. They just exploit their customers for profit in a different way.

      • Just to clarify a little, its not JB taking a hit on the consoles, its Sony and Microsoft. For now at least. They’d be selling wholesale to JB for something like $600 or so, so theres some profit to be made by JB.

        Thats an educated guess by the way, but its based on a similarly priced iPad cost breakdown from a few years ago so its at least in the ballpark. No point going over those details, but in the end it was costing JB about $600 to get their hands on the $800 iPads.

        Manufacturing costs will drop as they always do, meaning that loss leader will evaporate over the next year to 18 months. By that point the manufacturers will have retooled and refined their process so its cheaper to make, plus the components will be cheaper as well.

        Its also when sales tend to start peaking so taking a loss now, even if its 10 million units wont really hurt Sony or Microsoft in the long run. Its pretty common with a new console line and something they plan for. Over the lifespan of the console they come out massively ahead – of ~120m PS4s they would have made a profit on over 100m of them. But right now its the main company taking the loss, not the retailer.

        Games on the other hand, yeah, JB will be cutting into their profit along the way. Sony and Microsoft wont, they get a cut of every unit sold regardless. Specific sales get driven by Sony and distributers but RRP is all down to the retailer.

        So when the RRP is $90 and they list it as $70, its the retailer taking the hit. When you see massive advertising, its generally the developer or Sony/Microsoft though.

        • “Just to clarify a little, its not JB taking a hit on the consoles, its Sony and Microsoft.” I never said they were. Xbox and Sony take a hit on console construction prices and make their money back on games.

          • How you write it implies that its the retailer taking a loss. Its a little confusing. You talked about JB taking a loss on the games, then talk about a loss on the consoles. As it reads it could be read that its JB taking the loss on the machines as well.

            It looks like you got a little mixed up with how you wrote it, using ‘consoles’ instead of something clearer like the company names. No biggie, we’ve all done it.

            I wasnt disagreeing with you, so no need to be so defensive. I was just clarifying it so it was clearer, and adding in some info to explain it more.

  • Well said, it is definitely worth considering all your points before a console purchase, especially if money is tighter in your household.

    The Series S also has the tiny 364GB of space for games etc, meaning you’re likely to want the $370 1TB expansion drive which puts it above the Series X in cost and below it in gaming power!

    It’s not just brand new games, there’s going to be massive sales on Xbone / PS4 disks over the next year whereas digital prices don’t seem to drop as low. If there’s any older games you want to play on the new console, a disk drive will definitely save you money.

  • Yeah…. the discless PS5 is totally worthless, and the S needed to be $100 cheaper or have a BD drive to justify it (its only saved by Gamepass, and if you only use Gamepass for your games IMO).

    Whilst I’m a digital native (deal with the missus is I’m allowed to own every console known to man {yes, including a 3DO}, if I keep the game collection small), if you are going to buy games for full price, digital just really sucks (I just wait for sales personally).

    I think the other point you made though probably needs to be reinforced, its a really great time to jump ecosystems.

    If you are a Sony player this gen, grab a XSX and gamepass and play a bunch of games you didn’t get plus great multiplats you might have missed. If you are a Microsoft player this gen, grab a Sony console and with their ‘lamepass’, you get a greatest hits of the last gen to play thru.

    Its probably that which needs to be highlighted more, really consider jumping ecosystems to get some value before we get the true next gen games.

    • It is not ‘worthless’ if you are the type of person who already does with the PS4 what the digital designed to do. It is almost like they studied the metrics and designed something to fill a need in the market. How is that ‘worthless’?! To say nothing of the amount ewaste it could save over time (im not saying that was their motivation). Its like when people complained when Apple removed CD drives from their laptops and everyone lost their mind, but they were just seeing a trend, but in time in made total sense.

    • I think the S is a worse value proposition than the PS5 digital. At least the PS5 digital has the same hardware specs as the disc version. With discs having to be fully downloaded to play anyway, the only pro value wise with the disc version is the fact that you can get physical games cheaper in stores than on the PSN store. If you have two PS5’s in a household then game sharing can make digital cheaper as well especially if you are patient and wait for the sales.

  • Correction: the PS digital is only a bad deal if you still buy all your games on disc but if you dont use the console to play movies or games, It is totally a mute point.

    Playstation has always great sales and often and for their flagship games. Thankfully they arent like Nintendo who (for the most part) refuses to discount their main games, beyond that reward system them.

          • nope, I had already mentioned them BEFORE you even said a word to me. Merely pointing out that people say digital games are pricey, but they do have sales. And their sales, at least on PSN (sorry i dont know about Xbox) are ALWAYS very good, and normally once a year or so they are even better, and sometimes Plus players get flagship games for free. Unlike Nintendo (I love my switch) who almost never put their flagship games on sale, and they must definitely never give them away, well not that I have seen in two years)

      • I gave up trying to find time to play most of these games on release day. If the PSN sale prices are similar to physical retail prices 6 months after release when I have time to play the game, then I’ll pick the digital version for the convenience.

  • I’ve been leaning towards getting the digital edition as all my games have been digital on the ps4 but that began because my ps4 disc drive turned the console into a jet. Probably wouldn’t be an issue with the ps5.

  • The S having a tiny hard drive, no disc drive *and* lower performance specs than the X seems to be fairly poor value even if you only sometimes have to pay more for games.
    I feel like it will be the buyer’s regret machine this generation, that drive really is tiny.

    • Benefit is the games are also smaller on the S but a kinda silly margin. I do agree at $500 without a BD ROM its in a weird spot, $400 I’d get behind it fully, but a 8 Core Cpu+512GB SSD+decent GPU can only be so cheap I guess.

  • ‘People concerned about the environment’ ….. , what a joke, all I’m seeing these days is stupid comments like this. At the moment just based on pricing alone it is better to buy a disc unit based on over priced online requirements to access anything.

  • 100% love this article – we’re ignored in any digital conversation that’s mostly U.S. based where they don’t have our dreaded Oz Digital tax which has to be making up a lot of the disparity between digital and physical game prices. I have a clear memory that digital PS4 games (esp. those from Sony first party studios) were only $10 more expensive than physical e.g. $79 games versus $69 physical etc.

  • I will be getting a Digital Only PS5, I understand disc versions of games are cheaper sooner but I find the disc cases take up too much storage space and just prefer convenience of digital. I am happy to wait for PSN sales, most games are discounted heavily up to 12 months after release. Also happy to pay out the nose for the one or two ‘day 1’ games i want to play (Im looking at you Cyberpunk)

  • Generally you’re better off going with the disc version. But hear me out – there are exceptions, and here’s why I’ll be picking up an all-digital PS5 this generation (eventually).

    Playstation store sales are competitive IF you’re prepared to wait. Sometimes their initial ‘sale’ is a joke and agree it often just brings it in line with retail. But there are great deals to be had if you wait a little longer. It’s also easier to track the sales than it is comparing individual retailers (although Sony just got rid of the store wishlist which is frustrating).

    BUT if you buy a lot of DLC (which I do – gotta maintain that 100% trophy list) you regularly see sales on ‘complete’ editions of games 1+ years after release which are significantly lower than purchasing retail and then buying the DLC digitally (which is mostly the only option for DLC). DLC on its own is rarely discounted – but when it’s bundled with ‘complete’ editions of games it often is.

    Of course I’m not going to suggest I actually save money overall. I’ll occasionally pick up a new release which blows the savings out of the water. But it does bring overall costs into the same ballpark – and when that happens I choose staying sitting on my bum over getting off the couch and rummaging through a drawer.

    Also – not mentioned above (because it is minor) but the aesthetics of the disc drive unbalances the PS5 and looks pretty ugly. Subjective though.

  • Agree, if you buy physical games from JB then you can play them cheaper, and trade in for the next game in your wish list. Makes sense if you want to be economical.

    However, I have purchased a digital PS5. My disc drive broke on my PS4 early on and I ended up just buying all digital from then on. Plus I like the convenience of having a select bunch of games installed on my PS5 ready to play.

    I’ll be buying a PS5 for my son as well down the track so with game sharing that will mean one digital copy of a game can be played by two people. So there is a saving there.

    Also I will probably buy only Demon’s Souls at full price. It will smart a bit paying $125 for a copy. Anything else I will wait (who am I kidding!), and get when they reduce in price on the PSN sales. I expect the PSN sales for PS5 games for the first few months will be few and far between, but give it a year or so, and most PS5 games will be a half price on sale.

  • Honestly, price the only dillema I had with the digital editions. I absolutely LOVE the convenience of buying digitally, especially be able to play at midnight on the dot instead of waiting till 9 am for my local EB/JB to open (i know, i am very impatient), but paying $100 (soon to be 125) gets draining on the old bank account very quickly, so having the option of trading in old games for new ones, or buying physical copies later for cheaper is great.

    However, given my propensity to gameshare with a friend, I don’t mind paying the $100/$125 if it ultimately allows myself and a mate to both enjoy a brand new game, well, unless my internet drops out and the console boots me out of my games, but I digress .

  • This is such a bogus article. Its like your sniffing around the edges of what you really want to say. And that is oh my god why did I recommend the S. The Series S is a piece of garbage. Paying 2/3 of the price of a XSX when only producing 1/3 of the performance of the XSX is a fucking sin. Already its turned into the machine no-one wants to optimise for, developers dont like it.

    So instead of saying you don’t recommend that garbage in the main review, you create this little shit sidebar sandwich and lop what is probably THE BEST console to buy this generation the PS5DE into your little make-up slag fest. Thats TERRIBLE, I like MANY people have moved to digital, SONY has amazing digital sales, all of the time. Its better than steam, the sales are amazing.

    You cannot lop the DE with the S, what a joke, one represents a simple choice of digital only or not, and offering a very sharp incentive (and also looking a lot better), the other offers up a sub par experience, potently risking the investment in it long term due to its shitness.

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