Physical Xbox Games Are Nearly Dead | Will PlayStation and Nintendo Face the Same Grim Future?!

Many brick and mortar retailers are shrinking their physical video game sections. Perhaps the entire section is staying the same size, but retailers are focused more on the video game products that make them the most money, like certain accessories or toys and collectibles. This leaves the actual games sections in a state that seems to have simply shrunk more and more as the years pass. If you look around it will quickly become evident that physical Xbox games sections have certainly taken the biggest hit. 

(Part of Target's Xbox Section in January 2024. Not shown are 5 other Xbox games. That's right you can pick from a whopping 7 new Xbox games at Target)

This may have been obvious for a while to some, but this should be increasingly concerning for physical collectors of Xbox games in particular. It also does not fare well for other platforms as we have seen shrinkage in retail space for physical games in nearly all retailers. Even GameStop's shelves look rather bare these days, especially compared to the Xbox 360/PS3/Wii generations.

For more footage check out our video:

(GameStop's 2 Foot Xbox Section for New Games, January 2024. There were about 35 new titles to choose from. The most from the retailers that were visited.)

The Facts: 

Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown was released by Ubisoft on January 18, 2024. As of this writing, you can physically purchase the game on Xbox from GameStop. The Xbox physical version is not currently sold by Amazon. Best Buy is only available via online order. Target has Switch copies available in store and PS5 copies seem to have been limitedly sold in stores. The Xbox copies of Prince of Persia are only available to order online at Target. It appeared that Walmart had a limited number of physical Xbox copies to buy online only, but quickly sold out and are currently not available to purchase directly from Walmart.

(A physical copy of Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown. This was purchased from GameStop, the only retail chain that I found to carry the Xbox version physically in store in the Coachella Valley of Southern California.)

Remedy decided not to physically release Alan Wake 2 on any platforms at all. Their previous release was Control which was nominated and won awards for "Game of the Year". Control released physically via publisher 505 Games. As of this writing Remedy has not announced a partnership to release this physically from any publisher. Surprisingly not even publishers who makes smaller runs of games for collectors or enthusiasts like Limited Run Games. Alan Wake 2 was also nominated from multiple outlets as a "Game of the Year" contender and likely has taken that achievement in one form or another.

Like a Dragon Garden: The Man Who Erased His Name was released by Sega on November 8, 2023 and unless you want to import the game from Japan, your only choice is digital on all platforms. This is surprising because Like A Dragon or the Yakuza series as it was previously known, has really taken off in the U.S. and if Sega thought that having a physical presence would be important, then they would release the game physically to keep their momentum going.

On January 18, 2024 Xbox released its latest Developer Direct to the world where it in part showcased the stunning Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2. Confirmation later came via Xbox Wire that the game will only be available digitally. This is supposedly one of Xbox's biggest titles of the year, possibly the biggest if it were not for Indiana Jones and they still are not putting out physical copies. The reason is likely two-fold. Retailers may not be willing to carry it on shelves in store and Xbox will simply make more money selling games digitally. An important note would also be that the previous Hellblade game released digitally only and later came out physically in stores. Perhaps they will release this physically later on, but as you continue to read, you will find the odds are certainly not in it's favor.

(Best Buy had the most organized Xbox games section of the stores I visited. They had about 30 physical Xbox games to choose from and have mostly turned their Xbox section into accessories and toys/collectibles.)

On October 15, 2023 Trumann Tu wrote an article on which claimed, "Walmart could be phasing out physical Xbox game sales due to declining sales, with other platforms potentially following suit in the future. Best Buy may also stop selling physical games in stores as digital games overtake boxed copies. Physical media is becoming less profitable. Limited Run Games CEO expects this trend to continue into 2024, with Microsoft potentially dropping physical game distribution altogether."

On January 19, 2024 Wario64 re-posted this post on X from user Andrew Marmo:

(@Wario64 's re-post of @the_marmolade. This was informing people that physical copies of Starfield will be reduced to 3 cents, removed from shelves and sent back to the supplier.)

The highlight in this article should be this, "The supplier is funding this action. Stores will not be charged for the pulled merchandise if processed by Feb 5." Microsoft is clearly making arrangements with companies like Walmart, agreeing to take back their unsold physical games, just so the retailers agree to put the games on their shelves. This shows you how much Microsoft needs the visibility at retail and how Walmart is only willing to carry them if Microsoft removed the risk of financial loss.

On January 20, 2024 Josh Fairhurst, CEO of Limited Run Games, stated on X the following: "Real talk here: traditional retail distribution is a huge reason why physical is being abandoned. Distributors and retailers eat so much of the developer/publishers margins that it isn't worth it when they can remain digital." He followed up with another post saying "It doesn't help that one distributor essentially has a monopoly over all the major US retail chains, and they can call the shots on what you pay to get on the shelves. This kind of stuff is slowly killing the viability of traditional retail, and it is forcing publishers out."

Forced Fiction: 

Many collectors have told themselves that their favorite games will continue to live on physically for years where publishers are releasing smaller runs of games. (Don't feel bad, I once thought this too.) However, if physical Xbox games sales are as poor as they seem to be, then places like Limited Run or iam8bit will simply choose to not create an Xbox version. Eventually companies will not see it worth even adding a disc drive or other physical readers into their consoles at all.

My Opinion: 

Many retailers are likely overall losing money on Xbox games. Most retailers who carry physical games are being extremely cautious as to which games they are stocking their shelves with. Proof of this exists in Andrew Mario's X (formerly Twitter) post referenced previously in this article. Today, Xbox collectors are certainly less common than Nintendo or PlayStation collectors. If a collectors market for Xbox will exist in the future these games will likely rise in price as the decline gets steeper with fewer copies being made. You may want to start grabbing the Xbox Series X/S titles you want sooner than later. Yea, you can gamble till a game hits clearance, but with retailers reducing risk and continuing to order fewer copies of games, this decreases the chance you will get a to a point where a game is heavily discounted and is also readily available.

I believe that in the future, limited runs of physical games will not contain a game at all and instead just be some physical items you can buy as a reminder that you bought the game. The nostalgia older games have for manuals today, may soon turn into people paying for literally empty boxes on a regular basis. Just to have something to put on your shelf or some art to look at. What's becoming clearer, is that the next Xbox consoles will likely not have a disc drive which is likely 80% retailers and 20% Xbox. Regardless of the split, physical Xbox games will surely be the first of the big three companies to disappear. 

- Matthew Marozzi (Follow Matt on X | Twitter - @FROMNJ2CA)
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