If you purchased the recent Madden NFL 16 Xbox One 1TB system from most retailers, you received a digital code allowing you to download this year's version of the annual football franchise. If you bought it from GameStop though, you received a physical copy of Madden NFL 16. The same is true of the Forza Motorsport 6 bundle: a real copy of the game from GameStop, a digital code from anywhere else.
Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo have all been offering digital codes for console bundle pack-ins for a few years now. As online infrastructure has grown, platform holders have come to expect that most players will have internet-connected systems. From a logistical standpoint, it makes sense for them to include a card with a digital code versus an actual physical copy of the game. The issue is if you lack an internet connection, then your bundle isn't much a deal; you're stuck with a system and no game to play on it. That's before you even get to those who just like to have physical copies of their games.
GameStop's new policy is to work with platform holders and publishers to offer physical copies in system bundles and if that's not possible, to simply not offer the bundles at all.
"It is important to note that during the recent release of EA's Madden 16, we worked with our partners to offer a free physical game with the purchase of either a PS4 or Xbox One and did not carry the Xbox One digital bundle," said GameStop COO Tony Bartel during a recent investors call (transcript via The Street). "We expect that if a game is provided as a promotional item in a hardware bundle, GameStop will see more of these physical offers than digital pack-ins on upcoming third-party releases."
For GameStop, this is a business decision. If you buy a bundle with a digital game, then you won't be able to trade that game into GameStop, meaning they can't turn around and resell it to someone else. Some consumers pick up console game bundles for specific systems - whether that a specific color or system specification - only to immediately turn around and sell the bundled game back to GameStop. The retailer wants that to happen. It certainly makes money on digital sales, but resales are still a revenue driver.
"We have made it clear with our publishing partners that our preference is that we sell -- obviously, GameStop 's preference is -- we sell things at full price and provide great value through our trade program and that we have physical discs," added Bartel. "And we worked with both Sony, Microsoft, and EA, with all three of them, and we offered a free physical disc when you bought either a PS4 or an Xbox One. If in fact these do continue, the platform holders do continue to put in free games as promotional items, we anticipate that at GameStop you will see more physical bundles from third parties as opposed to digital bundles."
This doesn't seem to cover every system bundle though. The Nintendo 3DS Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer bundle includes a digital code for that game. The same is true of the Xbox One Halo 5: Guardians bundle and the Uncharted Collection PlayStation 4 bundle is unclear if the GameStop version has a physical copy of the game. It's clearly something that GameStop is working hard to push through the industry, even if platform holders aren't completely on board for it.
I like the change, even though I personally have switched over to digital for most of my purchases. Review games tend to be sent over as digital download codes or publisher-burned discs that only play on special debug systems. That status quo and Steam have gotten me to the point that most of what I pick up on my own is digital; the only time I get physical games is when a store is having a sale on a title.
My digital transition has gotten to the point where I recently watched a Blu-Ray in my Xbox One and the disc in the system was Assassin's Creed Unity. Reviewing Unity last year was the last time I actually put a game in the Xbox One! I've played a ton of Xbox One games since then, but they've all been digital. On Vita and 3DS, I prefer digital over physical, as I tend to get annoyed about all the tiny cards floating around in my work bag.
And regardless of physical status, most games these days have to be patched before they'll even play, meaning you still need an internet-connected system. There's just no winning if you don't have internet these days.