PS5 Retail Games More Popular Than Digital Downloads

Published: November 19, 2021 11:04 AM /


Demon's Souls, Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, Returnal, and Death Stranding, all of which have been sold as PS5 retail games

A survey has revealed that PS5 retail games are more popular than digital downloads by a pretty wide margin. The survey shows that as of August 2021, three physical PS5 games were sold for every two digital downloads.

Why are PS5 retail games more popular than downloads?

This survey comes to us from analytics firm Global Sales Data (courtesy of The survey looks at data gathered between the PS5's launch in November 2020 until August 2021, covering 23 countries for physical sales and 49 for digital. It also covers "all the major publishers", according to Physical downloads only lost out to PS5 retail games in November last year; every month since then, boxed games have outperformed digital downloads, with the gap widening as time progresses.

A graph courtesy of Global Sales Data showing how PS5 retail games outperformed digital downloads across a 9-month period
PS5 retail games are outperforming digital downloads. Graph courtesy of Global Sales Data.

GSD video game consultant Sam Naji offers four different explanations as to why PS5 retail games consistently outperform digital downloads. The first is that current-gen games are pretty expensive at $70 (although this doesn't appear to have dented overall sales), leading people to prefer having a physical product in their hands. Naji says gamers also like to build physical collections of games, and that others prefer to sell or lend their titles, which is either much harder or impossible on digital platforms. Finally, Naji points to the fact that downloads are usually better for back-catalog titles, which the PS5 hasn't had time to build yet.

How do PS5 retail sales compare to Xbox Series X|S sales?

According to GSD's data, PS5 retail games outsold Xbox Series X|S retail titles pretty significantly. Between January and August 2021, 1.9 million boxed PS5 games were sold, against around 400,000 Xbox games. Both manufacturers offer a disc-based console and a digital-only one, although it's worth remembering there's no difference in specs between the PS5 Disc and Digital Editions, unlike the Series X and Series S.

The Xbox Series X|S lineup, which was outperformed at retail by PS5 games
PS5 retail sales also managed to outperform those of the Xbox Series X|S range this year.

There could be a number of reasons for this. Microsoft has been pushing Xbox Game Pass pretty hard, and if its supposedly leaked subscriber count is anything to go by, there's a good reason for that. It's also worth noting that this doesn't translate to poor sales for the Xbox range; indeed, Microsoft revealed earlier this year that its new consoles set an Xbox sales record. Rather, it probably reflects the ways in which gamers with both platforms tend to play games differently. Supposedly, when gamers pre-ordered the PS5 back in 2020, only 25% of those pre-orders (thanks, PCMag) were Digital Edition consoles. This suggests far more PS5 owners have the Disc Edition, which might go some way towards explaining the increased retail sales.

A year on from the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S' launch, it's still hard to get either a PS5 or a Series X (although the Series S is relatively easy to find). As GSD senior analyst Aidan Sakiris points out, the 2021 release schedule has been somewhat muted owing in part to the COVID-19 pandemic. We'll have to wait and see whether it becomes easier to get a current-gen console moving into 2022, but either way, it looks like many people are still favoring boxed releases over their digital counterparts.

Do you prefer to buy physical games or downloads? Let us know in the comments below!


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