There's always speculation about the merits of physical media and trouble that can come from going all-digital. People might wonder which generation could be the one that brings us into an age where all we have are downloads. Has the all-digital age arrived? Is it coming with the next generation? Will physical cartridges and discs always be around? The thing is, we may already have an answer. It could just be that we have already taken those steps and that future is upon us.
PC gamers know what we're talking about. When was the last time you purchased a physical copy of a computer game? How often do you even see them in stores? Copies of The Sims and those casual games that pack 99 games onto one disc for people who haven't heard of Steam don't count. In some cases, your computer might not even have a disc drive anymore. Outlets like GOG, Epic Games Store, and Steam have taken over everything. Digital is the only way to acquire 99.9% of PC games, showing that for one platform, the future is now.
It seems like Microsoft is sneaking its way into this future as well. Microsoft is supposedly preparing the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition. This alleged May 2019 console will not have a disc drive. It will rely entirely on downloads. Which, while scary, makes sense. Microsoft has two first-party services that have abandoned physical media. Xbox Live Gold is giving people four digital games each month. Xbox Games Pass lets subscribers download and play titles from a vast library. Going beyond Microsoft, there's also the EA Access subscription that, you guessed it, offers access to a vault of popular EA-related games. Going all-digital here is easy too.
The Vita will be an all digital device in 2019. Yes, the handheld was discontinued, but games are still appearing for the system. Since cartridge manufacturing has stopped, the PlayStation Store is the only place to go for these titles. The Vita lives, because there is this option. It's future, while admittedly short, will allow downloads to give those who love it a little more time and attention.
We also can't ignore the prevalence of iOS and Android devices. Everyone with a smartphone or tablet has the opportunity to be a gamer. The titles available on Google Play, iTunes, and other outlets range from casual puzzlers to versions of the hottest game. For some, this is their go-to Fortnite outlet. People who loved classic titles like Jade Empire can turn to one of these devices to play something they wouldn't be able to get physically anymore. You could head back into San Andreas with Grand Theft Auto or plot out moves with Transistor. Huge games are appearing here, and they're only digital.
It can be scare to think about things changing. Digital is uncertain. There are concerns about delistings or titles disappearing. But, physical games can get limited print runs, be broken, and carry risks too. Wondering when the digital future may appear might not be a matter of when. Instead, it feels a lot like the time could actually be now instead. Look at the systems you play the most. Think about the ratio of digital to physical games available. It could just be that you have already found yourself accepting this sort of lifestyle that eschews the physical in favor of a quick, tidy, space-saving download.