While the shift from physical media has changed the world of music, movies and PC gaming in recent years, console gaming has been a bit more stubborn. After much speculation though, Microsoft is finally trying to give us a not too subtle push towards a digital-only marketplace for our games with the imminent release of the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition. The thing is, you'd be a fool to buy into it at this time.
PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo fans have always been quite vocal on reasons for fearing a digital-only future, and as Deals Editor of TechRadar, I can see why. And nostalgia for a collection of physical games doesn't really fit into it as much as it used too either.
Quite simply, it's all about the prices for both hardware and software. Microsoft (and plenty of other publisher partners) haven't quite grasped the concept of fair pricing for digital games and now the hardware seems to be following suit. And when you look at the overall bang for your buck and game-buying options delivered by the new Xbox One S All-Digital Edition, it's an underwhelming piece of hardware, representing poor value for money.
The Xbox One S All-Digital price
When considering a digital-only console, it needs a hook to really tempt us away from the traditional disc-based versions. There are at least a few bundled games to get you going in Minecraft, Sea of Thieves and Forza Horizon 3. But how about some technical improvements inside promising slightly quicker loading, or less power consumption? Getting rid of a the disc-drive would surely provide an opportunity to reimagine the chassis of the console for a more compact design too of course? Yeah, you're getting none of that.
The new Xbox just has a forlorn blank white space where the disc slot used to be, effectively gagging your gaming options for a huge back-catalogue of games and blu-rays. And why bother with expensive redesigns, when you can spend 30 seconds in PhotoShop? It worked out ok for Deadpool after all...
The Xbox One S All-Digital Edition will cost $249 in the US and £199 in the UK. Microsoft claims that's cheaper than the $299 MSRP / £249 RRP of the current S model, which is technically true. But decent retailers, ones that you'd have to be seriously unlucky to be unaware of, haven't charged those prices for a long, long time.
Before all the digital-only console rumours really starting emerging over the last few months, the Xbox One S had already become one of the best-priced gaming consoles on the market as Microsoft discontinued the older 500GB models in favour of making the 1TB one the new standard, while keeping the prices the same - the 1TB models used to be $50/£50 more expensive.
At the time of writing, over on our Xbox One deals (UK) page you could pick up a standard 1TB Xbox S, a digital copy of The Division 2 and a physical copy of Forza Horizon 4 for just £209.99 at Amazon. And it's not a rare sight to see the console on its own go for around £190. Over on the Xbox One deals (USA) guide you'll find highlights from just $199 including either Minecraft or Battlefield V. And don't forget it's only April, a time of year when console deals are usually a bit, well, awful.
To say goodbye to discs, or more precisely having the option of using discs at least, Microsoft needs to really up its game with a better deal. So naturally, for basically the same amount of money (or less!), we'd certainly advise picking up the regular Xbox One S, instead.
Why rob yourself of the opportunity of buying a physical disc when you spot a bargain online or at your local store for both new and pre-owned games? Or maybe you'll want to play both regular and 4K blu-rays (the Xbox One S is a very reasonably-priced 4K blu-ray player). Even if you love the idea of a clutter-free and disc-free future, there's zero incentive to shut off the past with the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition at the current price.
The Xbox Game Pass could make this interesting...
Before the initial Xbox One S All-Digital announcement was revealed (and priced), I was actually intrigued to see what we'd get as Microsoft has been absolutely killing it lately with its not so secret weapon - the Xbox Game Pass.
Like many for the current console generation cycle, the PS4 is my main gaming machine, while my Xbox One would have been slung on eBay a long time ago if delivering heavy boxes and dealing with randos on the selling site wasn't such a hassle. I haven't bought a physical game for it since Rise of the Tomb Raider and Quantum Break before that, with only a a steady supply of Xbox Live's Games with Gold and the need to finally finish the backwards-compatible Fallout: New Vegas giving me any reason to turn it on. And then I tried the Game Pass free trial.
This is as close as we've ever got to a genuine 'Netflix for Games.' Sure you download titles rather than stream them, but given how much broadband speeds can vary, not to mention game-streaming is much more data-intensive than movie streaming (we're still hyped for Google's upcoming Stadia service though) that's totally fine for us as once a title is on our hard-drives we never need to dread a buffering pause.
The clearest comparison to Netflix though, in addition to a wide choice (nearly 200 titles now), is the value. At $9.99/£7.99 a month (or less if you buy a larger amount upfront in a deal) it simply wipes the floor with any of the rival gaming subscription services, especially Sony's laughably over-priced PlayStation Now. Add in the fact that Microsoft has been adding its latest exclusives to the service, on the day of release no less, and it's one of the best gaming deals we've ever seen. Which is why it's baffling to not see the console released with a free six or 12-month subscription at this price.
The other elephant in the room though when looking at digital-only consoles is the outrageous pricing for new games on digital stores. When a new game is released on disc, you'd generally expect to pay $60/£40 for it, maybe a bit more for the likes of Red Dead Redemption 2 or the newest FIFA. Take yourself over to the PSN and XBL stores on your console and you'll find a trap for the overpaid and uninformed.
Although we have to admit the pricing disparity is more of a UK issue nowadays as standard versions of digital version of the games regularly cost £60 compared to £40 for a physical version. In the US, things have improved and we're more used to seeing $60 for both physical and digital versions. But still, shouldn't digital games be cheaper than physical ones? We've been asking that question for years though.
Physical copies of games of course carry extra value in that they can be resold by the buyer and prices drop on them much sooner than digital thanks to the more open and competitive retail landscape. PC gaming is pretty much all digital now, but even with Steam's dominance in the digital marketplace, there are at least other stores selling game keys too, ensuring at least some competitive pricing on the scene.
Could the all-digital Xbox One be a good option though?
If you already have a PS4, but have fancied an Xbox One for a while, the All-Digital Edition could potentially be worth a look. The lack of a physical disc-drive isn't as much of a concern when you can still buy discs for your PS4, and the small number of exclusives on Microsoft's platform are available quite cheaply in digital format, or are found on the Game Pass. And quite simply, if you have no intention of buying the Game Pass, then I see little reason to pick up this console.
But still, I can't recommend this console as things stand today. You save no money and it'll cost you even more than the disc version at most stores stores. But let's not forget though, the Black Friday deals are coming. And before that we're keeping our fingers crossed for an appearance in the Prime Day deals too.
This will give Microsoft the opportunity to price the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition at at a level it should have been from the start. Honestly, we want to see this for $150/£99 to really tempt us to going all in on digital. And even then, it probably won't cost much more to get a Black Friday discount on the disc-based version.
Nobody knows your buying habits better than you though. We just want you to get the best bang for your buck. So even if you've already stopped buying physical games, we'd still wait a while for the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition to drop in price.
How it could affect the next console generation?
Microsoft has fallen Sony behind this generation. The Xbox One consoles have undersold compared to Sony's runaway machine. The exclusives have been few and far between and recent ones like Sea of Thieves and Crackdown 3 have turned out to be disappointments not worth the long wait. It didn't help that the messaging was such a disaster before the Xbox One even launched - remember the always-online/no preowned fiasco? Oh and forcing the 'essential' Kinect camera on gamers made for an overpriced launch that made the decision even easier for gamers.
Xbox Game Pass is Microsoft's hottest innovation in years though and the more members it can build up now, the better Microsoft's chances of making gamers consider the Xbox Two, instead of a PS5 if they know there is going to be an affordable service to give them lots to play on the console.
A super low price on the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition right now would have given Microsoft a chance to show off to gamers how strong the company's future is looking and urge them to stick with Microsoft next-gen. We can only hope that by the time this disc-less console reaches an attractive price point we haven't lost interest as we may be too busy saving our cash for a PS5 or Xbox Two if this year's E3 convinces us the next-gen consoles are coming next year.
A discount announcement during E3 week could make things much more interesting though - don't make us wait until Black Friday, Microsoft. For now though, we'll keep you updated on the latest prices for all three versions of the Xbox One console via our deal pages below. And be sure to bookmark our E3 page too for all the latest news as it happens live from LA.
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Brendan Griffiths is the managing Editor of Hardware & eCommerce - GamesRadar.com at Future. After spending his formative years as a games journalist, he joined Future Publishing and TechRadar in 2016. He manages a small team and wrote, commissioned, and maintained a vast collection of e-commerce content published around the world with particular focus on the US and UK. In 2020 Brendan joined another Future website, GamesRadar, as Managing Editor of the Hardware and eCommerce team to take charge of the site's eCommerce strategy, hardware reviews and buying guides.