If you need any further proof that the time of buying games on a disc is edging closer, look no further than the PS5 Slim. On the one hand, announcing a detachable drive that buyers of the digital edition could later snap to their consoles looks excellent. Flexibility! I love it. I wish there were something similar to add to my son's Xbox Series S so that he could share my physical games.
But what Sony didn't say at the reveal, and hasn't said at any point since, is that said disc drive requires an internet connection to set it up. This news has surfaced via photos of the packaging, which has started to arrive at retailers ahead of its launch in time for the holidays.
I've got a Blu-ray drive for my desktop PC. I plug it in with a USB cable when I need it, and, you know, it just fires up and does its thing. Yet here we see Sony providing one for the PS5 that simply cannot work without first phoning home. That's a problem. One that many may consider blown out of proportion, but it's still a problem. It's further proof that the future is coming, and that future is where Microsoft and Sony don't want you buying games outside their respective stores.
Internet-only on a PS5 Slim? What's the big deal?
Hey @dark1x I know you don’t like it when games don’t come on a Disc, but how do you feel about the PS5 disc drive not being able to work without an internet first? pic.twitter.com/5vrkJZmyxWOctober 25, 2023
Gaming has been increasingly reliant on internet connectivity in recent times. I was actually pleasantly surprised when Insomniac, creator of the new Marvel's Spider-Man 2, announced that the entire game was playable from the disc without requiring a downloadable patch. Obviously, there are reasons to download patches, and future content would definitely need an internet connection, but this was such a refreshing thing to hear.
So many games nowadays require an internet connection to play them at all. It's nice to see a big new release you can buy a physical copy of, pop it in your console, and just play. Alan Wake 2 isn't even available on a disc!
Most people probably don't see it as a big deal. You need to be online for updates, new content, and multiplayer gaming. But requiring internet connectivity on the new PS5 Slim to then be able to play the new Spider-Man game, which doesn't require it, that's hilarious.
The messaging suggests that to set up the new PS5 Slim disc drive, it needs to phone home and connect to a server. OK. Seems a little odd, but whatever. But ignoring the fact some people just don't have reliable internet in the world, what about when the servers aren't available?
Sony will have outages, and at some point in the future, those authentication servers will just get turned off. So, a sort of DRM is added to a piece of hardware that one day probably won't be functional. Again, we could be way off base here, but Sony has been deliberately quiet so far. If you buy the digital version of the console, you obviously have internet, but one day, you might not be able to add a disc drive to it. Without the servers, those drives will become e-waste.
Whichever way you look at it, hardware should not require internet connectivity just to operate. Don't get me started on (officially) needing an account to use your computer on the latest version of Windows. But accessories as mundane as a disc drive requiring this is a new kind of low.
The future is discless and I hate it
On the broader picture, though, these Sony shenanigans are just another example of the move toward a future I'm not a fan of. We've seen the leaks of future Microsoft consoles, and I've already written how the Xbox Series X refresh is dead to me without a disc drive.
People like me will cling on as long as possible. I love my collection of physical games and steel books, not just current-gen games, either. I buy this way partly to feel like I've actually bought something and have a collection but mostly because it's almost always cheaper somewhere to buy on a disc than through a store. Plus, games get delisted from digital stores. You can't buy Forza 7 anymore, can you? Not digitally, anyway. You could still find a disc somewhere, though.
But the future is digital. Of course it is. The stakeholders make more money that way. There are no manufacturing costs, the prices are set, and Sony, Microsoft, Valve, whoever, all take their cut. We have to pay more, so they make more money. Capitalism is great sometimes, isn't it?
There could well be some law or rule somewhere that says Sony or Microsoft, if they chose to do this, have to adhere to. I don't know. But the silence just makes it seem shady, even if it isn't. But with a semi-cynical hat on, Sony doesn't really want you buying this. It wants you to buy digital games at $70 a pop and leave you at the mercy of its servers and its decision-making. Just as Microsoft does (or increasingly to sign up for Xbox Game Pass.) Game preservation, e-waste, both be damned. Enjoy it while you can, fellow physical game lovers; our time is almost up.
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Richard Devine is a Managing Editor at Windows Central with over a decade of experience. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently, you'll find him steering the site's coverage of all manner of PC hardware and reviews. Find him on Mastodon at mstdn.social/@richdevine