Xbox One S All-Digital Edition, and the hidden cost of digital games

Microsoft's Xbox One remains ever-connected in 2019, with physical games sales on the decline in favor of digital downloads. Xbox Live is now central to the Xbox lineup, and a new iteration of the console lies ahead, doing away with its disc drive for an all-digital experience. Aptly dubbed the "Xbox One S All-Digital Edition," it's a fresh spin on the existing entry-level device.

Slated for an April reveal, the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition could be a risky pitch for Microsoft. Despite the countless advantages of digital, the concept is rightly approached by many with caution. And now, four years since I ditched the discs myself, I learned a lot along the way.

Convenience comes at a cost

Xbox Store

Xbox Store (Image credit: Windows Central)

Microsoft has demonstrated a heightened focus on its digital offerings this generation, first kickstarted with the Xbox One reveal. While its controversial always-connected policies scaled back its approach to digital licensing prior to launch, online distribution remains core to the Xbox One experience today. And shortly after the debut of pre-loading in 2014, Halo: The Master Chief Collection marked my full shift into the digital Xbox ecosystem.

Back in the early Xbox One days, making a shift to digital was almost exclusively driven by convenience. The concept of a unified digital library remains enticing, paired with reduced physical clutter, and bypassing the tedious disc-changes. And with more digital-only titles under the Xbox umbrella, it brings the ease of keeping your games in one locale.

Project xCloud

Project xCloud (Image credit: Microsoft)

The value of building a digital library has only solidified since, followed by the rise of Xbox Play Anywhere, bridging nearly 100 titles on Xbox One and PC. Joined by Xbox Game Pass and EA Access, Netflix-style subscription services for downloadable games, a further lineup of titles feeds into this library. Now topped with Microsoft's Project xCloud game streaming looming, digital will only prove more valuable in this ecosystem.

However, it's easy to reminisce about the days of building a shelf lined with physical titles. You lose the sense of ownership and feeling of products when they're hosted on servers across the globe. Do I miss those days? For sure. But even with hundreds of titles in my collection, there's no regret for the investments made.

The price of going all-digital on Xbox One

Xbox disc

Xbox disc (Image credit: Windows Central)

The Xbox One's primary issue with digital games is merely pricing, pushing Microsoft Store listings above disc-based counterparts. With digital Xbox purchases funneled exclusively through one marketplace, pricing is dictated by Microsoft and game publishers. Digital games artificially retain their market value as a result, which is sure to frustrate those invested in disc-less Xbox consoles.

I'm finding most upcoming Xbox One launches cost more digitally from day one compared to third-party physical stores. The latest example was Tom Clancy's The Division 2, while priced £60 from Microsoft (opens in new tab) in the UK, costs just £50 at Amazon (opens in new tab). Digital pricing generally appears softer on U.S. buyers, but similar situations still transpire.

This trend extends beyond the street date, with digital pricing often firmly frozen for the following months, while third-party retailers are keen to rotate stock and cycle inventory. It's only emphasized by the older titles, with decade-old Xbox 360 games still somehow priced at $30. (opens in new tab)

To Microsoft's credit, its regular rotation of seasonal sales has improved, with publishers offering more substantial discounts on newer titles. But it's still unmatched against the competitive nature of third-party storefronts. It's an issue solely a result of its closed ecosystem; while a recent wave of competition on PC is fostering a much healthier online marketplace.

A step in the right direction

The Xbox One S All-Digital Edition looks to be an intriguing addition to the Xbox family, cutting initial hardware costs and making it a more accessible console platform.

Xbox Game Pass is a step in the right direction for Microsoft, serving a substantial library of titles for a flat $10 monthly fee (opens in new tab). Now featuring the latest in-house hits beside some top third-party releases, it makes digital gaming more inviting for those yet to shift. However, the hidden price of digital gaming is clear, even with dedicated hardware seemingly around the corner.

Let us know your thoughts on all-digital Xbox One gaming in the comments section below.

Matt Brown is Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.

65 Comments
  • If only they could find away to get rid of the data caps imposed by the ISPs..
  • whos ur isp? Time warner doesnt do data caps. onlyone i know is at&t.
  • Many ISPs do. I have Cox and have 1 TB per month. Very easy to blow through by downloading a few games and then video streaming live TV.
  • Yes, this was very prevalent during the Black Friday/CyberMonday through holiday period. Assassins Creed Odysey and Battlefield 5 both got down to $27 for the disk version while digital was full priced(Amazon and others) Shadow of the Tomb Raider similarly was cheaper on disk, even beating MSFT Winter sale by $3($27/30).
    I am hoping that they do have a widespread disk to digital conversion process which is relatively inexpensive, so you can take advantage of the huge discounted disk savings, and if you want to, convert it into a slightly higher priced digital acquisition.
    I care about digital since we have 2 Xbox' in the house and I often want to play the same game with my son. With Digital, we can do that, with Disk, we can not.
  • This wouldn't be as huge of an issue if there wasn't a walled garden for digital purchases on Xbox, PlayStation, etc. PC has the benefit of having multiple storefronts, although true concentrated competition to Steam is only just getting started (exclusives are still dumb though). Competition is the best thing that can happen.
  • You can buy digital keys from quite a few places now, amazon sells digital games for the xbox, my local games store sells digital games as giftcards, and there is ebay and the usual pc key sites that sell a lot of console keys.
    If we had more digital only consoles, there would be more reason for digital only keys to be sold. However, while we still have people like Gabe running steam and outright refusing to work with Microsoft on anything, we're not going to even get xbox titles into the steam store and thus there won't be a market breakthrough for sale of xbox titles else where. Again if Gabe was willing to work with Microsoft with some sort of API for Windows 8/10 titles, we might have seen some form of migration on xbox console title being sole elsewhere too. As much as steam has helped gaming on the PC side of things, it's also pretty much stifled competition at the same time. I don't like the idea of Epic, EA, Uplay etc providing their own exclusive games and launchers when we live in connected space now and our games, regardless of where they were purchased, should show up in a central location, be it Steam client, EA or Epics launchers, or even Windows Store library.
    I honestly thought Microsoft had got it going in the right direction with Play anywhere support, but I don't know if it was the publishers or other platforms not willing to play nice with it, kind of sad to see everything going to exclusive again though.
  • I did see that the master chief collection is coming to steam so that's at least a step in the right direction.
  • Halo: Master Chief collection is coming out on Steam as well as Windows Store. So it would seem MS and Valve have reached a agreement.
  • That's not how game prices work though. Multiple storefronts don't lower the price on games, publishers do.
  • Actually it depends on the store front. Department stores will happily sell games cheaply, oftentimes at a loss, because it isn't their money maker but it gets people in the store. Publishers don't force businesses to sell a product for a specific price, they just sell the items to them and it's up to said establishment to choose their sale price.
  • But how would you play it if the internet goes down?
  • Educate yourself, idiot!
  • The games don't require an internet connection to play once installed. And even the disk versions usually have to install large patches or even additional content from the internet to function, so it's a moot point anyway.
  • @Hanley
    Really? Can you name some games that didn't work if you just installed the game without installing a patch?
  • Most recently, Spyro 2 and 3. Other than that, it's usually online only games that force you to patch to play.
  • Yes, Spyro 2 and 3, but it can be argued that these games were never on the disk.
    Yes, digital only game but I don't think Hanley was talking about those...
  • That's been my biggest complaint since purchasing my Xbox One and going all digital from the start. I would see new releases discounted by $20 at retailers within a couple of weeks of release, yet they would remain at full price in the Microsoft Store for months. It was an extremely rare occurrence when the MS store would have a game cheaper than Amazon. I can understand not undercutting retail partners, but MS should at least price match Best Buy, Amazon, Wal-Mart, etc. for game purchases.
  • Am I the only one who still cares about the Blu-Ray player? Sure, download and use all the digital versions of games, but I'd venture to guess that Blu-Ray DVDs for movies still provide significantly higher quality and bitrates than streaming platforms (even the 4k HDR titles).
  • Depends on the quality of your internet. Having a 250 Mbps connection makes it irrelevant. And you can always purchase or rent the movie from the Microsoft Store and download it to watch in full 4K if you don't have a good enough connection to support 4K streaming.
  • Netflix says you need a 25mbps connection to stream their Dolby Vision/HDR10 titles, which is going to be the their highest quality content. Blu-Ray transfers up to between 80-130mbps. While bitrate isn't everything because different compression algorithms can do better at lower bitrates, streaming titles DO have to undergo greater compression for delivery and do lose out on some quality. Of course, the differences would probably not be a significant issue unless you were directly comparing the two or were used to blu-rays.
  • I'm with you Penny, for me I don't think they can price the digital-only version cheap enough to outweigh the value of the 4K UHD disc playback capability.
  • Glad I've got the UHD player in the X - quality is brilliant. Rarely notice an issue with streamed though, but that's probably because we bottle it and go for the SD version - to be doubly sure there there's no buffering!
  • Pricing hasn't been an issue for me going all digital. I can't remember the last time I paid full price for a game. I game share with a friend. In fact all my friends are snuggled up to each other with game share. Meaning we halve the cost of games further. So where people who aren't gane sharing pay £50 for a brand new game, game sharers are paying £30 as 1 copy serves 2 peoples accounts. On top of that Xbox has so many deals on digital titles that change weekly, I fail to see how anyone pays full price. Unless they absolutely have to always buy day of release. My back catalog is so large I don't need to buy anymore games for 2 years. Lol. With Game Pass as well now I am literally never buying launch day anymore. I'm currently playing Shadow Of The Tomb Raider free on Gamepass. I'm regularly buying gMes for £10-£20 on digital sale. While they are still £30 2nd hand in the shops physical. The sales on digital are always far superior to the prices the shops hold. In fact shops don't drop their prices fast enough.
  • Another reminder that the original Xbox One reveal plan, in which all physical discs would've been digital games, had this problem solved six years ago before a bunch of ignoramuses who didn't understand the implications screwed us all over by getting Microsoft to capitulate. Now we will likely never get that opportunity again, and we'll be paying through the roof on digital content forever because digital platform holders now have a monopoly over content instead of having to compete with brick-and-mortar stores.
  • You do understand that the used game market helps regulate prices. And MS wanted to kill that market or at least take a share out of it.
    Also MS didn't changed their policies because of what some people said. If they really cared about public opinion they would have reversed it long before the release. They probably changed it based on the early pre-order numbers.
  • They reversed their policy within 48 hours of announcing it. No way they'd have pre order numbers in that time.
  • 48 hours? SOme major retailers had pre-order available just after the release (in 21 of may). MS and other major retailers accepted signed up for pre-order notification.
    And it was available for pre-order everywhere after E3 10th June.
    MS changed their policy on the 10 days later. People were talking about all the policies way before the actual reveal or E3. The "Deal with it" incident was in early April. Between reveal and E3 they had even more feedback from gamers and media. They reversed their policy after 48 hours?
    I don't know if you were into gaming back in 2013 but they reversed their decision around one month after the initial gaming. I'm not really sure where you got that 48 hours number.
  • Must have been a different policy then. Either way, they certainly didn't mess around.
  • The other "hidden" cost is the freedom to share your library with multiple people on multiple consoles. This initially surfaced on the 360, so it's not a new problem. Here's the issue. We have two rooms where we have consoles, and they're both in "shared" spaces. I, being the game-playing parent in the house, buy most of the games, though they are generally freely playable by me and all my kids. There's one room where most of us play most of our games, and that is set up as my "home" console. If I'm not playing, any of my kids can play any of the games on the home console, and they can even get my permission to sign me in on the other console and play any games there. But if I'm playing on the home console, and my kids want to play a game on the other one? If it's a disc-based game, there's no issue; they take the disc to the other console and play with no issues. If it's a downloaded game? They're out of luck. And if I make the other console my home console, that just reverses the problem. If I go and play in the other room, everyone else is locked out of my digital purchases on the first one.
  • Spot on. Same problem here. This will only get worse if we start logging into android/IOS/Switch to play our game library. The more devices the more restrictive this will become. They need to bring back the original plan of sharing with up to 5 "family" members. Or they need to allow ALL games to be played if you are on the same wifi. A lot of digital TV services do something similar. Whole home tv access as long as you are on the same network. Hope this get clarified at E3 maybe.
  • I don't understand your issue. You have 2 consoles. You sign in on one and have the other your home console. You can play your digital purchases on both. The only issue that may arise is if you just have one account. You may need to make an account for your children to sign into.
  • This sounds like quite an inconvenience...
  • As the parent, you need to designate one console that you game on (until your wife wants to watch Netflix, then use the other one). It helps if that console is an X and you have a 4K TV. The other console would be set to "home". Set the "X" to auto-sign you in so everyone can use it whenever.
  • There are certainly work arounds with the home console setting, but none of them come close to the ability to play the physical game anywhere and on any account. Remember also that my home xbox is also my main media center. So it is not the only place we game. I admit it is a minor inconvenience at this point, but if my kids want to start playing our game library on android phones and tablets in the future it is only going to get worse. If xbox wants to be open and run on all devices, they need a solution to sharing your digital library with your family.
  • Yep this is an issue, however MS original xbox one digital idea was that you could share digital games with 10 accounts i believe. The family sharing from x360 should have stayed.
  • I just want to have physical collector edition games with digital code inside the box (could be a beautiful plastic disc shape code card) instead of the disc, thus I could go digital. For us who buy collector edition, price is not an issue, and second hand is not something need to consider, so why don't do that?
  • Author's article is right! In Brazil retail games cost less because there is competition. But that's why I share my digital games! And that's why I encourage people to share with friends, so it ends up being cheaper, coz you pay for one game, but two people play it
  • If money is such an issue, who not buy cheaper physical game, share it with friends and then just sell it?
  • Because you can't play online with someone if they need to use the same disc as you do.
  • Yes, that makes sense. I always forget that you can do that with digital games. I also always wonder how legal it is to do so.
  • What would happen when xbox 2 will be released, and all of my loved and valuable digital collection will become useless because not all games will be retrocompatibles and not be played on the new system? Sorry, but digital games on consoles, it is a no-go for me.
  • Why would digital games not work while physical ones do? Even physical BC games on XO download the game as a digital copy.
  • Did you get confused with PlayStation?
  • The idea is, and it seems to be where things are going, is that games will be forwards compatible with new consoles.
  • The thing about all digital only console is that I don't see a lot of benefit for a gamer unless the price of the console is massively lower than the cheapest XB1s version.
    MS gets most of the advantage. For one they have a monopoly over what the gamer can buy. They are the ones deciding on the price.
    So it's not only losing the option to watch bluray/DVDs or playing physical games. No possibility of selling or buying used games.
    But what's worst is like what the article says, games are significantly more expensive.
  • 'The hidden cost of digital games' >Literally the cost you see when buying the game ok then
  • Either you just read the title or you didn't understand the article.
    The hidden cost is now what you actually pay but how much more you have to pay vs if you had the choice of multiple retailers. Here people are limited to one store the XB store. So they have a monopoly and they are the one fixing the price. That's also a reason why these games are often more expensive than elsewhere. If you look for a game it's almost certain that you'll be able to find a cheaper version of the game elsewhere.
    This is not something that people talk about when they are trying to promote going all digital.
  • Which is exactly what the guy you are responding to said, you just did it with more words. The "hidden cost" he actually talks about in the article is that you no longer have a tangible product, a collection on a shelf.
  • I don't think he was. I think he was simply implying that there is no hidden cost because price are literally not hidden and you know what you pay for. I don't think he understood what 'The hidden cost of digital games' actually means.
  • I see this console paired with 6 months to a year of game pass or xcloud or both. Sell it for 200 plus that "free" digital stuff. Since I got Gamepass I buy far less games as many come for free in a few months or right away. But I'm a steam guy on PC so digital make lots of sense to me on Xbox as well
  • But then again who cares about a few dollars? (I know some do, but...) We live in counties where everything needs to be on demand an available every second that we might change our minds. It's that attitude that costs us, and it's long taken over. Convince is king, and you know it.
  • physical:
    2nd hand, price drop faster. digital:
    allows me to game on multiple console and devices (more, when xvc and xCloud goes online) simultaneously.
    * and there's no guarantee, the same media / format will work / available forever. digital wins. I'm def not going to carry my disc lib around (and console disc is useless on PC or phones, even if it has a disc drive), plus, minimalism. I started gaming when I was 6, all our (me and my bros) collections are now... somewhere in the warehouse, overseas. Those are junks to me.
  • Personally, I prefer physical because I don't play the same game on two different console at the same time. But you know who really wins? The one who has a choice of doing either digital or physical whenever he wants and not one who is limited to one or the other.
  • I like physical and digital, but digital is ridiculously expensive compared to physical.
  • I get it, but with physical copies they get the full price initially and those deals are because of resale, whereas digitals problem is no possibility of resale, which should be the core of that pricing argument. When there's not really depreciation until it is not a commodity, them prove doesn't actually move, you know the old economics staple...except now supply is virtual, but demand is ever changing. So, do what I do and just wait until they decide to mark down, they move eventually...
  • My brother in law and I use gameshare, which I assume isn't going away. Thats been the biggest reason I've bought nearly my entire game library digitally. Also, I would be much more apt to buy a diskless as my second console, and gameshare to it instead so me and my kids could play together.
  • "After going all-digital on Xbox One since 2014" What exactly was in 2014 that went all-digital on Xbox One?
  • I think the article writer.
  • XB1 SAD Edition.. haha
  • I think some people are overreacting just a little to this step by MS. They are doing this very slowly by introducing and option of a console that doesn't have a disc drive. It will be the new entry level to see how interested customers are in it now that there is a much more mature digital environment (play anywhere, game pass, xcloud, all games available digitally). Anyone preferring to have a drive will still have the higher end options. At this point, a disc drive can be considered a premium feature that many people won't use at all so why not give them a cheaper option. Plus, its cheaper for MS to manufacture and removed a moving part that is very likely to fail at some point. As long as MS can show that a digital only gaming life is a good one, I see this being a popular option. MS really seems keen on making digital as close to the physical experience as possible. They have made signals of wanting to allow digital reselling, expanding game share, etc. Play anywhere already can offset the pricing differences, but lets not put this all on MS. All of the things that people want that would bring down pricing requires publisher support. That's a very slow process. MS has had to drag publishers to even support Game Pass or play anywhere. They have to prove that publishers will end up more successful supporting these things. Digital game resell is a huge mountain to climb and I'm sure MS wants that feature badly. They know that it would be a net win. Who knows how long it takes others to say ok to that. No wonder the initial XB1 details were of a very locked down console. I bet money that publishers demanded something like that at the time because they are so scared of losing sales. I'm looking forward to digital evolving into what all of us would like to see and I honestly think MS is likely to be the first to embrace it all. I think Nintendo would follow and then there is Sony, who I'm not really sure is ready to embrace better digital policies.
  • Def wont go all digital, physical is cheaper to buy, especially if you wait a little after release.
    But also I can then go and sell that game to fund a new one, I never play games more than once so have no need to keep a copy.
    Until you can 'gift' licenses to other people and therefore create a second hand marketplace for them I will never fully embrace digital..
  • Unless you have to have games the day they release, disk are way cheaper. It kills me that you can go to Best Buy, etc and you can get new games like Madden 19, Sea of Thieves, etc for under $30 yet digital versions still are $60. ...pass
  • I find the whole digital/physical thing to be weird. So strange to me that I would pay more for a non-physical copy of something. It's not just games either. Renting movies is the same. Redbox is so much cheaper than Vudu or Fandango. It's never made sense to me.
  • Why would I pay $249 for this console when I can get a Division 2 or Anthem bundle Xbox one S for the same price? I'm a huge Xbox fan but I won't be getting this discless console until it is around $200 or less. I get that Microsoft is having there spring sale now but $249 is still to much for a console that as of now has nothing to offer. Two of the preinstalled games I can play on game pass so that's no good. And Forza 4 horizon is also on game pass so I and many others have no interest in Forza 3.
  • this means no discount in store, no cheap price at yard sales, this xbox is going to flop, only people will get this is trash, cd are better then digital, when the system is like 20 years no internet you still can play your cd games, you need to buy a biggest hard drive like 4 to 6tb, have fun spending $500 on the system and a hard drive