Debate: Digital vs Physical Games

Debate Digital Vs Physical
When you get a video game, do you prefer physical or digital copies? Myself, I prefer the physical copies. Sure, the boxes of the games can take up some space, but they’ve slimmed down some in the past couple of years. To me, physical copies are nostalgic — I’m old enough to have been gaming before the online and digital trend of games became available.

While I’ll agree it’s nice to have a collection of box art, I enjoy digital copies. I’ll admit it took me a while to hop on that trend, but it’s got me hooked now. I love being able to want a game, log onto my console, and buy and download the game right then and there. I don’t have to leave the house or get out of my pajamas. I can have the game in a matter of minutes.

Okay, sure, digital copies can be readily available, but cost-wise, they almost never go on sale unless it’s once in a blue moon, and Nintendo has never discounted their premier titles. Physical copies in stores can get all sorts of deals, especially around the holidays when many major games are released. Not only that, but to stick all those digital copies onto your Switch, you may need a decent SD card, and those aren’t that cheap.

They do go on sale once in a while, yeah. And yeah, the SD card can be pricey but I’m willing to invest. Not to mention digital copies have more of an array of games. A lot of indie games come out on the eShop, not necessarily in physical form. So, it’s easier to branch out more and those indie games are pretty easy on the wallet.

Indie games can be fun, I’ll give you that. But, like the other games, they’d all be stuck on your Switch. Physical games give you the ability to share with your friends, as swapping cartridges are simpler than swapping Switch consoles. And if both you and your friend are done playing with the games? You can get some of your money back by reselling the game, and save a few bucks while purchasing pre-owned games. When you’re done with a digital game, it stays on your Switch until you delete it to make room for a new game… if you don’t mind the fact that you had paid for the download in the first place.

Rachel Mii Double Jump
First, I would never delete a game… unless it was utter crap. Second, sure, you can resell games and make an extra buck or two depending on where you go. I’ll give you that one, but most serious gamers don’t resell their games. Not that I’ve seen, anyway. They keep them for a collector’s sake. Third, the whole point of the Switch is to take it around with you. Yes, it’s easier to carry a small cartridge around, but people are bringing their Switch’s everywhere now. If you have the game on the Switch, you can play it whether your friend has it or not. Speaking of tiny cartridges, I know plenty of people who have misplaced their games. You can’t play the game if you don’t have the cartridge.

Perhaps you wouldn’t like to delete a game, but if you wanted to download a new title and had no other room on the Switch due to your other downloads, there goes your first point — you’d have to leave the house to buy a new SD card, at least. I’ll give you that the Switch is perfect for carrying around to a friend’s house. Nowadays, one of the joys of being a gamer is connecting with others, after all. Yet, if your friend doesn’t have a Switch dock themselves, it’s not going to be very comfortable staring at the small screen. And are you going to let them borrow the entire console if they wanted to continue playing one of your games? Swapping physical games is a simpler way to connect with fellow gamers. And, if you’re really a serious gamer, you wouldn’t go around losing your cartridges. You’d keep them to resell those that aren’t your favorites when you’re done because gaming is an expensive hobby. Physical games are my choice because they’re cost-effective and simple to share with others.

Rachel Mii Double Jump
I’d buy an SD card through Amazon and it would arrive the next day. Problem solved. I’ll take your points but still deem you wrong. I’m going with digital games because they’re convenient and there’s more to offer.

Which do you prefer? Physical games or digital downloads? Let us know in the comments below!

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Readers Comments (37)

  1. When it comes to physical and digital games, it really depends on the console for me.
    On Sony platforms, I’m open to buying a few digital games, as the games bought are tied to my account, and I can share my digital games with others. Also, they usually have great spur-of-the-moment flash sales, sometimes with games 70% off with PlayStation Plus.
    With Nintendo platforms, I usually go physical. I usually buy older titles digitally (Virtual Console), for the convenience of having them with me in the go, and for the inexpensive price.
    I guess to a smaller degree, a bit of it is psychological, as when I spend money, I like to “feel” like I own my purchase, having something tangible.
    There are some exceptions as well, with games like Animal Crossing, and Super Smash Brothers on the 3DS, and I like to have those games with me at all times.
    But overall, my preference is physical games!

    • Ah, I know what you mean when you say you like to “feel” you own your purchase. That’s actually not a bad point. And, going against my standings here, downloads can always get interrupted. It’s happened to Kris before where the money disappeared but the game didn’t.
      And yeah, I guess it does depend on the console. I’ve come to liking digital downloads on my 3DS because it’s just easier to grab it and go.
      Thanks for your input!

    • It’s interesting to know that Sony platforms let you share digital games. We’ll have to explore that more.
      It’s great having something tangible when you buy a game! The boxes sometime take up more room than they should, but most are pretty to look at and collect.
      I do like some digital downloads with me, like some if the older Pokemon games on my 3DS. That’s totally understandable.
      Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts! 🙂

  2. I’ve been almost exclusively digital with the Switch, primarily just for convenience’s sake. I have a two year old son and I can just imagine how easy it would be for those little cartridges to get lost. A lot of the major titles are doing predownloads now so that you can play the game the minute it becomes available, which is an added layer of convenience. I travel a lot and use my Switch in handheld mode more often than in docked mode, so having the games on the console instead of having to drag the cases all across the state is pretty nice.
    I definitely understand that there are some cons to downloading digitally (if my wife wants to play Fire Emblem Awakening, we have to trade 3DS for a while), but so far for me those cons haven’t overridden the convenience factor.

    • Well that’s the other thing, the cartridges are so tiny for the Switch and I do enjoy collecting the cover art, but it’s kind of a waste of plastic, lol. I think the Switch is making everything more “convenient” for players. Or trying to.

    • The cartridges are tiny, I’ll give you that. The boxes for them can be a waste of plastic with the size comparison. Of course, the choking hazard for your son is a fantastic reason to go digital. That’s the reason I’ll forgive you for giving Rachel another point for digital, haha! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. I’m a mixed bag. I went digital on PC back when Half-Life 2 launched on Steam, so 2004 I think. The space I’m saving on the shelves is still taken up by blu-ray movies and CDs, because I still buy those.
    On console, I’m still buying physical too. To start with, that’s because I was trying to convince myself (as a new console owner) I would trade in games and consoles when I was “done” with them. I’ve never traded in a single game or console. In truth, it’s because the cost of digital games on consoles is still pretty high compared to PC, so it’s tough to stomach the move to digital there.

    • I’m counting this as a point for physical since we were mainly talking about the switch, haha! For PC games, we’re almost all digital, but I still get physical once in a while, especially for the holidays if our parents are asking us what kind of games we want. They’d probably be a bit confused on how to gift digital codes.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      • Well hang on, if I were to actually take sides… it would have to be digital, since I own 220+ games on Steam, I’m primarily a PC gamer (although that’s steadily changing) and I do think there’s enough plastic in the world. I think it’s only a matter of time before I move to digital across the board, music is first due to subscription services, I’m not buying anywhere near as many CDs these days. In the future I think most entertainment will be subscription based, which is a problem, because how can you actually then OWN anything?

        • Shhh, we’re talking about switch games…!
          I know what you mean about digital purchases, though, especially with music. The majority of the music I listen to nowadays is usually streamed from Spotify. It’s been eons since I’ve bought a CD for myself. Nostalgia and actually feeling like I own the game are a couple of reasons why I tend to prefer physical games.

          • Oh I thought it was a general debate about physical vs. Digital, my bad haha. I’m not as awake as I thought; when I read the article I thought “they sure are talking about the Switch a lot” which is why I commented about PC in the first place 😇 I’ll get my coat…

          • Haha, no worries! Any and all comments are welcome, especially since there are so many different types of gaming platforms out there. We’ve been trying more PC games lately to expand our horizon, especially since we’ve grown up as Nintendo girls. Hearing about PC games is awesome!

  4. I talked about this a while back and have to say I fall on the side of physical over digital. I get some games digitally but would prefer to get a physical copy if it is possible.

  5. I prefer physical copies for consoles. In the areas I’ve lived in the download speed was so slow that it would take at least the whole day for it to be complete (if you were lucky). Also in Australia the internet service providers limit the amount you can download, so sometimes you wait till just before the limit renews before you start downloading games, videos, etc. (lest you spend the rest of the month on dial up because you miscalculated).
    It was just easier to buy a physical copy back then, and though it’s a lot better to download now, it became a habit to buy physical.
    Also there is something about seeing your physical collection of games (especially compared to (in my case) my steam list)

    • Ah, sorry to hear about those download times. That must have been so annoying! Glad they’re a bit better now, though!
      I agree that seeing the physical collection is nice, but we are starting to run out of room to put the boxes, haha! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  6. I prefer digital but sometimes the ability to get a game at a stark discount is enough to get me to buy physical now. I generally do this on games I’m mildly interested in though, games I want to play day one on XB1 or PS4 generally are digital copies. Weirdly though, in terms of my Switch, I actually buy retail games physically, there is something I like about the little carts.

    • Discounts are always a good reason to pick between digital and physical! The little Switch cartridges are cute, aren’t they? You just had to be careful with your pets and the younger kids around with them.

  7. I’ve answered this question with books, too! I like the advantages of both. It’s easier to obtain digital copies; it’s just a download away, but I do like the “possession” of a physical copy, and there are some games (like anything involving Final Fantasy VII or I suppose just Final Fantasy in general) that I will always physically own. I wish digital came with the perk of being cheaper, but I’ve noticed that’s usually not the case. With games as opposed to books, even if you own a physical copy, there are often digital/downloadable components, and I think this will become even more prevalent in the future since DLCs aren’t going anywhere!

    • I choose physical over digital with books, just like games — I don’t own an eReader. I know the advantages of them, but they’ve just never appealed to me enough to buy one.
      I have such mixed feelings on DLC. When I buy a game, I’d like to buy it in its entirety as opposed to shelling out more money for extra story aspects. Then again, DLC can certainly enrich a game experience… I just wish we didn’t need to download patches and such on games that are supposedly finished.
      Thank you for commenting and sharing your thoughts! 🙂

      • I didn’t own one for years, and I remember a time where I couldn’t read ANYTHING online. The first thing I ever did was a fanfiction hehe. Before I’d print them out, but then I started writing my own, and now that I write both them and original works, I’m much more used to reading online. I like the convenience of carrying a library around with you, and it’s really easy to buy more books in a series, but I’ve noticed if I REALLY like something I’ve read on Kindle, I want a physical copy of it. I’m sure generations going forward won’t care about that, but I still do!
        Yep. I agree wholeheartedly. It really depends on how a game uses it. I like how Little Nightmares does it. The game is a complete game, and the DLCs are additions to the story. They’re also not that expensive, so it’s not like you’re paying for a whole new game. I don’t like this pay to play nonsense that a lot of games are using now (e.g. Destiny 2 according to my husband). Technology and advancement are great, but I don’t like them being used to screw over the players. Agree about the patches, too, though I’m okay if they’re using it to fix stuff and NOT charging you.

        • Ah, I love reading and writing fanfiction too, haha! It is very simple to just open up a fanfiction app on my phone whenever I have a few minutes of downtime. Totally understand the convenience of that!
          Most of the recent Fire Emblem games were similar, however, the Echoes one had some DLC that was more expensive than the actual game! It was a little ridiculous. Most, though, weren’t that pricey, just little extras that I’ve played more than once, so I got my money’s worth.

          • Yay! I’m also so worried talking about my fanfiction writing, because you have some Judgy McJudgersons out there who like to deride it. Of course there’s bad fanfiction, because there are no “gatekeepers” per se, but there are also some bad self-published novels out there since gatekeepers are disappearing from that landscape as well. It irks me that fanfiction doesn’t garner the same respect as fanart when both can and often do take an incredible amount of time and talent. Whew…sorry for the rant.
            That’s…ridiculous. The DLC, which is an add-on, should not be more than the original game. I could see if it’s a huge expansion like FFXIV Stormblood, which (I’m assuming) is like a whole other game, but downloadable content shouldn’t fall into that category. I’d be irritated, too.

          • Fanfiction should be held in the highest regards because you’re getting full-length novels for free from such talented writers who just want to share their love of an established world with everyone else. The same with fanart, as you said. You are totally fine with the rant, haha!
            The priciest DLC was the “season pass,” which included all of the DLC maps. It was cheaper than buying the DLC maps individually, but it was still a steep price for maps that allowed exclusive character classes and rare items. I remember when special classes and rare items were rewards for discovering difficult secrets in a game’s code or something rather than just buying it all, you know? And that’s my little rant, haha!

          • There’s an awesome manifesto about this by one Foz Meadows, and she basically says the exact same thing. You’re getting to read free stories about something you love. While you might not always be able to find ones you like, that’s not that much different from going to the bookstore! I’m so glad more people are seeing eye to eye on this.
            This is one of the reasons I’m getting more into indie developers. While of course they want to make a profit, they still seem to have more of a player focus insofar as making their games as accessible as possible for as many people as they can.

          • I’m glad as well! It seems to be something that this generation — having grown up with technology that’s constantly evolving and enabling us to share our love of fandoms more easily — understands more than previous generations. Of course, that’s just my opinion, but many fanfiction writers and fanartists I see around nowadays are more on the younger side. People can be any age to celebrate their love of a fandom, but I tend to see more teens sharing their fan-works.
            2017 was fantastic was indie developers, wasn’t it? I’m constantly amazed by what people — especially smaller companies — are able to do when it comes to creating games, like Cuphead and Stardew Valley. Nintendo will always be one of my loves, but kudos to those who are able to share their creativity and love of gaming with others by creating their own game!

          • It’s honestly a way for them to express themselves, and it also tends to be in the realm of young/younger women, which sadly is often a reason it’s so derided. Young girls can’t do anything/have anything without it being ridiculed. I think about the jokes made about Ugg boots, yoga pants, and pumpkin spice, all things that young women stereotypically like, and if you decide you like less mainstream things, you’re accused of trying to hard. Fanfiction gives people the ability to play around with characters they love in worlds they’re often very familiar with, and it can also be a great starting point for later, original works. I know I started with fanfiction before I wrote anything original!
            Limbo and Inside by Playdead were two of the best games I saw all year. In fact most of the games I watched were from indie developers: Rakuen, Ori and the Blind Forest, The Witch’s House. It really shows that games aren’t just a big company’s market!

          • That is all too true. It’s such a shame! Fanfiction promotes everything that more “serious” writing promotes — creativity, communication skills, networking with other authors, plenty of other things that I’m sure I would be able to come up with if I hadn’t just woken up, lol.
            I don’t think I’ve heard of either of those… I’ll have to check them out! Where do you usually get your Indie Game news from? Do you just search around on Steam or do you have a certain website you check occasionally for news? Or do you just find all these awesome indie games by chance?

          • Honestly, it’s because of the bloggers I follow! I wouldn’t know about half the games I do if it wasn’t for them. They all seem to have the latest scoop on everything be it from a bigger company or a smaller developer 🙂 I know The Witch’s House was reviewed by a blogger buddy and I believe the rest were talked about in their posts. I don’t really follow any of the mainstream gaming sites, so I legitimately get all of my gaming news from WP or now Nintendo news on the Switch 😀

  8. 100% physical for me. Too many things, including laws, haven’t caught up with technology and with digital, you’re often paying to access something rather than truly own it. If a company goes under and everything shuts down, your digital library may well be tanked, dead, and gone. You’re out of luck. Similarly, if a company were sold, you may find some drastic changes in how your digital library is managed and accessed. Of course, you can address both of these if you’re storing everything permanently on your own hard drive rather than deleting and re-downloading later if you want to play again (so long as that hard drive doesn’t die).
    With physical, though, you can always play when you wish. What’s more, there’s long term value associated with physical copies. Look at Gravity Rush remastered. You can buy it digitally for $30 and play it, but that’s it. You’re done when you’re done. There’s nothing you can do from that point onward. The physical copy of Gravity Rush, however, is currently worth about $50 due to its limited print run. That’s actually $20 more than it was worth at release and in another 25 years? It could go up, it could go down.
    But the bottom line for me is: digital is a bit of a rip off. It costs the company no money to manufacture, no shipping cost, no packaging cost, yet it costs the same as physical and you have no tangible value after your purchase to recoup a dime. Think of it as renting vs owning. Sure, digital downloads, like renting, offer convenience, but owning physical still maintains some equity in your library that you can use later. Even if a game drops in value and you can only get $5 for it, that’s $5 more than a digital copy will ever get you (unless you’re selling your entire account, I suppose!).

    • All extremely valid points! Cost seems to be a popular point for many people in choosing physical over digital. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! 🙂

  9. Look, as a game collector, I LOVE physical copies. I even have digital copies of games I own physically… Yeah.
    Personally, I think that if the market is going fully digital, I’m afraid that buying games will lose it’s value a bit. We might turn into a sort of mobile games market were games are quickly downloaded and removed if they aren’t enjoyed in the first few minutes. A point I made back in 2013 actually in this article.
    (I really need to rewrite that and update it with my current views. So, take my old writing with a grain of salt.)
    To be very honest, I think that it’s a big negative if everything would go digital. Before you know it, you will be depended on a service like Steam, PSN Store or the Nintendo eShop.
    This is terrible for a few reasons:
    1) You never own a copy of the game itself. You own a license key to be able to play the game. If you didn’t download your WiiWare titles before the eShop closes down this year; well, tough luck…
    2) That brings me right to my next point, if Steam has problems, maybe no games for you.
    3) What is stopping Steam from handling a business model like NetFlix? Seriously, what’s stopping them? What if you were able to stream games instead of buying them?
    4) Collectors Editions become less valuable. Since, collectors editions were limited, so if you weren’t able to buy one, though luck. Nowadays, I see big games like EU IV, selling the pre-order bonus material as DLC.
    5) No collectible physical items with preoders. 🙁 Like I got a shirt when I pre-ordered Tomb Raider (2013) or a pin and various other goodies when I preordered Majora’s Mask 3DS.
    6) I’m sorry but “order” a new SD card for more games… Ehrm, a few things. How you manage which game you store where and on which SD card you have which save file? See where I’m going with this?
    My opinion on this whole debate is, I think we have an amazing system now. Where games come out physically and digitally. Since both worlds do need to exist in my opinion. Maybe this might just be me, clinging to the past but even as a computer science student in his last year of education, I find it a very scary thought of everything going digital. Give me a healthy mix of both.

    • A healthy mix of both seems to be the way to go with the physical versus digital debate. Rachel and I both like both for a variety of reasons, many of which you pointed out for the physical side of things. Digital games saves physical rooms, though — I’ve recently gotten rid of a bunch of 3DS game covers/packages because we’re running out of space for other things. As for getting more SD cards, being organized with them would be simple enough, with lists and a special place to keep the little things when we’re not using them. It’s what we did when we had several SD cards for the GameCube, after all.
      Overall, though, having both physical and digital is working right now, and here’s hoping that they won’t mess with that system too much in the future! Thank you for sharing your thoughts! 🙂

  10. First music, then movies now video games. It seems like it will only happen in a matter of time when digital is 100% for all game sales. I love my physical copies of video games and it will always be my preferred choice. Even though I have to admit digital is more convenient.

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