Physical vs. Digital

Physical vs. Digital

I’ve seen this debate happen more often with each passing day. There seems to even be quite the divide when it comes to preference and publishers are taking notice. Each have their own pros and cons and there is no true winner in this battle, but I want to take an objective look at each before even stating my own personal opinions.

Physical games are like a home cooked meal. They’re comforting, bring you memories of your childhood, and are always there for you until the end of time (unless something physically happens to them.) You can always pick up a physical game and know that the data in the cart or on that disk is the game advertised. Even if you’re on your fifteenth console, you can pop in that game and enjoy all the content it contains.

Physical games can also easily be shared, given away, or sold. For many gamers this is the way that they afford new games. It’s the very basis of businesses like GameStop. If a friend wants to borrow your game, they can just take the cart or disk and place it in their own console. If you want to bring a game to a friend’s house to show them what you just picked up, it’s as simple as it sounds.

Physical games also contain a collectable aura. Some games are never re-released or released digitally so it’s the only way to obtain a copy. Because of this, many games are worth hundreds or thousands of dollars bringing an extra incentive to holding onto that physical copy.

On the other hand, having a physical game takes up space, and a collection of physical games, takes up a lot of space. Many game collectors have rooms dedicated to just their games. If you want to change games, you’ll also have to remove the cart or disk from your system in order to place a new game inside. Plus, just like any physical item, they can also get destroyed, stolen, or damaged. Like many other collectables, they need to be protected which requires extra care.

When purchasing physical games, you’ll need to either drive to a store where you’ll have to deal with retail chains, or order online where you must wait for delivery. For publishers, they don’t make as much on each game by placing it in a store since the retailer needs to take a cut. This may not be a negative for us consumers, but it does influence which games could potentially be released.

Physical games also require certain systems to play. Some of these systems can be quite pricey. They may also require certain peripherals which makes backwards compatibility as technology moves on, impossible. I bring this up for one reason which I will touch on shortly.

Now let’s take a look at digital releases. There are also plenty of pros defending the digital form of media. First off, they take up zero space. No box, no physical manual, just the file for the game and sometimes a digital manual. This means you can have your entire game collection in one system, as long as you have enough hard drive space, and that will free up plenty of room in your house for other things.

You also can just select a new game to play without ever leaving your couch. Sure this caters to the lazy, but it is a positive and I know several people that love this feature. If you use illegal means, which I do not condone in any way, you could have several consoles in one PC which saves a ton of money as well as space.

Digital games can also be purchased right through the internet and downloaded immediately. No driving to the store, no dealing with retail chains, and no waiting for a store to open. The world today certainly seems fixated on immediate gratification so this could very well be an important point to some people. Because of this, it is also cheaper and less of a risk for publishers to release games using digital distribution.

On the flip side, digital games cannot be shared, lent out, or sold. Some companies are trying to figure out how to provide a service for selling digital games, but at the time of this writing, you are unable to do so. If you never sell your games and you are the only one in your family that plays games, this may not apply to you. But if you have kids or a spouse that is into games, it can get expensive buying two or more copies of each game digitally so that everyone can play as opposed to one physical copy that can be shared.

Also, depending on which system you download your game on, it could be tied to your username, id, or worst of all, your system. This makes upgrading to a new system a little harder to do. Also, if your system is god forbid stolen, you just lost your entire game collection as well.

Another negative to digital downloads is you have one primary source to get the game from and because of that, the price is controlled. I’ve seen many games “on demand” that are $29.99 when you can pick up a used copy at GameStop for $7.99. Yes, there are sales for digital items just like there are sales on physical ones, but there are many outlets to pick up physical copies as opposed to the one or two for digital. For PC gamers, there are some more, but I’m mainly talking console games here.

Now after running through some pros and cons for each, and I’m sure there are more that I didn’t even touch on, what are my personal views on the subject? For me, it’s physical media all the way. Now, let me explain why.

As a game collector, I take pride in having physical games line my shelves. It’s sort of like how hunters like to put the heads of animals they killed on their walls. The games on my shelves each tell a story and when looking over them, they remind me of different parts of my life.

I also find it more gratifying to play each game on the console it was meant to be played on. It’s like stepping into a time machine and going back to when each game I play came out. Especially since there are so many types of controllers and some can’t replicate exactly how a game was meant to be played. For example, I find it much harder to play an N64 Virtual Console game using the Classic Controller or the Classic Controller Pro vs. an N64 controller.

Since my wife also enjoys playing games, I don’t want to have to purchase each game twice. This way we can alternate who plays simply by popping out the game from one system, and placing it the other. I imagine that when we have kids, this will also be handy.

Does this mean I’m against digital? Not at all. In fact I’ve purchased plenty of games on WiiWare and Virtual Console in addition to XBLA and PSN. But they are not without their faults which steer me away. Let me explain.

PSN has a nice system where the games are linked to your PSN ID and can be downloaded multiple times and even on multiple systems. This is a nice feature. Sadly I have never liked the XMB bar on the PS3 or PSP and it doesn’t seem to place the games in alphabetical order which makes it a chore to find the game you want sometimes.

XBLA I think has the best system personally. Games are tied to your Gamertag and can be downloaded again if needed. They are also placed in alphabetical order which is a huge plus. However, the largest hard drive that Microsoft provides is 320gig. I used to pick up each XBLA game until I ran out of room. The PS3 has a 500gig HD so I can’t understand why Microsoft hasn’t gone this route.

Nintendo is sadly still very much behind when it comes to digital content. What I mean by that is whatever you purchase is linked to your system. This wouldn’t be so bad if systems never died. Recently I’ve had a problem with one of my Wii’s. Of course it was the one with all my virtual console and Wiiware titles on it. I wanted to transfer them all to my Wii U but with my Wii not working, I was stuck. I called Nintendo and they were nice enough to lower the price of repair on the Wii since they were holding about $500 worth of downloaded games hostage. I’ve had 360’s die on me before, but it was as simple as pop off the hard drive, place the hard drive in a new console, power on and sign in.

I know there are some of you out there that are die hard PC gamers and love Steam and its many sales. Steam is also done correctly since all the games are linked to your Steam account. As a console gamer, I’m interested to see what the Steam Box offers if it ever comes out.

Now what about you guys? Do you prefer Physical copies to line your shelves or Digital copies to fill your hard drives? I want to know which one and why! I look forward to seeing which side of the debate you are on!

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About the author:

Barry has been a Nintendo fan since ’85 when he first played Super Mario Bros. on a friend’s NES. Since then he owns every Nintendo console. He’s also an avid Video Game collector and hast most consoles from every generation including a mini museum in his house dedicated to them. His favorite genre of games is Role-Playing. He loves both JRPGs and WRPGs as long as there is a great story to hook him in.

Barry has been part of the NintendoFuse team since June 2013. He first was a regular reader of the site for over a year until he finally called into the Podcast one night. After he felt the chemistry he had with the rest of the team, he was given the honor of joining the NintendoFuse family. You’ll also find Barry on NintendoFuse’s Pod-casts, both in vocal and video form!

Barry – who has written posts on NintendoFuse.


  • http://www.wiinintendo.net Jeremy Hardin

    Great editorial Barry! Thanks for your insights into the whole discussion of physical vs digital media. For me, it’s digital (when applicable.)

    • hawk1010

      Thanks Jeremy. Digital certainly has it’s advantages. I just hate when publishers don’t give you the choice. Like Ace Attorney 5. There’s a petition right now to get a physical version released. I signed it since I’d like to place it on my shelf next to my other AA games. For Indie games, digital is a great way to get their games to the max amount of people quickly and relatively cheaply.

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