This year has been a bit of a dry spell for me when it comes to finding video games I want to purchase and play. Then, there has been a gradual increase in games I really wanted to have when I heard the latest new releases that hit in June. Whenever there’s a new game I want to play, the question I now find myself asking is in what form should I buy it as? Physical game disc or digital download?
When I became a gamer, buying physical discs or game cartridges of the latest and biggest name titles were still largely the way to go and digital downloads didn’t quite become as big and as commonplace as they are now. At least as far as I’m aware of. With every major console—Nintendo, Xbox, Playstation—now having the option to purchase and download digital versions of their games from their online stores to compete with the likes of Steam, suddenly more choices have opened up to gamers on how they prefer to own and access their games.
I’m very old school in how I consume or store my media in the age of new technology. I prefer buying physical books over downloading e-books onto an e-reader device. I carry around a traditional point and shoot camera on my trips rather than take all my travel photos on a cell phone. And as for my video games? It depends.
There are pros and cons to owning your video game in either form. Physical discs come in a box with the cover art, which let’s you take the time to really appreciate the details that went into illustrating the world and characters you’re about to embark on a journey with for the next several weeks, months, or even years. I don’t know about you, but I really like examining the images studios choose to represent and market their games. Packaging is often one of the first things that will draw you into picking up the game at a store before you read the short description on the back of the box to decide if the game you’re holding is one you’ll want to play. This may not seem like a pro to owning a game on a physical disc, but for me personally, I still like being able to hold and touch my games. I like opening up a box and seeing the disc safely tucked inside just waiting for me to take it out and slip it into my console. And while the instruction booklets that come inside those game boxes aren’t as detailed as they used to be, except to print the obligatory health warnings and any other additional warnings a buyer needs to be aware of, I like opening them up to see if there’s some extra art lingering in there somewhere. If you own older games, the instruction booklet is not only packed with tips on how the control scheme and game mechanics work but they sometimes include fun little extras, like character overviews or story related tidbits. Physical games are easier to loan to friends, and they are also great for displaying proudly in your room or home.
The downsides of owning physical games include the potential for the disc or cartridge getting damaged overtime or running out of shelf or storage space in your home. Like almost anything we own, it gets worn, scratched, bent, or broken with age. When that happens to a physical game it will most likely leave the game inoperable and unplayable, which would mean having to buy a replacement or kissing that game goodbye forever. And the more stuff you accumulate, the more space gets limited or tricky to find spots to store the over 30 or 50 games you bought, played, or have yet to play. This is when going digital may be your best option.
The pros of going digital are obvious from the start. Not only are you able to download it to your console or handheld device, but it’s instant gratification at its finest. You can play the game as soon as it’s done downloading or when it’s halfway downloaded. Digital games are stored on the device itself, which frees up extra space in your home to be used for other things. It’s also easy to access without having to bother with opening a box, taking a disc out, and loading it into your console. You can live your best coach potato life! Depending on what console you own, you can take advantage of free monthly downloads on select games or the occasional sales that might have a better deal than what you would find at your local GameStop or Amazon.
Digital downloads, however, do have their share of issues. Similar to the space problem with physical games, internal storage on a console or handheld does eventually reach its full capacity. Once it does, you either have to delete or uninstall some games to make space or buy an external hard drive or SD card to transfer some of that extra data elsewhere. Devices can break or data can get corrupted and lost. If your digital downloads aren’t backed up someplace and accessible through other means, you won’t be able to play your copy of the game until you replace your console or handheld. However, most digital downloads of games are never really lost or gone for good since there’s a way to re-download these games on a new device, as a lot of digital content are linked to your account. The issue really lies with your save files getting lost unless you take measures to save it on the cloud or on an external hard drive. Digital downloads sometimes don’t have the special edition versions and extras physical games are released or re-released with. You may be downloading just the game without all the extra goodies hardcore gamers and collectors will want to own.
I often find myself having a mixture of both physical game discs and digital downloads. Sometimes I like the convenience a digital download offers me and other times I’m after the Day 1 exclusive bonuses the physical game releases have. Or in some cases there’s no real choice to choose between either one because the game is only available in one particular format. For example, last month it was announced that Square Enix’s Nier Automata, the Playstation exclusive, is now available to play on Xbox One. The only way to purchase and play the game is by downloading it digitally through the Xbox Store. The only physical copy of the game is still solely for the PS4. Since I’ve been wanting to play Nier Automata but don’t own a PS4, now is a good time as any to finally get the game with this surprising announcement. Sometimes, it’s good to be old school while still getting with the times.
How do you like owning your games? Physical game discs, digital downloads, or both? Why do you prefer one over the other?
Special thanks goes to my best friend Setsuna Setsunai, who suggested and is the inspiration behind this post!