The first thing you have to worry about when wondering if digital games are better than physical ones or not is which game you should buy in the first place. With that settled in and sorted, the next big decision has to be about the format of the actual game. Should you buy the digital version or get the physical edition of the title? And if you do one of the two options, the only two options available, why should you do one of the two?
In terms of popularity, digital games have simply exploded over the last decade, but are there downsides to buying your games virtually? This is still a widespread debate among gamers, and in this article, we will look at the differences between the two types of formats so that you make the right decision on your next buy. We will explore the pros and cons of physical versus digital games, and then you will have a brighter image of the two, helping you make the appropriate purchase when you go on a shopping spree this year.
Are Physical Games Still A Thing?
Although we are in 2023 already, physical games are still a thing. As a virtual gaming store, we could be sarcastic and say that yes, physical games are still a thing… if you want to gift your grandma a game on a CD. Yet we know gamers are still into buying the actual DVD when their favourite title comes out. Why? Because there’s something unique about holding that game in your hands, opening it up, having the serial code in there, and then booting it up in your device.
According to the statistics, the physical games market will reach over $11 billion in 2023. Now if you’re not great with numbers, as we are, that is a LARGE/BIG/HUGE number, regardless of how you look at it. The truth about physical games is that there are still up there, hanging in the balance of revenue generated with virtual copies. Far Cry 6 sold better in physical form last year. At the same time, GTA V sold 76% of the time in virtual form over the past 12 months.
Digital vs. Physical Games
Now that you know everything about digital and physical copies of games, even if you probably didn’t want to, we’ll look at the pros and cons of buying them. Why should you go for a digital copy and why not? When is the physical copy a better idea? And yes, that includes gift-giving as it is much better to go to a birthday party with an actual cased CD of Resident Evil 7 for your 12-year-old nephew rather than a piece of paper with a download code on it.
Price - It all starts and ends with money, isn’t it? Price is a very good reason to buy one of the two versions of the same game if you don’t really mind how it gets to your device in the first place. If you’re not a collector of physical goods for example, and the price of the digital version is lower than that of the physical, then you know which one you’re going for without any help. For the most part, physical games are launched at the same price as digital ones. The main difference is that physical games tend to go down in price after a while, much faster than it happens with digital copies. Physical copies are therefore a better choice than digital ones if you're usually buying the game months after its release. In that sense, digital stores are also to be carefully watched, as they offer constant sales with sometimes impressive price drops. The sales come with significant discounts, reducing their prices by 80% or more at times, making any game much cheaper than if you were to buy it as a DVD. Luck also plays a role as you need to get lucky finding the right sale for the right title, physical or digital. Digital games are more expensive than physical if the latter is offered in a second-hand manner.
Second-hand - Physical games have a significant plus when it comes to value over time. You can trade them or sell them afterwards, to other gamers looking for a bargain, and who are willing to wait for a few months to get a cheaper price on it. Another possibility is that your game becomes rare. Physical copies of games can often get lost, damaged, or simply not printed in large amounts. If this happens, your copy of the first Aladdin game can skyrocket in value in no time, if demand is up. Secon-hand games have no support from the developers, so if they don't work, or the serial number is not a match... good luck getting your money back...
Swap or share - Speaking of second-hand goods, games can also be either swapped for other titles or shared with someone else, or a bunch. You can swap your copy of Mario Brothers with your neighbour who is tired of playing The Legend of Zelda, for example, on your old Nintendo consoles. The benefit here is that you can get new games without paying anything extra for them, and you can do this constantly as long as the physical object, as in the cartridge or the CD is playable. With digital games, you can't swipe or share the title itself but you can share your account details with someone and have them play any of the games you have already. There is no need to go to a convention or a fair, as the details can be shared with a few clicks all across the world. Surely, never do this if you don't fully know and trust the person you're about to share your account with, as it can lead to the loss of all of your games.
Is this up for grabs? - Availability is an essential factor when you decided on a physical versus a digital copy of a certain game. In order to grab a physical game, one must travel to a store where they have it in stock. If this doesn't happen on release day, this is usually fine when talking about popular games, as most stores will have a copy. Yet most gamers don't just look for the newest titles when they do so, considering the price and all. Hunting intervenes, and sometimes you simply cannot hunt down your wanted purchase. If the game is older, in particular, it is hard to find a copy. Digital games, on the other hand, never go out of stock. And you don't have to go to a store to get one, as you can do it from home. There is access to almost any game if you just go online and search for its title. No need to wait in line but just for the download to occur, and you can go ahead and play the game. You can even pre-order and pre-download the game as it becomes available, then play it moments after the release. Another important thing to mention here is the smaller indie titles, which most of the time don't even make it to physical format. The only way to get those is digital, as is the case with bonus content, made available as DLCs.
Is this still working? - Buying a physical game usually means you own that thing for life. Digital games sometimes mean that you just get a licence to play the title and then you can expect to have it revoked at any moment. Although it sometimes happens, this is still a rare occurrence. Developers go out of business, or simply decide to remove their digital content from a website, or other things might happen. You cannot play it again if your copy is not stored on a computer. But the thing is, physical games are not protected from this. For once, you still need major updates when you install a physical game, including the title having a launcher, DLCs updates and more. The game you have on the CD can be infested with bugs, or come lacking some essential features that the updates have given other players who've downloaded them. Physical games can also get damaged, lost, or even stolen from you. After ten years of play and storage, the game can not work anymore or have no updates to be installed once you put it in the DVD-ROM. When it comes to digital games, there is always another copy to be downloaded from your account. As long as the store exists, there's no issue there. You need to be careful about not losing your access to the said account, which can occur with a hack or a forgotten password. Or a ban. If these are sorted, there's no issue in sight.
Convenience - When you're completely digital, you don't notice it. But try changing completely from digital gaming to conventional. Make it so that every game runs with a CD or a cartridge, and you have to change it every time you switch between titles. Digital games scream convenience. Ultimate convenience. You just go online, buy a new title, download it, and then play it without getting off your comfortable chair. A Nintendo Switch can hold up all of your games, anywhere you are, so even without an internet connection, you can still play. Moving or travelling abroad is no reason to stop playing, as all of your digital games will still be there with you. Sign in to your account, wherever you are, and go for it.
Environment - Physical take up space in the real world, among other things. Plus, manufacturing the games, as well as shipping them to local retailers and then your house has an impact on the planet. Discs, as well as boxes and cartridges, are made from plastic ever since their inception. Moving them from one corner of the world to the other makes for a lot of pollution you don't really need. Sure, digital games are also impacting the environment, as most developers are not yet carbon neutral. The servers holding your games are also not great when it comes to global sustainability. Yet they have a smaller impact on the planet than physical copies. It's not much to consider but if you do want to play games in 15 years from now, you know, on this planet, maybe consider it?
The Future Of Gaming
Is the future of gaming going to be fully digital? We are an online store so as far as we’re concerned, of course not! The truth is, there is no right answer because there is no way games will turn only digital or only physical. Even if there’s no more plastic in the world tomorrow, they will find a way to encase the game in a cartridge or a CD. Even when the entire world is digital, 50 years from now, those few nostalgics will still believe in and collect physical titles.
Physical games have little material but a lot of sentimental value. You’re still holding dear to your first few Pokemon cards, and you do the same with your first games. Many of us still have a few SEGA cartridges or even complete sets with the console and the controllers somewhere in our attics. Yet the world is turning digital, more and more. And with time, we’ll look at physical games as historical trophies of our own. Prized possessions that you can do nothing with.
But possessions that mean something to us, more than anything on the web. Linking us to them by the memory of plugin them in first and hitting that physical play button on the joystick. Digital games might be the future but nostalgia will always give the gaming world its true value.