Digital OR Physical Games: Pros and Cons

With the newly released South Park The Stick of Truth, I faced for the first time an internal struggle. Do I buy the physical copy? Or do I buy the digital version and have the download ready to play when I get home from work. After a lot of hmming and hawing, I decided to go with the physical copy. I have my reasons which I will go through during the pros and cons. But no sooner than I made the decision to go digital with South Park The Stick of Truth, I faced the same issue as I decide which version to preorder of inFamous: Second Son. I think I’ve come to a decision, but I wanted to highlight the pros and cons of digital downloads and get your feedback as to what your preference is on the subject.

It’s no surprise that the video game ecosystem is shifting to digital. It is also happening more and more to other mediums. Digital is a trend, but it’s not perfect.

Playstation Plus

Playstation Plus

Pro: Digital downloads of games are almost instant. 
With the click of a button I can purchase a digital game. To make it even better, with my PS4 after I purchase a game, I can initiate a download from anywhere I am and it will be ready and waiting for me to play when I get home from wherever I am. Sure, I can’t do that on a PS3, but I can have it ready to download. With the length of time some of these games take to download and install can be up to an hour and I have a relatively good download speed at around 30Mbps. (I can’t wait to get Google Fiber at my place). A digital game can be mine in minutes a spur of the moment purchase. The need to drive down to the store, even if it’s around the corner, is over. I can stay in my jammies and get my game now.

Con: Digital games mean more space on my drive.
Digital downloads eat up a lot of space on your drive. Both the PS4 and Xbox One have 500GB drives. When you factor in the native room used to operate the OS. Then add in any other installs you have, the room for games is a lot, but not nearly 500Gb. The larger a game is the more room it take up. And you can’t forget about your actual game saves because they don’t count with the total room needed. With my continued use of Playstation Plus, I have amassed a growing library of both free and bought titles. With each game I lose more of my available room. Digital games have to download the entire game onto your system to run. Physical games don’t have that issue. A portion of the game is often downloaded, but not the whole thing. Think about it this way: inFamous: Second Son will take up 24GB (and that is a moderately sized AAA title game).

Pro: Potential lower cost.
When a game doesn’t need to be put on a disc, packaged, shipped, and go through alternate retail channels, the cost of a game should go down. We haven’t really seen that happen yet, which doesn’t make much sense. Xbox is experimenting with this with Ryse. With a lower cost, I’d be more willing to not just buy digital games, but buy more. While we haven’t seen many real price drops, it’s something we’ll see more. Unfortunately, until the ecosystem fully shifts we won’t likely see drops on newly released games in order to maintain relationships with retail stores rather than undercutting them.

Con: Sharing, or lack thereof. (Womp).
There are two PS4s in my house. I often share games. There is a well worn system in my house that often has one of us playing a game and the other to play when the other isn’t. When I buy a physical game, sharing is really important to me. Digital versions prohibit me from that. If I go for a digital game, it’s mine and it isn’t sure being shared throughout my house. If there was some sort of location recognition to allow sharing within a household on different machines that’s be great. Until then, digital games are mine. Unfortunately, digital games cost the same as physical games. I’m less likely to drop that money on a digital game, when I can go halfsies on a two physical games.

Xbox Demand

Xbox Demand

Pro: No physical collection.
If your house goes up in flames and you only have time to save a few things. With digital games all you have to do is grab your console and controllers and you’re set. There’s no need to worry about grabbing a massive physical collection. You’d be able to keep all your games, no issue. Even if your house doesn’t catch fire, which I hope it doesn’t, by having digital games you can avoid the clutter of an amassing video game collection. Sure, sometimes it’s nice to see a massive collection of the games you played. And with physical games you’re more likely to play them because they stare at you longingly. That said, physical collections can start collecting dust. Even if you play multiple games at a time, you can only play so many at once. At some point the game will just sit on a shelf and go no where.

Con: Digital Hoarding
I am a victim of this and I’m pretty sure that most people are to if they chose to admit it. With digital games, it’s so easy just to not play it. Once you’ve downloaded it, it’s there for you to play, whenever. Since getting Playstation Plus, the number of games I have has ballooned. Any game that I ever had even remote interest in gets downloaded and added to my queue. When there are small games and free games and sales, sometimes it’s hard to resist. The result end result is digital hoarding. I have so many games that I only have vague interest in taking up space on my console. And that’s the truth, until I run out of space, some of these games will just sit there. And heck, I could eventually just get a bigger hard drive rather than deleting the game I know I will never play because of a maybe.

Con: Not owning the game.
There is something to be said for having a physical copy. If it breaks, you’re SOL. But if it stays in tact, you have access to the game as long as you have a console that will run it. When your game is digital if anything happens to the game you can download it again. it’s at your fingers. That also means that if for whatever reason the servers which your game is hosted on is decommissioned, you can never download that game again. In most cases, this isn’t an issue. Once you download a game it’s there for your to use. However relying on a possibly shoddy internet connection to first download it or if you delay downloading the game, you can get burned. It isn’t a very high likelihood, but it is a possibility. I wanted to avoid saying DRM, but that’s what it is.

Do you prefer digital or physical games? What was the last digital game you purchased.

15 thoughts on “Digital OR Physical Games: Pros and Cons

  1. I prefer digital all the time. Sure they take up room on your hard drive, but on the Xbox One at least you have to install every game so it’s going to take up space no matter what. Depending on your connection it might be faster to install from a disc if you have to delete a game I suppose. It’s more convenient to have digital games so you don’t have to bring discs with you and switch between them if you feel like playing a different game.

    I dislike physical media altogether. I was at Gamestop the other day with my brother and they told me I should pre-order Titanfall to guarantee it. I laughed and asked if there was a quota for digital downloads or something. Phyiscal media may still be ideal for some, but for me all disc based media is as outdated as VHS.


  2. Both Xbox One and PS4 load the whole game to your hard drive regardless of how it is purchased, so the hard drive point doesn’t really apply.

    Sharing between two consoles isn’t as easy on the PS4 as it was on the PS3, but it’s still possible. The caveat here is that anyone can play the game on your primary console, but the person who bought the game has to be logged on to play it on any additional PS4s. This isn’t too big a deal though, as Sony allows mulitple users to be logged into a PS4 at the same time, and allows a user to be logged into an account on more than one system at a time. If someone wants to play on a PS4 that isn’t your primary, they just have to log you into the second machine before logging in themselves. At that point all content you purchased is available.

    I’ve gone all digital since I got a second PS3 a couple of years ago, and the one time I faltered and pre-ordered a physical disc, it ended up cracking and I had to re-buy it. Lesson learned.

  3. Wait, so I’m trying to wrap my head around how you said sharing works with digital on PS4. Forgive my slowness, it’s far too early in the morning for me.

    I (userA) purchase a game digitally, let’s call it GameA, on my console (consoleA). If I go to consoleB, and log in with UserA, then allow UserB to log in, UserB can then play the game? Then UserA can go back to ConsoleA and play GameB at the same time.

  4. Pingback: Happy One Year | So, I pondered…

  5. I know it will load up my HD If I download the digital game instead of buying the physical one .. However, will my ps4 performance’s slow down ? And how much space will take it in case of downloading games such as gta 5?

  6. I like digital because in my house we have 2 xbox one’s and when I buy digitally my brother can play the same game I’m playing at the same time so we both can play for just the price for one game he pays $30 I pay $30

  7. You make a list of good points, and many apply to the ebook vs physical copy of books too; do you ever own it or can (in the ebook case) Amazon delete it or upload a newer version without your consent. In the games world I guess this would the company refusing to let you log in or forcing a new updated version on you that you might have issues with for whatever reason.
    I think there’s something to be said for both formats. I dislike, for example the subscription service of the new Microsoft Office. I’m still using my ancient disc based copy from my student days and while I’d like to upgrade a little I wouldn’t want to pay out for what’s really a rental, when I can have access to something for as long as I want it when purchased. On the other hand, space saving, cloud storage, cost saving on games, updates that genuinely fix problems, and convenience of downloading are good arguments for digitally downloading.

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