Published on February 16th, 2013 | by Shawn Long, Features Editor
Digital Copy vs. Physical Copy: Where do you stand?
When I decided to take on the review for Fire Emblem Awakening, I ran into an odd situation; I couldn’t find the damn game. It appears Nintendo mucked up the release with only a limited number of physical copies going out, and me being in a smaller town, couldn’t find one. Discouraged, I decided to download the game from the Nintendo eShop to play it, which surprisingly didn’t take long. This marked the first time in my 23+ years of gaming that I HAD to download a game because I couldn’t find it in retail, and while on one hand I was glad with the convenience it offered, I still had a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. Here is why:
I am a collector. I like having a physical copy in my hand and I like having something to file away. I like a case to protect my game, an instruction manual to tell me how to play the game, and just a physical way to store it. Not everyone thinks this way though, which is understandable. It’s time to look at throwing these two ways of gaming into a battle to decide which is better: Digital or Physical!
Digital: The Pros
Digital downloads has allowed for many smaller companies to produce games on platforms. With the high-budget of games these days, this has allowed companies who probably wouldn’t have been able to survive in yester-years to thrive in a niche market and create fun games. Sometimes the games are so astounding that they are commonly better received then “Triple A” big budget titles that come on the same system.
Convenience is also a factor. Being able to download a game instead of hopping in your car and going down to the local store is nice, and in some cases more cost effective if you aren’t in a big town. This can be very beneficial around holidays as well, with instead of trying to fight hordes of mothers who are trying to buy some crappy game (and probably the wrong one) for their kids, you can just sit at home, drink a beer, and download the game.
Digital: The Cons
Sony took a big (and stupid) step with the PSPGo, making the first system that was all strictly digital downloads. Remember that thing? It was probably one of the biggest failures in recent gaming memory. You literally couldn’t buy a physical game for it, you had to download EVERYTHING. Insane. The world is not ready for an all digital world of gaming, and the PSPGo simply proved it.
Pricing is another factor. I feel the games should be cheaper on a digital download, because companies aren’t having to produce packaging, instruction booklets, and shipping the product out. Yet, on launch day, they are the same damn price as their physical counterparts. Also, you have to factor in that stores commonly have sales on new titles, which is never reflected in the digital pricing world. Once you throw used games into the equation, you sometimes pay more then DOUBLE for a digital download then what you would pay in a store.
The main problem with digital downloading is the fact that you have to save everything. Fire Emblem Awakening didn’t take very long to download, but the sheer size of it forced me to delete some things off my SD card. That is annoying. When you download a full retail game on PS3, WiiU, or Xbox 360, it sometimes takes up to TWO hours or longer to download. Then you have to install it. Then you have to download the updates. Then you have to install the updates. It’s mindbogglingly and annoying, because all I want to do is play the damn game.
Physical: The Pros
Obviously I am a fan of having a physical copy, because I like to have a collection to show off. It’s fun to look at a classic Sega Saturn game and thumb through the manual and look at the hideous box art. It’s nice to have something to hold in your hand and look at, as opposed to something digital.
Pricing is another area that physical copies shine in, as used games can be much cheaper to buy in a store or on eBay then a digital version. Digital retail games never seem to dip below the $19.99 mark (on rare occasions they do), whereas you can pick up a used copy of the same game for half the price. In a budget conscious world, this is a big factor.
Physical: The Cons
One of the main problems with physical copies is Asshole Johnny. We all have one in our life. “Hey bro, lemme borrow your game, I’ll get it back to you!” Six months later, you haven’t seen the game, because your friend is an idiot and decided to not bring it back ever. While that was a more lighthearted anecdote, losing or misplacing physical copies happens very often, and unlike a digital counterpart, you are screwed. You either have to go repurchase the game, or just chalk it up as a loss.
Another issue with physical games is that a lot of releases aren’t coming out with them. The whole indie game movement and HD remake era have spawned countless classics that are ONLY available through a downloading means, with no physical copies offered. While this isn’t a knock on the physical copy argument, it does damper those who like collecting and having items in their hand, because the only way to play it is via download.
Clearly, there are reasons to prefer one side or another when it comes down to how you play your game. Digital tends to offer more types of games, while physical offers the old-school collectors something to hold on to. Each side has it’s strengths and weaknesses, but when matched up together, you have perfect gaming harmony.
Let’s just not do another screw up like the PSPGo though. The world isn’t ready for the all digital age quite yet.
*Credit for main picture: