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The Long Debated Dilemma Of Physical VS Digital Gaming

By Chloe Barrett 

The two main formats when purchasing a game usually consist of a digital version or a physical alternative. Both are equally popular and personal preference plays a large role in deciding which method to go with. For myself, I tend to lean towards physical games if the option is there, but I am not opposed to buying a digital version now and then.

A physical version means you go into a game shop, reach for the box with the game disc inside, then take it home. Boom, you own it! Depending on the gaming system, sometimes your save file is stored on the actual disc, which means you could insert it on another console and have your saved file pop up. Or, it is kept on the console itself, in which you could loan it to a friend without the fear of possibly having your progress deleted. 

On the other hand, a digital version is usually bought on the online store from your console. After purchasing it, a download will begin directly to your menu and you will be able to play it once the loading is complete. Depending on which system you are using, it can be possible to transfer the game to a different console, but this can sometimes be complicated and very dependent on what system you are playing on.


There are many pros and cons for the digital vs physical debate, but here are some of the main ones that I could think of:

Ease of Purchasing:

For purchasing a digital copy, you own the game instantly. There is no requirement to visit a store or shop online and have to wait a few days for it to be delivered. Of course, this method is easier than the physical alternative. Preordering is also handier when doing it digitally if you cannot wait to play. Usually, the game will be unlocked to your region at midnight, so if you are willing to stay up and instantly begin gaming, digital may be for you. But, some people feel that you do not personally own the game by purchasing it digitally. When you can feel the box and cartridge in your hands, there can be a sense of ownership that comes with it. You can also sell these in the future if you feel the need to, putting the money you saved away for a newer game, but you cannot do this as easily with digital copies. Having the game box as a collector’s item is an option that often appeals to gamers, particular those that display them. 


Convenience is another factor in favour of digital. It is much less hassle to just open the menu and select the title, rather than having to fumble with game cards or discs. You cannot lose a digital download either unless your console is stolen, but your account and data can usually be restored in this case. If you are bringing your games on the go, it can be far too easy for a small game card to slip out. They are better for the environment too. Especially for a console like the Nintendo Switch, where the game cards are tiny but the boxes large. If you worry about your environmental footprint, this may be your ideal choice.


In my experience, mainstream physical games are reduced more often than their digital counterparts. While some indie games are cheaper and sometimes limited to the digital format, popular titles do not get the same benefit. For example, a two-year-old game may be reduced in a store down to €40/50, while the online store retails it for the original price of €60. This can happen due to a multitude of reasons, such as limited shelf space or even a nearby gaming store having more competitive prices. A digital store does not have to worry about these things as usually there is one main store for the console, hence no competition. You can get pre-owned physical games for a cheaper price too, so there are quite a few options for you to choose from.

Overall, it is up to personal opinion. There are countless benefits and negatives to both methods depending on which angle you are looking at the decision from. Perhaps a digital alternative will be the future of gaming as we know it. Whatever happens, it will be interesting to see.