Let us reflect, for a moment, on Ash Ketchum. A talented Pokemon trainer, Ash is driven and passionate about his craft. And as his gym battle victory count climbs higher, what does he collect to track his progress? Badges. Ash’s gym badges are the physical representation of how far he has come since starting out in Pallet Town. Do you think those badges would pack as much emotional punch if they were just icons in his Pokedex; untouchable?
The same can be said of gamers and their favorite games. True, a download is instant and there’s no waiting in line, but can you display the special edition packaging of a download? Can you collect a rare first edition version of a download? The answer is no.
Now, that’s not to say that streaming games is sub-par, or that it’s not true gaming. It’s simply to reinforce that physical video game sales are not likely to be disappearing any time soon. Just as consumers will still revel in the musty smell that accompanies rifling through records, and the similar musty smell that lives in the pages of our most loved books, there will always be a demand for the physical versions of video games.
Much as with the aforementioned musical items, collectors probably get the most enjoyment out of the physical copy of a game. Besides the different versions you can collect of the same product, there’s also the extra goodies that come in a game pack- such as the almighty Game Guide.
Some of the discontent with digital downloads stems from online server requirements; and if it is the case that you can only play the game online, than you’re kind of screwed if your internet goes down. Also, hard drive space requirements can throw a wrench in the works.
On the Game Spot forum1, user bezza2011 breaks down their preference of tangible game versions:
“Digital takes away pretty much all your rights to that game, for me i will never go digital except on PC.
The fact is here in the uk games on digital are about £10 more than physical copies, and I see no advantages.
I mean are we really getting to the point that we’re that lazy we can’t get up off are arse and go and change a disc, I mean how many times do you change a game in a course of a sitting, unless your attention span is real short.
Physical is just so much better, I have something to show for my money, once the console life is over on PS4 and Xbox One and you went all digital, once you move on thats it, you’ve got nothing to show for that gen, for me I’ll have every game sitting there on myself, in all it’s glory for one day may get sold on, and i’ll get money for it.”
On the same forum thread, user waffleboy22 brings up a good point about internet security and game downloads:
“While I think digital downloads are more convenient, I really only trust physical purchases, as digital typically causes many complications with me, between my credit card and just overall download and connection issues. And physical copies can be traded and returned, so i’m personally more of a physical copies person.”
One strong argument for team digital, however, is the environmental factor. No one revels in their carbon footprint spiking as their physical copy ends up in a landfill after getting scratched beyond usability. Over at Polygon2, however, opinion article author Steve Stanley shared some interesting information he found in The Carbon Footprint of Games Distribution. The paper, authored by Kieren Mayers (and colleagues) and published in 2014, “aimed to analyze the impact of a game’s entire lifecycle (including the environmental impact of the development process, and the hours spent playing by the end consumer), and compare the environmental impact of buying physically to digitally.”
The biggest determining factor in deciding which option was more eco-friendly was energy consumption, and the results were pretty surprising! For games with a size of fewer than 8.8GB, digital purchases were the better way to go. But for larger games, the increase in download size obviously led to an increase in energy use, making a retail version the greener option. Given that the modern game size averages in at about 16GB, with some as high as 50GB, it would seem going physical would be your best bet to keep your energy consumption in check.
There have been improvements since then, of course, and newer figures show different consoles using different amounts of energy when downloading in different modes, so there isn’t really a clear-cut winner in this particular case. Stanley summed up the article succinctly:
“Ultimately, it’s up to each user to decide how far out of their way they should go to lessen the environmental impacts of their lifestyle. But there are a lot of alterations you can make to reduce the energy consumption of your hobby without any significant impact on your gaming. Dig into those settings menus, check out the energy saving options, and perhaps consider buying more of your games digitally in the future?”
In the end, gamers gonna game (game game game game), so we’re lucky that we’re in a time where we can pick and choose physical or digital per situation. If you haven’t checked them out, make sure you take a moment to check out Limited Run Games. Want to get your retro itch scratched? Do yourself a favor and check out Mega Cat Studios. Do you like subscription boxes and sweet, sweet Indie PC goodness? You can’t go wrong with Indie Box! Both options being on the table seems to be the best bet, especially if they’re offered at the same place.
Let’s keep it physical and support these heroes of a lost art, defying the industry’s push and keeping the physical beauties alive.