A Simple Question: Physical Or Digital Game Copies


When I took part in the Extra Life fundraiser this year, I brought out all of my old game systems and games I have managed to hang on to over the years. It always brings a smile to my face when I’m able to see everything out on display, and in one spot.  As I balanced various sized Atari 2600 cartridges on top of each other, and tried not to overstack the unstable SNES games, I started looking over the systems I had available to me.  Genesis… NES… Xbox 360… OnLive… all had games that I was planning on playing, but when you look at the picture I took of everything together, you’d never know I had 20+ OnLive games at my fingertips:

Many people have an opinion on where game delivery is going; some think it will have to retain some physical form to be displayed in brick and mortar stores, while others feel that a shift to all digital is not only inevitable, but preferred.  It got me thinking:

What do you think will be the method of delivery for games 10 years from now (physical copy vs. digital copy)?

(You may have to refresh the page to see the poll)

One caveat here: I’m curious where you think the industry will be in 10 years, NOT what you want or prefer it to be. I did not bother to include an option for “All physical” since we have already moved away from that with the advent of app stores, Steam, and console networks (XBLA, PSN, etc) to name a few.  The real question is, how far from physical games are we going to move?  Will gamers be OK with their libraries being online, subject to the availability of the servers (or, worse, the viability of a company’s longevity)?  I am on both sides of the fence: I love having games at my disposal digitally, with no disc juggling needed, and no space needed to store them.  But I also find that having a physical copy reminds me I own the game in the first place;  I am constantly amazed at the games I own digitally that I haven’t even played yet.  And while I’m not overly concerned with access to my games, it is something I have in the back of my mind every time I buy a game on OnLive.  In the end, I think I see the industry shifting to digital delivery (which is lower cost to the game developers, and also can help reduce piracy), so we as gamers won’t have a choice but to move with it.  The only thing that might hold back a 100% digital world right now is space and bandwidth, but in 10 years, those issues might be moot.

What do you think?  Where do you WANT the industry to be? Want to go back to the old days of all physical copies? Will AAA releases always have a physical copy? Don’t care one way or the other? Vote above, and speak your mind in the comments below.

View previous ASQ: Entertainment ConsolesView next ASQ: Game Instruction Manuals

A Simple Question (ASQ) is a weekly segment for Platform Nation.  Give a response and let the world know what you think; there is no right or wrong answer here. If you have a suggestion for a question, hit me up on twitter @vttym.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

  • Infin1ty

    Things are definitely swaying towards digital. I enjoy the convenience of digital over anything else, but I too prefer to actually own a physical copy. My biggest gripe about anything digital is the fact that, in theory, a digital distributer could at any time make my game unavailable. I definitely see things being pushed towards digital distribution as a main source of content, but i believe there will always be a desire for some form of a physical presence.

    If developers and publishers really want to kill the used game market though, digital distribution is the way to do it. I believe this is why you see companies like Gamestop beginning digital distribution, essentially securing their future before the top completely falls off of their core industry.

    The other issue, and one ill just mention, is DRM. If you have problems with DRM on physical media, it will only get worse once digital media is king.

    • to that point, and elaborating on availability, we already see with EA and how they cut off online access for older sports games what a move to digital could also mean.  There’s only so much bandwidth and storage space, so what happens when that old content goes away?  Won’t matter if you can download the games for yourself (and perhaps that can be an option for a discontinued game), but for services like OnLive, where everything is streamed, it might make this more difficult.

      And I agree with the inability to let people borrow your digital game. I am HOPING that this can be resolved with new tech that involves DRM, but allows you to move ownership from one person to another.  There’s no reason we can’t make adjustments like that in this industry as we move digital.

  • I think they want to go full digital, but I prefer physical copies.  I actually have a digital copy of Alan Wake that I keep forgetting I have because the box isn’t in my pile staring at me.  I also prefer physical because I can let someone borrow a game, I can sell it or I can just hold on to it forever (like my Dreamcast collection).  I’m fine with digital on my phone, but they need to make strides on how game saves work, etc.

    I think the next generation of consoles will have physical drives.  I think the one after that will not.

  • Adam

    I enjoy the convenience of digital copies and not having to look around for a disc to swap when I want to play a game for just a short while when I’m tired of something I’ve been spending more time on.

    However, I like to play with friends. 

    In person.

    I can bring a disc over to a buddy’s console and play there with them. Or a friend can let me try out a game to see if I like it before dropping $60 on a new title, and that can’t easily be done with digital content. And what about rental services, or the secondary/used market?

    However the shift to digital is inevitable.  It costs the company less (no packaging, stocking of shelves, etc.), but physical media won’t totally die for a long time.  The ipod hasn’t killed the CD yet, and that is probably the biggest example of digital vs. physical you’re gonna find.  But in 10 years I wouldn’t be surprised to see an 80-20 split, if not even higher.

  • I always loved physical copies, but that was until I really dived into Steam.  That’s such the way to go, buy it and not have to leave your house, all your games a single click away, and if done right, it can be more cost affordable because there is nothing but 1’s and 0’s, no actually physical items or store to support.

  • Pingback: A Simple Question: Game Instruction Manuals3 – FIND PUZZLE()