In recent years we have seen an insurgence in digital media in most entertainment industries. Both the film & music industries are seeing more people making digital purchases compared to their physical counterpart. Video games are also following suit with the introduction of Steam back in 2003 and with consoles joining later with the introduction of the Xbox Games Store, Playstation Store & Nintendo Store. This growth came to a head in 2013 when digital game purchases overtook that of physical copies for the first time in history (54% Digital, 46% Physical). The most recent figure I can find comes from 2018 where it was believed that 83% of all games purchased were done digitally. Now the question is does this mean that there will be one day where the game disk will become a thing of the past? It’s the direction that the market seems to be going in but I still think we will still see video games on our shelves at least until the next generations of consoles.
The main advantage I see to physical games is in purchasing and cost. There are so many more places you can buy physical copies of games compared to it’s digital counterpart, the huge number of online and high street stores would take me an article of it’s own to dictate. This means people can shop around to get the best deal and save money, with digital games the player is very much at the mercy of the market. This is less true with PC games than consoles given the rising number of distribution platforms on PC such as Steam, Origin, Gog, Epic Games Store etc. Physical copies have another advantage in that they can be loaned to others and bought & sold on the used market. However, mainly with online multiplayer games a game bought used may require an online pass to be bought as well as the game disk in order to play. There is also the convenience that comes with buying digital games, you can buy a game and install it there and then. No having to go out to the store or waiting on deliveries, this is especially advantageous when it comes to new releases as some platforms allow for digital pre-orders to be installed and ready to play by the time of release.
Some digital providers sometimes offer games for free for a limited time. The Epic Game Store offers some games for free and EA’s Origin also did for a while. PSPlus subscribers as well allows players to purchase selected games for free and allow free play of them so long as they remain PSPlus subsribers. There is also an argument to be made that digital games have a longer shelf life due to damage and wear-and-tear to disks as games are swapped and age. However, there is a lifespan of digital games too depending on the digital vendor. Since your purchase will be registered to you via the provider, if that provider were to go out of business and their servers are shut down you would loose access to all the games you purchased and because you only purchased the right to play the games on the server as opposed to the game itself you wouldn’t be eligible for any kind of compensation.
I’m made a lot of mention as to how the different mediums effect the player but what about the developer? The rise of digital providers offers opportunities to indie developers to distribute their games to a greater audience than they could if they were restricted to having to sell their games using disks or cartridges which can be an expensive process to create. This however has caused it’s own problems, as the number of indie games available on the likes of Steam means that it’s becoming harder and harder to have your game stick out from the crowd. Doing some research, I have found that Steam has over 10,000 games as of Dec 2020 and with 40% of them in the Indie Genre it’s hard for a new developer to get their name out without a current fan base.
Personally I buy both physical copies and digital copies. I tend to shop around and try and get the best deal I can. This usually means buying physically copies of new releases and then waiting for sales for games that have been released for a while. Sadly given my current situation I don’t have the luxury to be able to buy every game I wish as soon as it’s release nor would I have the luxury of time to play them all if I did. This means I have to pick and choose my game purchases, as such I prefer buying physical copies of games as being able to shop around and the used game market helps me get as many games for the lowest price. Although if this wasn’t the case I would probably prefer digital copies due to the convenience of not having to go out or wait for delivery.