As the percentage of digital game sales compared to boxed products grows across the board, Sean takes a look at the positives and negatives of “ditching the disk”.
It has now been more than 4 years since I last purchased a physical game for myself. Aside from the unavoidable boxed purchases for my kids (Skylanders et al) and the occasional physical review copy I get sent, we’re almost a fully digital only family. We buy our movies from online streaming stores like Amazon or PSN, we stream our music online, we watch our TV on demand and all our games come from whatever online outlet is selling them. There’s not a Blu-ray, disk, cartridge or CD to be found in my house.
My decision to go purely digital wasn’t a conscious one. I didn’t sit up in bed one day and say “that’s enough with buying blu-rays”. Physical mediums were gradually phased out in my house because of a number of reasons that I admit, probably won’t apply to everyone. We ditched CD’s because they more expensive than streaming what we wanted online. We ditched blu-rays because our old collection was pretty massive and we were running out of storage in which to put them as each of my 5 children arrived. We embraced the vast number of TV/Movie streaming services because it fit around our life style. We were almost never sitting down in time to watch the latest shows when they aired anyway.
But gaming was one of the quickest and easiest parts of our lives to go purely digital and after 4 years of living without physical games, I thought it was time to share some of the pro’s and con’s to ditching the disk.
This was the main driving force behind switching to digital gaming. 4 years ago, my life has hectic. I’d work 10 hours a day, come home, have dinner with my family, do some housework, put the kids to bed and then collapse on the settee for an hour of gaming, exhausted. Getting to a dedicated gaming shop to pick up new releases was always a chore and an inconvenience and ordering physical games online always meant waiting for them to arrive or paying more for next day delivery. Instead, I started to buy the games digitally, set them to download while I was at work and they’d be downloaded by the time I got home. The convenience of digital games is that you can now purchase them anywhere and download them to your console, saving you a trip to the shop and avoiding the annoying wait for a delivery. While we’re on the topic of deliveries…
Always On Time
During the time when I did pre-order boxed games online, my days of heading to midnight game launches were well behind me and I’d tried a number of online outlets and the games had almost always arrived after the release date. I was never one of the lucky ones that had their game delivered a few days early. I was always the guy sitting by his letter box waiting impatiently a day late, jumping up at the sight of any white van that drove down the street. On the other hand, digital games always arrive on time. Those games I’ve pre-ordered in the past 4 years have been pre-loaded before release date so that at the stroke of midnight, I can jump onto the new hotness instantly. No fuss. No messing around with Pogba the delivery driver who texts at 10PM to say he won’t make it today but he’ll be back tomorrow at 4PM.
Space Saver & Safer
I’ve now got over 300 PlayStation 4 games. Sure, not all of them have a boxed disk equivalent but hundreds of them do. I’ve got 5 kids that have the magical ability to cause a yoghurt-y, finger print-y mess in a sealed vacuum. Having so many disks in the house would probably mean that some of them get used as coasters or Frisbee’s if I take my eye off them for a few minutes. Instead of having my boxed games in a book case or on shelves, I’ve got hundreds of them stored on the HDD and an external HDD that’s no bigger than a 3DS. Sure, it looks impressive when you see stacks and stacks of games lined up in someone’s House, but for me, I’d much prefer the games to be safely stored away on a HDD which free’s up a literal tonne of space in my home.
Many platforms now allow you to “game share”. This means digital games can be downloaded on to more than one console and can be played at the same time. This is such a cost saver when there’s a game being released that both me and my kids want. I can purchase it once and load it to both mine and my son’s PS4/Xbox One and we can play online together. Instead of paying £80 for 2 copies of Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2, I pay £40 and both me and my kids get to play it.
While digital game prices are, on average, still inexplicably higher than boxed games prices (more on that in a second), when games enter a sale online, they’re often much cheaper than they are from brick and mortar game shops, supermarkets or from an online retailer. If you’re not desperate for that new game and can hold off picking it up for a month, you’ll likely find it in a digital sale somewhere on par or cheaper than the boxed game prices.
One of the bonuses to having a digital library of games rather than a physical one is that all you need to play them is something to play them on and an internet connection. During those times I’ve had to work away from home for long periods, this means all I’ve needed to do is take my PS4 with me rather than a bag full of disks too. It also means that if I want to show off a game to a friend, all I need to do is log in to their PS4, download the game and away we go.
It’s more expensive
While you do save money on buying 2 copies of the game via game sharing and through digital sales, ditching the disk and going purely digital is more expensive in many regards. Brand new games on release day are often £5-£10 more expensive via PSN, Xbox Live or Steam than they are to buy on a physical disk. You also can’t trade in digital games for others once you’re done with them (which is a bit of a false economy these days anyway) or sell them on to others. It’s also much more difficult to get a refund for a digital game (on some platforms) should the game be broken.
You never truly own the game
Sure, you could say the same about physical games given the sheer number of EULA that have to be signed in order to play any game these days but with digital games, you are always at the whim of the platform holder and publisher. If you manage to break an EULA or the rules imposed by a platform holder, you run the risk of having your account banned and losing your entire library of digital games in the process. There’s also those times when a game is “de-listed” which means they’re pulled from digital store fronts – if you ever want one of these games that have been ‘de-listed’, the *only* way to get them would be via a physical disk.
It relies on your internet connection
Ditching the disk means relying heavily on your internet connection. Sure, almost all games rely on the internet in some way these days but especially so when that’s how you download the game. No internet. No game.
Early game shipping
While I was never among the lucky people who did get their physical games delivered early, there are plenty of people who do. If you want to be among the first people to play a game, pre-ordering a physical edition from an online retailer who have a reputation for shipping early would be best for you.
While I’ve never been one to horde the extra gubins that comes with a “Special/Limited Edition” game release, I know there are people out there that have gaming rooms adorned with the tat that comes with them. Going digital only means you don’t get any maps, postcards, figures or busts of half naked zombie ladies with the special editions. What’s more, the digital and physical “special editions” are often the same price which means buying digital means you miss out on the bonus items while paying the same price.
Even with the 1tb+ hard drives that ship with the majority of consoles these days, disk space is still a concern when going digital only. You’d be surprised how quickly you can fill 4tb worth of storage and then you’re making tough choices on which game to delete and what to keep. Sure, even with physical games you have to install at least parts of the game on your computer/console but it’s much easier on the HDD.