Numerous game cases on a shelf

Feature: Digital or physical – which direction are you heading?

*This article was originally published in 2013 but has been updated and republished in 2018.

Digital or physical has been a big question in recent years thanks to platforms such as Steam and online stores such as the PlayStation Store. With varying prices and tempting physical sales, we’ve not yet moved completely to digital. As a gamer, do you still support physical game releases more than digital or have you ditched your physical library for a digital one?

The Pros of Digital vs Physical:

No Lost or Broken Disks

One main reason to go digital is no longer misplacing or breaking your game. Think about the number of times you’ve misplaced your disc, whether that be under a pile of cases or in another game case entirely. With digital games this isn’t an issue, once it has downloaded it stays there for good.

Have you also noticed how game stores ask if you wish to purchase additional disc care/repair on top of the cost of any pre-owned games you buy? The fact of the matter is that at some point, unless you are careful with what you own, a disc is going to get scratched and a repair could be a way out. The only ways a digital game isn’t going to work is if the data is corrupt or has been taken from the online store – the former you can fix yourself.

Screenshot of the PlayStation Store pre-order page
Weighing up prices of digital vs physical pre-orders is a good place to start.

Going Digital Could be Cheaper

Digital, for the most part, is cheaper. With the rise of CD key sites for PC games have never been so cheap – though there is a serious debate regarding the use of some of these sites. Understandable. For console this topic is different. Whilst most older titles tend to be on the cheap side and bargains are sometimes up for the grab, new releases are just as expensive as their physical counterparts.

If digital game purchases are truly going to become the majority in the future then surely the prices should be lowered.

Games on the Move

We’re strictly talking console gaming here. Say you are heading to a friends house at the weekend or want something more than a handheld to take on holiday with you, you don’t have many options when it comes to bringing your games with you. In this case, you have to make that tough decision of what games do I really want to take with me.

Having the majority of your games digitally downloaded to an internal or external HDD allows you more choice. Last year I purchased a 1TB HDD for my PS4 for the extra space and to keep a large selection of my digital titles at arms reach. Visiting family at Christmas has never been easier and taking all my downloaded games with me for the journey is simple.

The Cons of Digital vs Physical:

Going Digital Can be Expensive

When it comes to PC gaming, the cost of games is usually low for digital purchases. With platforms such as Steam offering its users constant sales, we can generally see the latest games at a discounted price however slight. When it comes to older titles, why wouldn’t you consider buying that game at just the fraction of the original price?

On the other side of the scale, digital downloads on both the Xbox Live Marketplace and PlayStation Store are priced extremely high. Think about it, you’re not getting half the content you would when buying a physical copy (no manual, cases or any other printed goods) so why are the prices still so high?

This is one reason that I don’t wish to go fully digital if the prices for pre-orders, for example, were cheaper than their physical counterparts then I’d consider purchasing the odd game digitally on day one.

Screenshot of the PS4 download page
Most newer games require space – plenty of it.

You’re Going to Need Space

If you’re planning on going fully digital then you’re going to have to plan your downloads wisely. Just take a moment to think about all the games you currently own, heck even just the ones you play on a regular basis. Can you fit them all on your internal HDD? If you can you are lucky.

Back when the PS4 initially released I found myself constantly deleting games in order to play new releases. The 30GB+ installation files were a burden and with DLC releases almost regular these days I’m glad I bought an external HDD. Battlefield: Hardline comes in at a staggering 58GB+ for the base game and 5GB+ for each of the DLC’s.

You can also say space is needed for avid physical collectors of which I am one of them. First of all you need space, which for many comes at a premium, and storage doesn’t come for free.

Digital Means Downloading, That Isn’t Always Quick

For some, downloading can be a right pain in the backside with broadband connections in some areas being poor. If you’re going to go full digital when your PS4 or Xbox One comes through the door, you better be prepared for the amount of time it might take to download your games before you can play. I guess we should all be thankful we’re still not surviving on dial-up.

That said, this is still a major issue and it’s still a valid reason for some people not willing to move to digital downloads for larger titles.

Whilst I have a decent fibre connection, I’m still jealous of those with mega crazy download and upload numbers.

What About the Collector’s/Limited Editions?

If we all went digital what would happen to all of those collector’s editions? While some gamers prefer extra downloadable content in their “special editions”, I’d rather have something that I could display and let people enjoy as much as I do. I’m not going to go into detail with this particular con, it’s self-explanatory to all of the folks who enjoy collecting or buying the odd special edition.

Some of it is plastic tat, I will admit, but there are some well thought and amazing editions out there if you just search. I wouldn’t want these to become a thing of the past.

Your Thoughts?

What are your thoughts on digital vs physical, do you have a personal preference or do you just go with the flow and buy whatever is cheapest and most convenient for you? Leave a comment below!


I play games. A lot of them. You can catch me streaming my favourite games on Twitch: Can't wait to meet you!

One thought to “Feature: Digital or physical – which direction are you heading?”

  1. Physical boxes for me, old school rich 35 year gamer here, still love having the physical game boxes lined up on the shelf just like when I was a kid.

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