Should I Buy Physical Or Digital Games

With Steam, Green Man Gaming, Gamers Gate and many other digital platforms it seems that physical media is dead.  But you should be asking yourself whether or not to buy physical or digital games.  Before you throw out those over priced coasters I would like to encourage you to consider physical media before you get rid of them.

A picture of my Steam Account

Now I have an extensive online gaming library, but I normally buy the disk of games I really like, and there is a reason for it.  You see with digital game providers, games are a service not a product.  They at least within the United States have the right to pull any game from your library and not give you any compensation for it.

To me this is deplorable you are paying the same price for a game but are not guaranteed the ability to play it for the rest of your lifespan.  This is why physical media is still a good purchase.

Companies Can And Do Die

This should be under the another section but it is so important to note that it deserves a separate heading.  There have been many times in my life where a company is going great guns.  Then one day it just up and gets bought out or goes bankrupt because of bad business deals or some other shenanigans.

The company gets dissolved or absorbed by some other entity and what the company was is dead forever.  There are multiple game distribution sites out there now.  It is a very lucrative business the game rights while probably expensive are still very low compared to the profit margins gained by said rights.

This leads to many companies opening up and distributing games.  Well in everything there are the bigger entities and if they do not want the competition they will either destroy smaller businesses or consume them.

This happened with the sun glasses manufacturer Oakley they were huge and they were worth a lot as a business.  Well a bigger business saw their profits and so they set out to destroy them.  Their name was Luxottica, I would be surprised if you have not heard of them.

Luxottica is the worlds largest producer and supplier of glasses and sunglasses.  They own most retail businesses and they are world wide.  They destroyed Oakley by not selling Oakley in all their retail stores forcing Oakley’s stock to decline by 33% and then they bought out Oakley and made it a Luxottica brand.

This can happen with any digital media provider.  A bigger company through what ever means they have available to them can close down your favorite digital store and then what happens to your vast library.  Maybe it will be carried over to another platform but I wouldn’t count on it.

Another thing is companies are not eternal they all fade with time.  Look at Sears founded in 1892 it used to be the only way to get certain goods back then.  The Sears and Roebuck catalog was distributed nation wide and was one of the first mail in delivery businesses.  Now Sears is all but dead killed by Walmart, Amazon and other online retailers, Sears could not keep up.

Sears is still around but a shadow of its former self destined to go the way of K Mart, and Hastings in no time.  Such is the way of things.  The same is true for big companies like Steam, Green Man Gaming, and GOG.  All companies can fail with time (Except Disney they are eternal and forever) and take their products be they physical or digital with them.

The Benefits Of Digital Media

So with all of that you would think I hate digital games.  Well that is not the case at all I just know their limitations.  With all that said here are some benefits of digital games that makes them appealing.

  • The deep discounts.  While most of the time the prices are not competitive in the slightest providers like Steam and others also provide certain times where their games are sold at amazing prices.
  • Play it and forget it.  Some games are really just a one time thing.  You play the game it was a brief distraction that you enjoyed but you don’t feel like revisiting it ever again.  I felt this way with the PS3 game Catherine.  I enjoyed the romance story of it, but god was the game play tedious and boring.  So I played it, looked up the multiple different endings and watched them on Youtube and plan to never play it again.  Same is true for many games.
  • They keep your games in an easy to access list just click and play.
  • Similar note as the last point you don’t have to have bookshelf space dedicated to your collection you download the game you want to play and then when you are done with it you delete it and they have it for you the next time you want to play it.

  • Safer than downloading pirate games, and sometimes not too much more costly.  On a holiday sale games are so cheap it is the perfect time to buy that game for $2 that you wanted to try out, but not really pay much for it.  This provides a perfect opportunity to, for a small cost, get the game but not the hassle and dangers of pirating said game.
  • Current operating support for the most part.  Most digital clients make sure that most games are compatible with current operating systems.  Steam is actually going out of its way to heavily support Linux in this matter as well and update certain games made specifically for Windows to play on Linux.  This is a big benefit of these digital platforms because sometimes the hoops you have to jump through to get a game to play are ridiculous and only for the bravest of sorts.

The Drawbacks Of Digital Media

With all the benefits there are some pretty steep drawbacks to digital games that should not be ignored especially if you really love a game and want to revisit it for the rest of your life.  Here are some of the drawbacks of digital games.

  • When the internet is out or you have not paid the bill you can not install your games.  Being entirely online if you want to play a certain game and you have no internet service then you are out of luck and you either have to wait or go without your favorite game.

  • Crappy DRM (Digital Right Management).  Steam and other clients all have anti piracy measures in place that make gaming some times very taxing.  Take Steams 2 week offline mode.  If you have lost your internet or are out in the back woods for weeks on end then your games are inaccessible for as long as you are without internet.
  • Loss of digital rights.  Some companies lose the right to distribute certain games.  This can lead sometimes to them even losing the right to even hold the game for people who even bought the game.
  • They have removed games from peoples library they paid for granted it was an online game with dead servers (Order Of War: Challenge), but if a publisher demands their product be removed steam is going to bend rather than get tied up in a legal battle.
  • Company collapses due to other corporate pressure.  Lets say Disney wants to get into the digital media forum.  They use their vast amounts of wealth and just out do Steam.  Steam collapses and no longer exists, gone are your games and your money.  The worst is they owe you nothing either since these games are a service not a product, and services can be cut at any time.
  • No resale ability.  Your account is your account you cant sell games from it and you cant get rid of games for a small recovery of your loss.  Not to mention collectible costs.  I have some PS2 games I bought for $10 now they are over $150 like Haunting Grounds.  Or like the original Final Fantasy VII some going for over $2000 nope your digital game is worthless to you now, just play it and enjoy it.

  • No secondary market.  So you want to play a game that is new and want to buy it for cheaper well you can’t if it is all digital release.  No buying a copy from your friend, or the local pawn shop.  You pay the price on the digital store front, that even when it is on sale it isn’t much cheaper.
  • Account problems while strolling the internet I have run across people who have problems accessing their accounts and all their wonderful expensive games.  I would like to assume all of these problems are resolved, but who knows.  That is not to mention if you violate the companies long and detailed terms of service and lose your account.
  • Long and Detailed terms of service.  Your games are not yours and if you do not adhere to the rules of your digital provider you can lose said games without any recourse since you signed a contract saying you would do as they want you to.

The Benefits Of Physical Games

I have lots of the original disks of games I love some I have even bought twice just to make sure I have them forever.  Games like Nexus Jupiter Incident and Homeworld and Homeworld: Cataclysm.  I have them and I can play them any time I want…err sometimes.

  • Have and keep your games regardless of company problems and legal issues.

  • Just put in and install and go… sometimes.
  • No need for internet connectivity…sometimes.
  • Resale ability.  Get sick of a game or need to pay rent you can sell your game on the secondary market and make some money back or even make a profit.  Like some games listed above some games that are loved and collected can go for way too much money.
  • Display purposes I know but sometimes you love a game so much that you want to put it on display for all to see.

  • Justify downloading a pirate copy to yourself.  Some games do not work for some reason and cannot be bought anywhere if you have the physical copy but it doesn’t work then sometimes there are fans who released a fixed version and you can download this and play it at least it will ease your conscience a little since you already own it.

The Drawbacks Of Physical Games

There are drawbacks to physical games and some are pretty bad especially if the game is a mediocre game at best.

  • Resale at a loss.  Some games are all hype and no delivery.  You buy the physical disk day one and run home so excited to play it and you put the game in and oh god what is this game it doesn’t look like you had imagined.  You take it back, but they don’t accept returns on opened games, only exchanges.  You try to sell it but no one wants it for what you bought it for, you are stuck and out lots of money.
  • Just put it in and go…or not.  Ah well, this works for new and old games.  Some games are released in such a broken state now even on a physical disk that even after buying the game you have to download gigs of fixes and patches just to play it.
  • Old games not always supported.  You get your nostalgia going and you want to play an old game.  You put it into your amazing new gaming rig and what no disk in tray.  You were sure you had put it in you eject it and try again.  Once again no disk.  You see windows does not support that format any more the only thing you can do is download the fix for it and hope you understand enough about code to manage a way to play this old game.
  • On this same note some games can be installed but need certain parts of windows that do not exist any more so you have to either learn how to code in what it needs or find someone who already fixed this issue if it can be fixed.
  • Some games just will never work with your new computer.  No matter how many rituals of game fixing you try.  Or how many gods you sacrifice to, to get your game working it will not work.  It can be any number of things maybe the game has an issue with you personally, or it doesn’t like multicore CPUs or doesn’t know what kind of graphics card you have.  No matter what you do the game will never work and you are lost.  This is equally sad if your game is no where be found online because it was obscure or forgotten.  Your disk is nothing more than just an ornament for your gaming shelf and never again will you play your favorite game except in your memories.
  • Scratches.  You feel nostalgia grab you for your favorite game you look it up there are no issues with installation or playing.  You dig into your old box of goodies, what the case is found open.  Where is the game you now search frantically as if you finding it as fast as possible can undo the damage already done you find it and it looks like a figure skater has practiced on your favorite disk.  You hope against hope and put it into your computer and it doesn’t work.  The scratches have destroyed your game and your past.
  • Not as easy as point and click.  Even if you have an organized library it still requires you to get out of your chair and go over to your shelf and find the disk.  Then you need to put it into your disk drive then wait for it to install.  Whereas you can go to your digital library click install and browse the internet while it downloads then you can play.  Knowing it will work perfectly.
  • Sometimes you need to know some next level skills to get a game to work.  I have had some old games that didn’t work with newer Windows versions I have spent the better part of a week getting the thing to work.  Scouring forums and internet boards.  The benefit of this is when you do get it to work you feel like the Ultimate Bad Ass.


No one size fits all and there are always zealots on all sides.  My take is if you love a game or know after everything you have seen.  Then take a chance on the physical copy especially if it is the same cost as the digital at least you can sell it for a recoup of expenses at the end.  If it is a cheap sale game for a few dollars then buy it on sale and play it and if you love it then consider buying the physical copy later on when it goes on sale.

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