Should You Buy Physical Or Digital Games?

The question of buying physical games or downloading your games digitally has been on every gamers mind but what is the best option? I decided to research the internet and find out the answer.

Buying physical games allows you to both sell and buy physical games second hand for great prices, and also swap and share games with friends. But digital games can taken anywhere and are very convenient to download and can never be lost or stolen.

Really the answer is very dependent on what console you how you use your console and how much external memory you have. Don’t worry everything will be discussed in detail to best help you make your decision.

Why You Should Buy Digitial Games

Digital Games Convenience Factor

Having the ability to buy console or PC games without ever leaving your couch/sofa is a big plus for digital gaming. Never needing to travel to your local gaming shop and waiting in line with the masses saves you both time and money. Although Amazon prime next day delivery kinda reduces the convenience point somewhat as you can buy physical games and actually get it delivered the same day to your house!

When you download you get the games instantly to your hard drive and although it needs to be downloaded most physical copies need to download some files before playing anyway. Red Dead Redemption 2 infamously needs 99GB of extra storage on the PS4 even with the disc!

All consoles include a future called pre-loading when you preorder a game you have an option to pre-load the game so all the files are actually on your console so the game is ready to play as soon as it’s released! If your itching to play a new release this is the fastest option available as even with Amazon prime you wouldn’t get the game at midnight release perfect for when you can’t wait to play the new release.

Check out these tutorials for both the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One & PS4 on how to preload your games so you never need to wait again.

When the game is preloading or when you download a game simply do something else or play another game/ watch a movie and your game will be downloaded in no time. Trust me, you don’t want to wait for the lengthy Red Red Redemption 2 install when you can do something better with your life!

Digital Games Accessibility

You will always have access to your digital games and with portable systems like the Switch, your games will travel with you no matter what. Even in less obvious systems like the Xbox One & PS4 if your moving you don’t need to bring all your discs cases with you as everything will be saved on the cloud or in your hard drive.

Digital Games Can Never Be Lost/Damaged/Stolen

Digital games can never be lost as they don’t physically exist and don’t take up physical space. You won’t have those boxes upon boxes of old PS2 games anymore taking up valuable storage space, which is especially important if you live in an apartment.

Physical media can never be lost or stolen (which happened to me a few times) or importantly never misplaced! I can guarantee as a gamer you’ve opened a cartridge/gaming case expecting to find one game and finding another! Then you go through this relentless pursuit of trying to remember where you put the game and you start opening everything and end up making a huge mess.

Importantly digital games can never be damaged or wear out, never face the fear of your console accidentally scratching your disc or a hardware issue affecting your game cartridge as this will never happen again. Simply turn on your console and your game will safely reside in the cloud waiting to be enjoyed.

Digital Games Are Better For The Environment

Now we should all do our best to help Mother Earth and digital downloads drastically cut down the environmental footprint of the gaming industry. You reduce costs of transportation and all the plastics and materials of the discs /cartridges cases and the plastic game packing. Contrastingly digital games are simply 1 & 0s and are a far more Earth-friendly way to consume your digital gaming media.

Can Cross-Play Certain Games

Specific games can be purchased digitally and played across multiple platforms, reducing the appeal of physical games. Microsoft has a service called Xbox Play Anywhere where you can play titles across your Xbox One and PC.

Titles such as Gears Of War 5 & Cuphead can be enjoyed across multiple platforms, Playstation similarly has games like Super Meat Boy that are playable on your PS4 & PS Vita.

Check out this video for a further explanation of Xbox Play Anywhere and a guide on how to use the service

Digital Streaming Services Offer Fantastic Value

The Xbox Game Pass is probably the very best deal in gaming and you can read my in-depth post on the subscription here. Basically it is a Netflix like gaming subscription for only $9.99/month & gives you access to download 100+ games on your Xbox and to play as many as you want!

Some of the games are fantastic AAA titles like Gears Of War 5, Rage 2, OuterWorlds and Microsoft will only continue to improve the service and make it even better which is a treat for all gamers.

Microsoft has actually created a Disc-free Xbox(get it from Amazon here) to incentivise people to use the service, Microsoft believes in digital gaming and I believe this trend is fantastic for gaming and benefits everyone and it’s one of the big pluses for digital gaming.

Why You Should Buy Physical Games

Now I’ve spoken about the pluses for digital games it’s important to talk about the other side. Personally I lean towards having physical copies of your games and you will see why.

Can Always Sell Your Physical Copies

This is the biggest plus for physical gaming as you actually own your copies and have the potential to refund your games. Nintendo, for example, has a strict no return policy so if you decide you don’t like a game? T

Tough luck you’re stuck with it and cannot refund, trade it or sell. But if you buy a physical copy then generally there is a 30-day refund policy so you can get your money back and/or buy another game you actually like.

Whereas I have made a LOT of money throughout the years selling my physical games on eBay which isn’t hard to do(check out this handy eBay selling guide).You will be surprised what games sell for as they can hold a lot of value especially limited edition games or region only releases like the Silent hill collection that was only released in the UK.

Nintendo games, in particular, retain a LOT of value, Breath Of The Wild Is still $49 on Amazon whereas Resident Evil 7 gold edition released later that year is $23! I’ve even sold years old Nintendo DS games for $28 if your interested in what makes Nintendo games hold they value check out my post here.

You Can Collect Physical Games

Yes, going digital saves shelf space but collecting something tangible especially for certain people is a big part of gaming. I still have my collection of Resident Evil games that I will never sell because I have an emotional collection with them.

You could have a collection of all the final fantasy’s and permanently display them in your house, it’s nice to see how the graphics and cover art evolve through the years and you simply don’t have this with digital games. Handing down games to your children/family members is a more personal process instead of “hey login to my PSN account”.

Physical Games Have Limited Memorabilia

Certain limited edition games will come with different memorabilia such as figures, art books, sounds tracks, stickers. This usually cannot get these memorabilia when purchasing digitally.

Massive Discounts On Used Physical Games

Discounts on physical games are very common even triple AAA games (Not Nintendo!)will dramatically drop in price several months after they are released. I purchased Resident Evil 7 gold edition for only £18/$24 which includes all the DLC less than 2 years after it was released! This was a bargain and is quite common for physical releases.

Pre-owned games from sites like eBay will be even cheaper and yes eShops like Nintendos eStore will have discounts but they are at the mercy of Nintendo and they never will be as good as physical discounts. Shops and sellers need to get rid of excess stock whereas Nintendo has infinite copies of digital games to sell so it’s in their best interest selling them as high as possible so naturally the discounts won’t be as good.

You Can Borrow/Swap Your Physical Games!

The biggest issue I have with the increasing trend of digital games is it is taking away the control of our games. With physical games, if you want to try out Breath Of The Wild and your friend has a copy of God Of War? No problem simply lend each other the copies and play to your heart’s content, in a free society this is how it should be.

Game rental services still actually exist! Services like GameFly and the UK company boomerang have a free trial period and offer a subscription service for you to try out all the new games released. Of course, this is not possible with digital-only content.

Also, believe it or not, game rental services still exist. Places like GameFly and Redbox let you try before you buy, and in some cases, keep whatever games you like for an extra fee.

Poor Internet Speeds Are A Factor With Digitial Gaming

If you live in a country with terrible internet speeds such as the ones surveyed in this article by weforum. Downloading any AAA title has a massive file and you take you days and days. Digitial only gaming simply isn’t efficient in many countries and cities across the globe.

As for the slowest countries among the 124 ranked, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Algeria, and Venezuela finished at the bottom with recorded speeds of 7.5 Mbps or slower


Whereas physical games install from the disc/cartridge so even if you live in one of those countries with a speed of 7.5Mbps or slower you can still get started and play your games quickly.

Digital Games Need A LOT Of Storage

Even if your using discs the pesky 500GB/1TB hard drive space your consoles have will sharply deplete even with a few AAA games simply because games take up SO much memory nowadays. Breath of The Wild takes up 40% of the Switches internal memory itself!

Now with digital-only gaming? That is a different story altogether as you simply NEED external memory to have the space to play all your downloaded games as there is memory on the disc/cartridge as it’s all on your hard drive.

This increases the cost of your gaming setup but it is a necessity with digital-only gaming and honestly even with physical gaming. I recommend the SanDisk ultra 256 GB for the switch get it from amazon here as it is 8 times the internal storage of your Switch,

For your Xbox One or PS4? Check out the best accessories for Xbox in this post here and the best accessories for PS4 here as my current pick for the best external hard drive will be there as it is constantly updated with new products coming in the market.

You Don’t Own Your Digitial Games!

The biggest reason I prefer physical games is you don’t really own your digital games. To illustrate if you purchased a game from any console eStore and you later delete the game because of storage reasons. Later say one year you want to download the game again but the eStore doesn’t have the license anymore!

This isn’t likely to happen but it’s possible and most importantly it illustrates my issue and others with digital-only gaming, as you don’t own the game you own the license TO the game. Buying the physical copy is a safeguard stopping this from happening.

Digital storefronts such as Steam where certain publishers ONLY develop games for Steam is even riskier. What if Steam suddenly goes out of business and cannot afford the servers for your games anymore? Suddenly all that money you spent is worthless and you cannot have access to what you paid for!

Now, this is unlikely ever to happen with Steam but there are other online-only retailers such as Game Store and Origin who sell games just as a download who in this modern world can easily go out of business just like any other company.

It asks the question are there any laws for companies to honour the digital contract of supporting your digital game purchase? Or if they go under do all your games and all that effort you put into them go under with them? These are very serious questions that gaming companies have to take seriously with the rising trend of digital-only purchases.

We have seen digital distributors such as Nintendo currently hold the right to remove accounts and therefore all your purchased games from you if their code of conduct is broken enough. Check out Nintendo store terms and conditions to get a better understanding.

To my knowledge, there are still no laws that protect your digital gaming rates so in my opinion, always try to stick with physical hard copies.

However, The Norwegian Consumer Council are trying to rectify these issues as they violate the basic right of withdrawal your purchase. Read more about it here

The Norwegian Consumer Council recommends the following advice when purchasing digital games. However, Nintendo is a very serious offender of breaching rights so I doubt these tips will work in the Nintendo eShop right now.

Purchasing Digitial Games Safety Procedure

  • If possible, buy from a distribution service that offers refunds. Origin and Steam offer refunds.
  • If you are dissatisfied with a game you have bought, ask for your money back as soon as possible.
  • If there is something wrong with the game, you can complain to the platform even if it claims not to offer refunds.
  • If you have no success in approaching the platform, you can complain to the Consumer Council.
  • Be wary of pre-ordering if the platform does not offer refunds.
  • Paying with a credit card gives you additional rights, but make sure to make a complaint to the platform before contacting your credit card company.

So Should You Buy Physical Games Or Digitial Games?

I believe you should purchase physical games as much as possible as currently, it leaves you with the most options. You don’t have to worry about storage as much as even if Nintendo suddenly vanishes from the planet you can still play all your physical Switch games without issue.

Also, you can always sell your games whenever your bored of them and you always will have a refund policy to return your games something that bodies such as the Norwegian Consumer Council are trying to change but there’s’ a long road ahead of us.

However digital games definitely have their merits especially with the Switch as you can play them anywhere and if you have a good internet connection; downloading games can be a breeze and you never have to leave your seat.

The truth is having a mixture of digital & physical games is the best of both worlds and it seems digital games is the way the market is transitioning especially with fantastic subscription services like Xbox Game pass is available.

Although because of the legalisation I just think having the majority of your games physical is the best option although this could change in the relatively near future with new legisliation introduced that protects your digitial gaming righs.