The great video game debate: Physical vs. Digital

Pretty much since the Summer of Arcade on Xbox Live Arcade back in 2008 highlighted digital-only titles like Braid and Castle Crashers, the video game industry has slowly – sometimes painfully – been shifting toward an all-digital future.

There are quite a few different ways to look at this; in theory, this should reduce the cost of making a game, because as the physical medium fades away, there’s no need to produce expensive packaging, box art, etc. Not knowing almost anything on the business side of how much that factors into the budget of a title though, I can’t say for sure if the difference is negligible or significant.

There’s also the environmental factor to look at; with less plastic being produced to make game cases and boxes, the carbon footprint and green factor for the industry should improve.

As a negative though, there’s not many things that are more annoying than purchasing a new title, being excited that it’s just come out, or maybe I found it on sale on the PS Store, but then because I bought it digitally I have to wait for it to download. Ugh…

Granted, this happens with discs as well. Ever since internet connectivity became standard operating procedure for consoles with the PS3/Xbox 360/Wii generation, games almost always have a day one patch that can sometimes take an hour or two download because of it’s file size.

I can’t speak to how downloads work on Xbox One, but for my PS4, I do know that some games you can play a “demo” version of the game after a certain percentage has downloaded, and to me that’s a pretty elegant solution to what is basically a first world problem.

With all that being said, an all-digital future is inevitable. Internet speeds continue to improve, digital sales continue to increase, and physical sales have decreased to the point that GameStop is essentially becoming a place where you can buy game hardware, with shirts and collectibles now taking up the shelf space that used to belong to rows of discs in cases.

Personally, I’m very sad to see the physical form of the industry going by the wayside. I loved tearing the plastic off a new game and putting in the disc and beginning a new adventure. But the tide is turning, and I can either fight a losing battle and “die with honor,” or I can join the movement.

PlayStation Store often has great sales, and I’ve gotten the majority of my games during these sales. Games like The Witcher III and Bloodborne were fractions of their original price.

This can be a good thing, and not just because of the convenience of not having to get up from my couch to change a disc (a process that takes 20 seconds, tops). It’s also a good thing because physical is still offered and is getting cheaper because stores can’t get rid of the games, so they’re able to put them on sale as well. So it’s a win/win!

It’s also provided smaller teams of game makers to make games that wouldn’t have been possible in the traditional process of production. Games like Shovel Knight, Fez, Super Meat Boy, Braid, Limbo, Inside, Stardew Valley, Terraria, Ori and the Blind Forest, Axiom Verge (I can keep going if you want) probably would’ve never been made because they weren’t an FPS or another open-world sandbox game with a huge, albeit empty world. And all of those games are wonderful, unique experiences that were made possible because of the digital age.

So, here’s to the digital future of video games. Cheers! And keep on playing.

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