Physical or Digital Copy: Which is Better for Console Games

Disc or download?

If you were going to buy a console game, should you go on Amazon and order a physical disc or go to the online store and buy the game from there. Each of these choices has its own pros and cons, so which is better? Are they both equal?

A “physical copy” is a disc or cartridge or anything else you insert into a console to load the game. These do not include things like  Steam codes, where you enter the code from a physical card into Steam to receive a digital copy. Physical copies are copies of the game only accessible if a disc or cartridge for the game is in your console.

“Digital copies are everything other than physical copies, with the exception of those old toy gamepads that come with only one game on it. Digital copies are games bought online through places like Steam or Epic Games Store, but for consoles, digital copies are bought from the console’s built-in online store. Digital copies do not require you to have a disc in the console and can work if a physical disk of a different game is in the console.

It might seem that digital is infinitely better than physical, but physical copies can be better for practical uses. If you want to share a game with a friend and don’t want to go through the whole game-share process, just bring over a physical copy of the game. This might seem like a stretch, but you can buy used physical copies of games for way cheaper than the base price. I was going to buy a game when I found out it was $60, so I found a used disc copy for only $20 plus shipping and tax. You can’t buy a used digital copy unless someone is selling a completely unused Steam code, but very few people would do that.

Digital copies have many advantages too. For one, if you lose your physical copy, no more game. If your cat scratches up the disc, it probably won’t work. If a pet eats your Switch cartridge, the game is inaccessible. This probably won’t happen because Nintendo laces the cartridges with a bittering chemical so kids and animals don’t eat them. Another thing with digital is you don’t have to go through a giant stack of discs when you want to play a different game. With digital, you don’t have to wait for the game to ship or pay for shipping. If you buy at a store like GameStop, you have to drive all the way there, get the game, go back, insert it into your console, and you can finally play. Digital copies are ready to play as soon as you download them.

With the rise of entirely digital consoles like the upcoming Google Stadia, physical copies might soon become outdated. Microsoft and Sony are planning new consoles to come out after Stadia, both of which will probably be digital in order to keep up with Stadia. Nintendo does not seem to have any plans to go digital, so the next Nintendo console will still be compatible with cartridges.

I think physical copies are fine but less versatile than digital copies. This entire debate could be over with the rise of all digital consoles and the “extinction” of physical copies. In my opinion, for now, the best choice is digital.