Is It Better to Buy Video Games Digital or Physical? - 3D Insider (2023)

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Decades ago, there was really no other way to buy video games other than buying physical media like cartridges and CDs. Nowadays, fast Internet speeds and expanded storage have given gamers the option to buy the games from digital stores instead.

Despite the convenience offered by digital games, there is still a very vocal group of gamers who prefer to have old-fashioned physical collections. What makes either of the choices compelling and are there drawbacks to any of them? Which is the better option for gamers in 2020?

Physical games

Buying physical games can be considered old-school, but that’s what makes them cool. Just about every gamer has fond memories of dropping by their local video game stores regularly, even if they don’t intend to but anything and just want to look at the display cases. Back when digital downloads weren’t a thing yet, every major game launch meant that there would a literal queue of people that want to be the first to play the new game.

Even in 2020, there are still a lot of gamers who prefer to buy and collect physical video games. However, it also cannot be argued that the practicality of physical games has become questionable in today’s modern world.


Is It Better to Buy Video Games Digital or Physical? - 3D Insider (1)

Adds to your physical collection

Most of the older gamers can probably relate to the pride and joy of looking at the stack of physical games that you have collected through the years. This nostalgia is similar to how you feel when you look at old photographs – each one of those games sparks a memory of how you enjoyed the games of the years that have passed.

More often, gamers who like collecting physical games will also want to go for the collector’s editions of those games. These editions will throw in a couple of nice extras with those games, such as figurines, dioramas, and art books. These items serve to further enhance a gamer’s physical collection.

Having a physical copy of the game in your hands also means that you actually OWN it. Even if digital stores get shuttered or the online support for those games shut down, you will likely still be able to play those games. This is one of the strongest arguments of physical game collectors, especially in an era where online data is owned by large corporations and can be quickly revoked from users.

Can be sold or traded

(Video) Nintendo Switch Physical Vs Digital Full Guide!

There is a huge market out there for second-hand physical games. This is something that more practical gamers like to participate in, especially if they don’t care about amassing a large collection. Once they are done with playing a game, they can sell it online for a fraction of the original price. With the cash they earn from selling old games, they won’t need to spend as much on new games.

On the other side of the equation are the gamers who want to buy as cheaply as possible, even if they need to buy second-hand. Used games can sell for less than half the price of new copies, so there’s no doubt that this a practical option if you’re strapped for cash.

Does not rely on a strong Internet connection

Not everyone has an Internet connection that can support downloading video games. With major titles having download sizes upwards of 50 GB, this leaves some gamers without the choice to download them in digital copies. Instead, they can just go to the local game store, buy a copy, and have it ready to play when they get home.

Until high-speed Internet becomes available to every single place in the world, physical games will always remain relevant.


Adds more clutter to your house

This is a direct counterpoint to the benefit of having a physical collection – these physical games literally take up a lot of space. Some gamers might not mind dedicating an entire shelf or wall for their games, but others may not have the luxury of space to store a collection.

Rising housing costs have probably contributed to the migration of many gamers to digital downloads. Houses and apartments have gotten smaller and more expensive. When every square foot in an apartment matters, keeping a collection of hundreds of game discs sound downright impractical.

You may still need to download patches

One of the appealing factors for buying physical games is that they don’t require a stable and fast Internet connection to play. This used to be a given in the field of game development. Once a game shipped, it was in a state that was finished and should be perfectly playable without the need for fixes or patches.

This is no longer the case nowadays. It is no longer uncommon for video games to regularly need patches or fixes to address bugs and add features. The concept of the “day one patch” has also become standard. This has allowed game developers to publish games early and work on a patch that will address some of the kinks that they were unable to finish by the deadline.

Even more problematic for physical-only gamers are video games that rely on an online service. This is a given for multiplayer games, but even some single-player games require you to log in to some online service before the game can be played. This can be very frustrating for gamers without fast Internet connections, as it means that they get short-changed and cannot play the game with maximum or optimal features.

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Can get damaged

We’ve often heard stories of gamers who have had their physical games damaged because of a fire or because their neighborhood got flooded. While the video games aren’t likely to be the heaviest casualty of such an event, it’s still heartbreaking to think that all those physical games are lost forever. If they want to play those games again, they will have to re-buy them.

Going digital means that you never have to worry about your games getting damaged. The worst-case scenario is your console or PC gets damaged, which means that you’ll have to redownload the games once you get your hardware replaced. Since you own the digital licenses for your games, you will never have to re-buy them as brand-new.

Some games aren’t published as physical copies

The availability of physical copies isn’t a problem for titles from major developers. However, many indie developers simply don’t have the capital for a physical release. If you want to play these lesser-known titles, you have no choice but to download them from a digital store.

Digital games

Whether you’re gaming on PC or consoles, downloading games from the respective digital stores is always an option. Whether through the Microsoft Store, PlayStation Store, Nintendo Store, Steam, or Epic Games, all these digital stores offer the same value proposition – the ability to buy the games you like without leaving the comfort and safety of your home.

Going digital offers a lot of benefits, but the debate over ownership seemingly holds back a lot of people from embracing the idea. There’s also the fact that showing off a digital library doesn’t have as much ‘oomph’ as showcasing your physical discs on a shelf.


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Does not take up any physical space

If you have limited space in your apartment, then buying hundreds of physical games would seem like a poor decision. The great thing about buying digital is that you can have a library that’s even bigger but does not take any space at all.

Given the limitations of digital storage, you likely won’t be able to have all the games installed in your system. However, owning a digital license means that you can re-download these games whenever you want.

A full selection of games

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One limitation of relying on your local game store to buy all your video games is that they may not always have the game you want on stock. This can be problematic if you’re looking for a title that is either too obscure or is selling too well. As we’ve mentioned, some indie titles may not even have physical copies at all. By buying digital, you can be sure that the titles you want will always be available when you want to buy them.

Very convenient

Buying digital means that you no longer need to make the trip to the game store. When big titles come around, buying your copy might mean having to spend several minutes to a few hours queueing up. Who has the time to do that nowadays?

Convenience is one of the major benefits of buying digital. With digital stores, you can add multiple games to your library without having to get up off your couch. The time you save by not going to the game store means that you can spend more time playing your new video games.


All your games are bound to your account

When you buy a game from a digital store, its digital license becomes bound to your account. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This means that you can redownload the same games should you decide to buy a new PC or transfer to a different console.

While convenient, the concept of account-based digital licenses is not without its dangers. We have heard so many nightmare stories of online accounts getting hacked resulting in their original owners losing access to them. The result is that they lose access to the potentially thousands of dollars’ worth of games they have purchased through the years.

The good news is that digital stores have made efforts to beef up the security of online accounts. These security measures include enabling two-factor authentication and advisories against phishing attempts. Ultimately, keeping your online account secure is mainly your responsibility.

You can’t resell digital games

Although digital stores can still be sold at huge discounts, the economics of reselling old games is hard to beat. Digital games cannot be transferred from one account to another, making the prospect of selling them impossible. For cash-strapped gamers who don’t care about keeping a copy of the games that they have finished, the re-sale market remains an attractive element of buying physical games.

Digital games have also eliminated the culture of gamers borrowing and lending games. This was a very common practice a few decades ago and is still done by gamers who buy physical.

Sales are seasonal and time-bound

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The thing about physical games is that you can expect them to drop in prices eventually and stay at these discounted prices. If that year-old game is being sold at your local store for less than $20, then there’s really no need for you to buy it right now. You can come back to the same store in a month and see it at the same price – or even lower.

In contrast, many digital stores often sell games at full price even after they have been at the store for years. Buying an old game for $60 hardly seems like a good deal, which means you’ll have to wait for a sale to see a price drop for that game.

Online sales are massive and can save you up to 75% of a game’s original price. The problem with online sales is that they are often only active for a limited time. If you miss that 75% Black Friday deal for that game you’ve been eyeing, you might have to wait several months to see it go back to the same price. Time-limited sales are frustrating because they force gamers to buy the games right there and then, which may not be an option if you’re on a tight budget.

Other factors to consider when choosing physical vs. digital

The debate between physical and digital cannot be looked at in a vacuum. There are so many factors to consider that one person’s set of considerations may be different from another person. In addition to the pros and cons we have listed above, here are a few other considerations.

What system do you play in?

Is It Better to Buy Video Games Digital or Physical? - 3D Insider (3)

The digital gaming ecosystem can be a lot different depending on which system you use to play games. If you’re playing on PC, then you probably know that the physical market for games has but disappeared. Even if you do buy a physical edition of a PC game for collectibles, it will most likely only provide a download code for the digital copy of the game. PC gamers have acclimatized well to this and have embraced digital stores like Steam and Epic Games.

If you’re playing on a console, then it’s still a toss-up between digital or physical. Time will tell if the physical market for consoles will go the way of the PC, but this seems unlikely to happen within the next console generation.

Do you travel a lot?

The answer is obvious here – if you travel a lot and would like to play games during your trips, then you’d better have them downloaded digitally. This applies to both consoles and PCs. In the case of the Nintendo Switch, the physical game cards are small enough to carry around on a travel pouch.

Does your Internet plan have a data cap?

Digital downloads and data caps are a bad combination. As we’ve mentioned, the download size of major game titles can range from 50 GB to 100 GB. Downloading two or three of these titles and playing them via an online service can easily eat up on your Internet plan’s monthly data cap.

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Final thoughts

Whether you buy physically or digitally, you can take comfort in the fact that each option has its merits. While it’s really nice to have a collection of physical games, digital stores offer the convenience of allowing you to buy games without having to make the trip to the store. More practical gamers like buying physical because of the re-sale value of physical discs, but some gamers are patient enough to wait for the titles they like to be sold at huge discounts in digital stores.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how you buy your video games as long as you derive happiness from playing them. We can’t stress this enough, though – enable two-factor authentication on ALL your online accounts.


Is it better to buy a game digitally or physically? ›

They both have advantages and disadvantages. You won't lose digital games like you could cartridges, but physical games tend to get better deals and can be shared with friends and family or sold for other games when you're done with them.

What are the benefits of buying games digitally? ›

Digital Video Games:

Takes up less physical space in your home. The option to join streaming services and play more games. Takes up the same amount of storage as a physical game. All-digital consoles are cheaper.

Is it worth buying physical copies of Switch games? ›

Much of it comes down to personal preference. If you like having shelves lined with your games that you can browse and reminisce, you'll want to go for physical. If you prefer the convenience and speed offered through digital purchases, and don't want game boxes lying around, then you'll want to go digital.

Is it good to buy digital games? ›

You can do it from the comfort of your own home. Digital games are on average cheaper than their physical counterparts since you have no disk or case or other paraphernalia. Buying a digital game tied to a service like PSN or Steam means that you always have a backup to download if you want to.

What percentage of game purchases are digital? ›

According to the data, 94.2% of video game sales were done through digital stores instead of physical, or “boxed” sales, as it's mentioned in their data. The physical sales data only accounted for a measly 5.8% in comparison.

What percentage of games are sold digitally? ›

Apparently, 90% of video game sales in 2022 were digital. So, where does this leave the future of physical media? In recent years, purchases of digital media have been on the rise.

Do people buy physical games anymore? ›

Physical games aren't going to go completely extinct any time soon. As long as there's a market of game collectors who value a tangible product, there will be physical discs and cartridges to satisfy that market, akin to vinyl records in the music business (sales of which have actually been growing of late).

What happens when you buy a digital game? ›

After purchasing a digital computer game, you will receive a code and a link to a PDF or website where you can enter your code to download the game. When you buy a digital console game, you will receive an email with a code that can be used to download your purchase in your gaming system dashboard.

Is disc or digital better? ›

There's no difference in performance or which games can be played, as both consoles use the same custom processor and even have the same 825GB SSD. Here are the official PS5 Disc vs PS5 Digital specs, straight from Sony; 💲Price: $499 / $399.

Is it okay to buy digital games on switch? ›

All games you buy digitally are stored via your Nintendo Account ID, so you can just redownload them as many times as you want when you delete games to free up space, no problem. You can't lose a digital game since it's right there on your system.

What game sold the most physical copies? ›

The best-selling video game to date is Minecraft, a sandbox game released by Mojang in May 2009 for a wide range of PC, mobile and console platforms, selling more than 238 million copies across all platforms. Grand Theft Auto V and EA's Tetris are the only other known video games to have sold over 100 million copies.

Can you play digital games on switch without Internet? ›

If the software does not require an internet connection, you are most likely not using the primary console for the Nintendo Account that purchased the software. You can play without an internet connection by using the primary console instead or by making the system you are using the new primary console.

Do digital games stay forever? ›

It will be summarily pulled from digital storefronts - sometimes with little or no warning - and is unlikely to ever resurface, unless the publisher is willing to negotiate those licensing deals all over again.

Why are digital games always full price? ›

Digital Games Are Priced for Retail Parity

For the moment, retailers remain a crucial part of the sales network for video games and video game hardware. If digital storefronts from Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo undercut retailers by a large margin, those same retailers may choose not to stock physical games at all.

Will discs become obsolete? ›

Absolutely not. Despite a fact that times move on, it is inevitable that new technology continually replaces the old ones, this also requires a slow process. So, it seems inescapable that DVDs will eventually be out of the stage of history, but that day has not arrived just yet.

Why do people still buy physical games? ›

Sometimes having it physically is better. You can share it with friends, and you can find really good deals on them. Some people like having a physical disc to own, and sometimes (occasionally) the game is cheaper on disc.

Why are digital games the same price as physical copies? ›

Because they don't have to physically spend money on resources to make a CD, a booklet thing, and the case (not to mention ship it to different stores(which stores also take cut of the money)) so as you can see the digital makes more money to the dev… which in turn means they get more money to make more games or update ...

Are digital or physical games more popular? ›

Data analytics firm New Zoo has revealed in a newly published report that 72% of video games sold on consoles during 2022 were digital, while boxed video games accounted for 28%.

Will old games increase in value? ›

As more and more retro games and hardware inevitably die, the remaining copies naturally increase in price due to their inherent rarity. Furthermore, physical game media is becoming more of a novelty across the board.

Will video game prices ever go down? ›

And will they continue to rise in 2023? In short, yes – game price increases are likely here to stay.

Is it better to buy physical games or digital Reddit? ›

TL;DR: physical games are better. The only reason to get a digital game over physical is if you are buying a multiplayer game (Smash, Mario Kart, Party) that will always only be used by you.

Can you sell back digital games? ›

As long as you keep your account, your digital games are yours to keep, you won't lose them. Digital games have no monetary value once they are purchased. You are essentially just buying a very, very long license to play the games you buy, you don't actually own them outright. Therefore there is nothing to trade.

Can I get a digital copy of a game I already own on disc? ›

If you want to be able to run the game without the disc be inserted (i.e. a digital game) then yes, you will to re-pirchase the game from the digital store. Although the games gets downloaded when you insert the disc, the license is held with the disc.

Why you don't own digital games? ›

Because you have never owned a game you bought. You own a license to the software on the media but you don't actually own the software itself. So there is no difference between buying a digital and physical copy as far as ownership or rights are concerned.

Do disc games install faster than digital? ›

It installs faster because you no longer have to download the main game files, since they're already on physical media. When you buy a game digitally the main game files are downloaded and then installed; with a physical disc you already have the main game files on the disc so you only need to install them.

Why PS5 is better than Xbox? ›

The PS5's unique features create an added level of immersion. The Xbox Series X also fails to match some of the PS5's console-specific features. Sony's exclusives make special use of the PS5's DualSense controller, which has a built-in speaker and sensitive haptic feedback that's not available on Xbox.

Is PS5 better than digital? ›

The main difference being that the former has a disc drive, and the latter doesn't. The disc-less Digital Edition will only be able to stream games, films, music and TV shows, rather than running them straight off a CD, DVD or Blu-ray.

What happens when you buy a digital game from Nintendo? ›

Once you've completed your purchase, your game will automatically download to the system associated with your Nintendo Network ID. To download the game, your system must have enough memory space available and it must be turned on or in sleep mode (with an active Internet connection).

How big of an SD card should I get for Switch? ›

If you're planning on downloading many games, you probably want a high-capacity card like a 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB microSD card. You'll be able to store more than enough games and they'll load faster since they're higher performance cards. For moderate use, a 32GB or 64GB microSD card will work.

What happens when you buy a digital Switch game from GameStop? ›

If you buy a digital copy how do you use it? A: GameStop will give you the code at checkout and by email. Go into the Nintendo Eshop and you will see an option to enter code on the left side.

Do physical games download faster than digital? ›

It installs faster because you no longer have to download the main game files, since they're already on physical media. When you buy a game digitally the main game files are downloaded and then installed; with a physical disc you already have the main game files on the disc so you only need to install them.

Do digital games last forever? ›

With a library of games stored on your hard drive, you'll never face that dilemma. In the same way, digital games can never be lost by accident; they remain on a player's account, essentially permanently.

Why are physical game copies cheaper than digital? ›

When you buy a physical game disc, it doesn't cost the platform provider anything for it to sit on your shelf. New digital games partially subsidize the upkeep of older games that may not be selling as much anymore.

What's better digital or disc? ›

There's no difference in performance or which games can be played, as both consoles use the same custom processor and even have the same 825GB SSD. Here are the official PS5 Disc vs PS5 Digital specs, straight from Sony; 💲Price: $499 / $399.

Are digital copies of games cheaper? ›

Digital games are on average cheaper than their physical counterparts since you have no disk or case or other paraphernalia. Buying a digital game tied to a service like PSN or Steam means that you always have a backup to download if you want to.

Can you play a digital game offline? ›

That being said, yes you can play digital copies of games offline. However you have to have internet access in order to actually purchase and download the game. Do I have to update a game on Xbox one to play it if I'm not playing online?

What are the cons about digital games? ›

Disadvantages of Online Games
  • Addition. Video games are addictive if you keep playing them without any break. ...
  • Some Games Contains Violence. ...
  • Health Problem. ...
  • Might Limit Academic Progress. ...
  • Might Get Victim of Cyberbullying and Scamming.
Dec 8, 2021

Will physical video games go away? ›

Physical games aren't going to go completely extinct any time soon. As long as there's a market of game collectors who value a tangible product, there will be physical discs and cartridges to satisfy that market, akin to vinyl records in the music business (sales of which have actually been growing of late).

Is it OK to play video games every day? ›

While there can be some benefits to playing video games, both on behavior and brain health, it's not a risk-free hobby. Playing games for an extended period of time on a regular basis isn't good for your physical health and can possibly hinder your social skills. Being active is a critical aspect of our overall health.

What happens if you play video games every day? ›

“Consequences of video game addiction can showcase in a number of ways, including wrist, neck and elbow pain, skin blisters, calluses and sleep disorders. Long-term addiction could lead to obesity, weakness or numbness in the hands (peripheral neuropathy) and even blood clots,” Dr. Moberg says.

Why is digital better than physical? ›

Digital games have multiple advantages: You can buy and play them almost instantly on your console. You don't have to go to a game store to buy them or wait for them to be delivered if you order them. You can switch between games without having to leave your couch or chair to change the discs.


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