It’s more than official. We’ve reached the age where consumers are getting rid of their physical movie collection and transitioning entirely over to digital. I’ve done it. My friends have done it. It just makes sense. With the amount of visual entertainment that is available digitally through streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, there’s really no point in keeping a hard copy. Especially with the ability consumers now have to binge-watch their favorite shows, movies are quickly returning to a theater experience again while the home is reserved for shows like The Office. But what about video games? Has the digital age made owning a physical game a thing of the past?
On top of most markets now offering games digitally, the ability to stream video games (otherwise known as “cloud gaming”) is also steadily beginning to infiltrate the industry. Streaming services like PlayStation Now have been around for a while, but they have had their limitations. Now, companies like Google (Google Stadia) and Microsoft (Project xCloud) are looking to make cloud gaming more efficient, more accessible, and capable of delivering a higher quality product. Even with the progressive development of cloud gaming, there still remains something to be said about physical video games.
THE CONVENIENCE ARGUMENT
I just had a conversation with a friend the other day about my digital video game collection. He laughed. Mainly because I barely have a digital collection. Most of what I own digitally consists of game add-ons and DLC, while my collection of base games is still physical. And I have my reasons for it. Agree or disagree, it will take a lot to convince me to digitize my game life.
The argument in support of digital gaming is mostly based on convenience. You can purchase almost any video game from the comfort of your couch or gaming chair without driving anywhere. You don’t have to wait in line at the late night release of your favorite games. Best of all, you don’t have to travel all the way to your console to put the disc in or switch out what you’ve been playing with what you want to play (there may be some sarcasm in there somewhere). But does that level of convenience outshine the benefits of owning a physical game?
Convenience doesn’t matter to me as much with video games. I don’t mind getting out of the house to get what I want. I can imagine it would be difficult for some who live in bigger cities, further away from their local game retailer, but I still don’t know if even that would change it for me. I’m going to be on my couch enough when I play a game. I can handle getting out to buy it.
Another downside to the convenience of buying digitally is that it actually encourages bad business practices among video game developers. Since digital games are more easily accessible than physical games, so is the “extra content” that often comes alongside them. Impulse purchases are more likely now than ever, since your debit or credit card information can be stored onto an account and purchases often require just a click or two, and there’s no need to travel to the store. I can’t tell you how many times a promotion has popped up on screen and I’ve thought, “Eh, it’s only $4.99. Might as well.” It is digital convenience that encourages impulse buying and impulse buying that businesses profit from.
What’s disappointing is that a large majority of those who complain about the greedy business practices of game developers are most likely digital consumers making purchases that encourage those practices. A solution to the issue of unfinished games would be developers only releasing games in their physical form. This would encourage developers to finish games before releasing them. But as long as we’re buying it digitally, they’ll continue to sell it digitally…because that’s how business works.
THE CHEAP TRADE ARGUMENT
Here’s the deal. I know I’m not going to be playing a game forever, and what’s beautiful about that is the option to resell it or trade it in for credit toward the next game I want. That’s something I can’t do with digital games. Many consumers criticize companies like GameStop who buy back used games for cash or in-store credit due to how little they’re willing to pay out, but I have yet to feel inconvenienced by it. I know, I know. I’m an idiot. But hear me out.
If I bought a nice toaster for 60 bucks, used that toaster to make toast for a total combined time of 30 hours, and then tried to sell it to you for full price, would you pay 60 bucks for it? What about 50? Think about how long it takes to make toast. Probably an average of 3 minutes. This would mean that by the time I sell it to you, I’ve already used it about 600 times. Would you want to pay 50 bucks for a toaster that has been used to make toast 600 times? Heck no. You’d probably be willing to throw down 10 dollars for it, depending on how nice the toaster actually is. You may even try to talk me into just giving it to you.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. There’s a difference between wear and tear on a toaster and the “use” of a video game that functions primarily by transmitting digital information without severely impacting the physical condition of the game. But does that constitute it not being used? Not in the world of commerce. If I buy a brand new car, drive it for 10 miles, and then try to sell it back to a dealership, they will buy it back as a used car even though it’s probably still in perfect condition. Why? Because I used it. Used is used, and companies have to make a profit somehow. When I buy a new game, it’s not being leased to me. I own it. So, companies are not obligated to buy it from me at an unreasonably high percentage of what I paid for it.
I’m not necessarily trying to make a case for trading in games for credit (even though I just did), but many gamers make the cheap trade an argument for buying digitally. And even if you only net 8 bucks from one of your used games, is that not worth forsaking digital convenience? Sure, you can say, “It’s only 8 bucks though.” But would you rather pay $52 for a new game or $60? Is convenience really worth as much as your used games?
Going back to the greedy business practices of modern game developers, our tendency to complain about cheap trades says a lot about our own greed. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about cheap trades that basically say, “I should be able to buy my games for next to nothing.” If anything, that is a statement of our ignorance when it comes to what it takes for a business to profit.
Another great thing about trading in physical games is that it gives other consumers the opportunity to buy their games at a used price that is often significantly lower than if they were purchased digitally. For example, a pre-owned game can be sold for $10 and still be marked at $60 on the digital market. The financial benefits of buying physical games alone outweigh the benefits of buying digitally.
As of right now, I can’t find enough reason to digitize my game collection. I find the production of physical games to be something we should desire to hold onto. Even with cloud gaming becoming an even greater opportunity than it ever was, there is not enough evidence yet to show that it would be financially viable for the average consumer long-term.
What are your thoughts on physical games versus digital games? Is your game library primarily physical, primarily digital, or a little of both? Let me know in the comments.
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