Physical versus Digital

Hannah referees a metaphorical boxing match to answer the question of the decade: is it better to buy physical or digital? Find out here.


IDATE DigiWorld Research found that 93% of all video game sales are expected to be digital by 2023. Is there a correct answer to the decades-old digital versus physical debate?

We explore the pros and cons below in a Digital v. Physical showdown where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.


You’re at home, chip crumbs littered artfully across your front. You’ve just finished your fourth playthrough of Monster Loves You but, having agreed with my review that it’s not worth 12 playthroughs, you decide it’s time to play something else. You put down your controller and glance outside. It’s pouring; like, really bucketing down. Will you make the trek to the games store? You turn away from the window and find yourself adding Red Dead Redemption 2 to your online shopping cart with a single, gratifying click.

Say what you want about the other pros and cons, but you’re sure even physical-copy-purists have been tempted by the convenience of online purchases.

Result: 20 points to Digital. Physical is seen to be physically sweating.



You’ve heard that digital is often more expensive, but you’ve also seen Steam sales that rock your world. Prices vary across systems, developers, and retail cycles. If you were a pragmatist, you’d realise that at the end of the day you should make the choice between physical or digital purely on price alone.

But there’s more to life and gaming than money, right? …Right?

Result: No points awarded. Physical argues with the referee and is deducted 5 points.



You glance to your bookcase, each game displayed and organised by series, developer, genre. It’s a glorious collection, spanning many years back to your childhood. It’s a visual statement, nay, proof, of your gaming experience. Sometimes you just like to stand there and survey it, each box a memory of past feats.

Scrolling through your digital Steam Library just doesn’t have the same… je ne sais quois.

Result: Digital takes a huge hit from Physical. Digital staggers back, dazed and confused. 25 points to Physical.


Sharing and trade-ins

On second thoughts, maybe hoarding every game you’ve ever played isn’t so important after all. You could give them to a friend? Or maybe you’ll take your old console games to your local store, where you’ll be paid back about a quarter of what you originally paid for them. You’d never be able to do this with your digital downloads – so at least you’re getting something out of it.

You keep telling yourself this as you look at the $10 you received for a game that was $119.99 on release.

Result: Physical lands a cheap shot on Digital. 5 points to Physical.


Download times

You may have avoided the trip to the game store but, depending on the size of the game, this is still not going to be an ‘instant’ thing. Depending on your internet speed, it could be a five minute thing, or an all-day thing.

To be fair, more and more we are seeing a trend for even physical games to require hefty Day One patches on install, so it’s likely that this argument won’t hold weight for much longer. Many digital offerings also allow downloading before release, so you can play at 00:00 release time.

Result: Physical looked to be winding up for a knock-out hit on Digital. Physical misses and staggers forward, surprising both Physical and Digital. The crowd holds its collective breath.


I never look back darling, it distracts from the now

You consider not counting the nostalgic feel-goods as a for or against. Nostalgia is nostalgia, and at the end of the day, and you don’t believe that pleasant associations with times past is a sufficiently good reason to halt progress.

One should not underestimate nostalgia’s siren call. You have fond memories of trips to the store, pouring over the old A4 boxes, the extensive artwork on the back, the breathless unboxing on the car ride home, the massive physical manuals.

Physical copies, more often than not, no longer live up to our old expectations of what a physical copy should be. Manuals are non-existent, and discs are often replaced by codes for download. If you want that shiny steel case and cloth map however, a trip to the old brick and mortar for a physical copy pre-order is still usually your best bet.

Result: Physical knocks Digital to the ground, but it’s with none of Physical’s flair from their glory days. 10 points to Physical.


Well, it depends

As with most people, your collection is probably a mix of physical and digital. Maybe you prefer digital copies for PC gaming, but you’ll always pick up physical discs for your consoles. Maybe it just depends on the price, whether it’s a gift, or your mood that day. Neither side is completely right or wrong.

You check the progress of your download. It’s stuck at 15%, with three days remaining.

Maybe physical copies are the best, after all.

Result: Physical wins this round. The crowd goes wild, cheering and throwing bouquets of old game manuals into the ring. Digital skulks away, knowing that next time, next time, Digital will show them all. Physical is nearing retirement and offers less in each fight. With Physical now requiring larger and larger downloads, it’s only a matter of time before Digital reigns supreme.

Should Physical or Digital have won this match? Let us know!


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  1. Darren Blake says

    Either option is good but my personal preference is digital.

    One big omission was digital gamesharing.

  2. James says

    I’m definitely a mix. I have two xboxes so digital gamesharing is awesome for games like that.

    Every sports game I buy is disc based (as I buy the newest version of NBA 2K and Madden each year) well as any EA title (as they’ll eventually be added to the vault on ea access) – this is so I get something back from selling or trading in (and every so often eb does have a great deal – like $50 off RDR2 preorders when trading in two games)

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