Is it time to ditch physical video games and go digital only?


While I don’t have showcases filled with rare items or a full set of all the games released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in North America, I do consider myself a bit of a video game collector. I have thousands of games through the decades, ranging from the Atari 2600 and the Intellivision to the current era with the Nintendo Switch. It’s materialistic, but I’m proud of my shelves full of games.

And yet, with the release of the PlayStation 5 and the new Xbox, I can’t tell you for sure that I will ever buy a physical game disc for these new systems.

A close-up image of the DualSense wireless controller for the PlayStation 5.

It won’t be a surprise to Sony or Microsoft. In fact, that’s probably exactly what they want to hear. Both hardware makers have come out of the door this time around with digital-only consoles that don’t support physical media at all. Microsoft even boasted in a post-launch press release that its digital system, the Xbox Series S, had “the highest percentage of new players for all Xbox consoles at launch.” Heck, at just $ 300, this is by far the cheapest way to get a cutting edge gaming console right now. That alone is worth the lack of a disk drive for many people.

The deal has many benefits for Sony and Microsoft, including the fact that they are now less likely to have to share profits with a physical retailer, as most games will be purchased directly through the console storefront. It will also be a big blow to the used games market, which could be of particular concern for Grapevine-based GameStop, given that it has been its bread and butter for quite some time.

But there are also major benefits for me as a consumer. For starters, going all digital means I’ll never have to get up to swap discs again if I decide to play another game on the spur of the moment. This will be particularly noticeable on the Xbox thanks to the system’s Quick Resume feature, which allows players to switch between multiple games in seconds without requiring them to return to a main menu.

There’s also the simple fact that for most games these days the physical disk is somehow useless. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come home from the store and eagerly inserted the disc of a brand new video game only to have to wait for the console to download 50GB of updates anyway. Buying a record at retail doesn’t save me any time at all and, in fact, only adds to the cost of gasoline in the equation.

Microsoft is pushing even harder towards a digital-only utopia with Game Pass, its Netflix-type subscription service that offers unlimited digital access to more than 100 games at a time. Why go buy the new one Halo for $ 60 on a disc when I could just play it along with a ton of other great games for $ 10 a month?

There are also downsides, of course. As we increasingly rely on digital downloads for games, anyone suffering from a strict data cap from their ISP is going to have a hard time. Are you able to download just 1TB per month without incurring overage charges? Hope the 10 games you keep on your system don’t all have updates that are too close to each other.

As a lover of the history of the game, I also have great concerns about the future of game preservation. Retro cartridge games are wonderful because you can expect them to just work if you put them in a console, even though they’re decades old. Sure, the battery in the watch that stores saved games might be dead, but you can still stick with it. Super mario world in a Super Nintendo and have a great time in minutes playing the exact same game you played years before. But if you want to play Ubisoft The division in 10 years will you even be able to do it, or will the fact that its servers are offline prevent you from reliving the experience?

So, I’m not exactly singing from the rooftops that physical video game media might be dying, but I’m accepting the idea more and more every day. I will miss having shelves full of the latest and greatest games, sorted alphabetically for all of my friends to watch, but I think maybe it’s time to let go.

(Plus, it just means I have more room in my house to collect old Game Boy cartridges.)


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