Every week (or as often as we can), we will get a group of great writers to contribute their thoughts on a particular topic about video games. Each author can address the issue how they please and give their own unique opinions. Please stay tuned to one-hitkills.com and @onehitkills for updates. Please feel free to give us any feedback you feel is necessary and enjoy.
By Francis McCabe- @onehitkills
I’ve been gaming since the NES era and, personally, opening a brand new game and smelling that new game smell brings back the memories of Christmas morning nearly every time. There is nothing like the experience of opening a Hyrule Warriors or Bayonetta 2 and popping it into my Wii U. You get an instant (although not as instant with the advent of Day 1 patches) feeling of satisfaction. But as time has moved on and my life priorities have changed, boxed games can become more of a burden after that new game smell wears off. More and more, I’ve been converting over to the emerging digital side of gaming.
Maybe it started with the incredible discounts on the Steam Sales. I was buying lots of cool games I knew or had never even heard of. I was a disciple at the alter of Lord Gaben. The Wii Virtual Console helped me relive some of the best moments of my childhood with out any of the aggravation of setting up and old console or even putting in a cartridge. Sure, all the Marios and the Zeldas were there, but I had access to titles that never made it out of the original consoles like River City Ransom and Tecmo Bowl. It gave me all the nostalgic highs without spending minutes blowing into the cartridges and consoles. GOG fulfilled the same feelings for classic PC games. The evolution of games on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network both broadened my gaming tastes and exposed me to new experiences.
I still buy plenty of new games, but it’s getting harder and harder to find space for all of it. Coupled with the fact that publishers are putting less and less effort into including little more than just the disc in the retail packaging, and the compelling reasons for going all physical media whenever possible is loses its appeal.
The pros of the digital media age are obvious. After download, games can be accessed in an instant and the prices, for those who can exercise patience for certain titles, can be significantly lower thanks to better sales on a product that is where retailers are worried about their cut of a sale. While I initially viewed Sony’s PS+ system as a desperation tactic on the struggling PS3, their commitment has given me 100s of retail and download-only games just for the price of $50 a year. The value can be different depending on how many systems you own, but once I acquire a PS4, I will have a dozen games already. This is in addition to all the games I can download for PS3 and Vita.
The biggest concern, of course, is the demise of the operation selling the product and losing ownership over a product I paid my hard-earned money for. While a system like Steam is not restricted by hardware cycles, I have legit concerns about how long Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony will maintain they’re service on last-gen consoles Wii, Xbox 360, and PS3. With the expansion of hard drives and the abilities Nintendo and Sony give you to expand them, I can download every possible game and keep them as long as that hard drive doesn’t die, but Microsoft doesn’t offer that option. At that point, however, physical media games will still be widely available on the internet via Amazon and EBay and at B&M stores like Gamestop.
As with the next cycle, that concern can only grow. Microsoft’s full-on attempt at control of the games by bought by their customers is something that has gone away for now, but may eventually be introduced piece-meal by Sony or another future competitor. As someone who stayed away from mainstream PC gaming for years because of the need to tinker with your computer to play the newest games, I was naïve to how draconian DRM can be. I wish this aspect of the industry will learn from the PR disaster and sluggishly selling Xbox One console became and veer away from that path in the future.
In closing, I have now found equal joy from both digital and physical media. I will celebrate getting a new hot title from Amazon or from the a store in the same way I just celebrated GOG getting access to LucasArts’s back catalog of classic adventure games. Outside of buying good games at dirt cheap prices, digital purchases for me must be games I would never want to re-sell. A shining example is my 3DS with my background populated with instant access to Zelda, Fire Emblem, Bravely Default, and Super Smash Bros. Actually, ummmm, that reminds me, I have to go.
By Ryan Norum- @Chainedsniper
When I think of the physical versus digital media debate, I stand on one side pretty firmly. The digital era has brought upon convenience. Programs like Steam and Origin makes buying games easy, quick, and in most cases, it’s cheaper. I wasn’t one of the first to jump onto the bandwagon, but I plan to stay on it and am ready for the long ride. There has even been multiple occasions where I bought a digital version of a game I already own physically. The convenience doesn’t just stop at the buying phase. Not having to manage a bunch of disc is also a plus. Overall, I have been happy with my change to favoring digital media, but I do have to admit, there is something nostalgic and real about the physical media era.
There really was something special when it came to buying the newest game from the store. The whole thing was a process, but as a kid, it was more fun then not. I remember the drive to the store building up my anticipation. I remember speed walking towards the gaming section and being greeted by the wall of games with their beautiful box art. Buying the game and instantly opening it before even reaching home because I just had to absorb everything I could. Whether it was reading the back of the obx or instruction manual it didn’t matter. Then finally reaching home and playing the game for the next few hours. The process is long and tedious when compared to the digital purchases, but as a kid, it created memories. I would never choose to go back to this style of buying games, but I do not regret having it in my past.
It has been a while since I bought physical media. Ever since I stopped playing my consoles, my game collection for them also stopped. This meant that after transferring all the discs to a giant CD case, I had a bunch of game boxes filling up space. I had kept them around for a while to showcase them like books on a bookshelf despite mostly being filler. Not too long ago, I had an idea to reuse the box art as a poster. This would allow me to get rid of the boxes while keeping the memories; my main reason for keeping them around for so long. While I was making the giant poster, a bunch of memories popped up. While the games themselves created the memories, the box art was the trigger of nostalgia. That is something I won’t get from a Steam game. When I view my Steam library, its just a bunch of names. Even games I hold near to my heart is just a bunch of letters on a screen until I actually open it up. I don’t believe memories make up for the benefits of digital media, but physical media has its benefits if this type of stuff is important to you.
By Wally- @TempleofRetro
Hardware vs Software vs Noware
In today’s ever evolving world of video game collecting, there are many ways to compile and grow a gaming library. From hitting the streets and thrift shops to find that ‘retro’ cart you enjoyed as a kid, to owning one of those classic titles with a simple download, the options to gamers are more vast and expansive than ever.
But what’s the right direction to take? It’s getting harder and harder to find specific titles in gaming shops or out in the wild, and as some retro collectors have found over the past few years, the excessive prices that come with trying to attain these games is getting more and more ridiculous.
That being said, by moving into a ‘digital only’ world, there’s no guarantee that the game you’re looking for is actually available for download. So where’s the happy medium?
Here’s some pros and cons to consider when gaming in the 21st century:
PHYSICAL MEDIA – PROS
Without question, the best part about owning a physical copy of a game is the fact that it’s original. For retro gamers, holding a grey Nintendo cartridge in hand has a very nostalgic, but honest feel to it. Sliding a cart into a classic NES console is a very satisfying feeling, but also brings back a rushing sense of nostalgia. Is that reason enough to purchase the cart? No, but for some it may be.
There’s also the simple joy of having the physical collection. Being able to display your game proudly on a shelf amongst many others is also a satisfying feeling; a trophy case for gamers. But the benefits of owning a physical copy of a game go beyond the visual optics.
There’s a certain level of trust with owning a game. For example, Nintendo’s digital world doesn’t involve a networked account. If you download a digital copy of a game for your Wii, Wii U or 3DS, your game is tied to that specific machine. If it blows up, so does your game, and you’ll be paying a second time just to play the game again. By owning the actual cart or CD, even if your console DOES go down, you have the freedom to continue playing your game on a new machine.
While it’s true that not all gaming companies operate in the same vein as Nintendo when it comes to digital downloads (Sony, Steam…games are linked to individual accounts) the fear of a corrupt ‘file’ or download is something that can be concerning to some gamers.
One of the biggest advantages of being a gamer who enjoys physical media is that there’s never (in theory) a shortage of access to specific titles. By that, I mean to infer that if there’s a game you want, there’s probably a good chance you can own that title. Yes, you may have a hard time finding the game you’re looking for and yes, you may have to pay an obscene (and unnecessary) amount of money to acquire it. Still, you CAN acquire the game. And in some cases, for much less than you’d pay to download it.
In the digital world, just because a game exists, doesn’t mean it’s available for download. If I want to play Contra (NES), there’s no guarantee that Nintendo is going to have it on their Virtual Console. But you CAN purchase the original cartridge. The process may be longer and more expensive, but at least it’s available. The same can be said for games on the Playstation Network and Xbox Live. Sure, they have digital games for download, but their inventory is considerably less than being able to own the physical copy of your choice.
PHYSICAL MEDIA – CONS
As great as it is to own the physical copy of a game, there are some definite drawbacks to collecting this way.
As referenced earlier, it’s not always easy to find the game you’re looking for. Through a combination of game shops, online stores and personal selling sites, you MAY be able to find your game, you may not. And if you do, what is the price you’re paying? For every copy of Coolboarders (PS1) that you can buy for 50 cents, there’s a copy of Snow Bros. (NES) going for north of $200. Retro collecting, specifically, has become a very popular hobby. For some, it’s been a profitable (albeit unfair) source of income, operating on the “buy low, sell insanely high” method of business.
Of course, all the games in the world are great, but if you don’t have the capable console to play the game on, they don’t amount to a hill of beans. With many consoles of past generations getting older and older, the guarantee that the hardware still functions isn’t there. How many retro gamers constantly have to rip apart consoles to replace pin connectors, fans, and other random cogs just in hopes that they bring it back to life? While it’s a fun challenge for some, the ability to ‘plug and play’ becomes a bit of an uphill battle year after year. Cleaning carts, contact pins, consoles and other aspects can be a pain.
Oh, and how many times have you played a game on an older console, and the gameplay freezes? Or the battery save no longer works? Or the CD is scratched beyond repair? Just like that, your game can be rendered useless. And it isn’t always readily replaceable.
Any gamers whose significant others/roommates ‘tolerate’ their gaming collections can attest to the amount of space physical media occupies and the arguments it can create. Whether its loose carts, complete in box, or just an original case, these games take room. And shelving. Lots of it. If you live in a small space, or just don’t have a whole lot available to display your gaming collection, this can be a problem.
DIGITAL MEDIA – PROS
In today’s gaming landscape, digital downloads have become very popular, and it’s the direction the industry is heading. Not only are they easy to distribute to consumers, but its relatively accessible to anyone with an online connection. There’s no limit on the amount of digital copies are available, and there’s no lining up and camping outside your favorite gaming store for midnight releases. Download the game, it’s on your system, and its ready to play.
There’s also the advantage of not requiring numerous consoles to play games from various platforms. Using Sony as an example, accessing their digital library allows gamers to purchase and download games from the PS1, PS2, PS3 and now the PS4…all on one system. That’s pretty handy.
Shelving? A non-issue. One shelf for one system. Pretty simple from a storage standpoint.
Gamers have also been able to grow their collections and purchase a higher quantity of games for a much lower price. ‘Humble Bundles’ and other offers through Steam and online gaming software allows gamers to purchase titles at a greater discount, and many times a lot cheaper than purchasing the physical copy of each game on an individual basis. While some consoles have compilation titles, downloading digitally allows gamers to hold hundreds of games, and in many instances, for a lot less.
For example, Earthbound for Super Nintendo. MINIMUM $200 for the loose cart, or $10 for the download? Same game. Easy decision for most.
Oh, and indie games. Enough said.
Along with independent games, features like Sony’s Playstation Plus allows you to pay a yearly subscription and download games ‘for free’. More often than not, there are some pretty decent titles available and as long as you’re a subscriber, you can keep the games on your machine. While not for everybody, it does allow the opportunity to play games you’ve never tried before at a minimal cost.
As it pertains to downloading titles from the examples I stated earlier, gamers can acquire titles that are linked to their account. A onetime purchase, but could include additional downloads if necessary. A huge advantage, especially if your Playstation suffers the dreaded ‘yellow light of death’. Personally, my original PS3 died with digital games downloaded, and I was very relieved to learn that I could re-download them onto my new console.
DIGITAL MEDIA – CONS
If I pay for a game once, I don’t want to have to pay for it again. Enter Nintendo’s digital philosophy where titles are tied to consoles, not accounts. That’s a big issue. Although it’s something that can change in the future, it’s disheartening knowing that I can have $500 worth of video games that I ‘own’ on my console, but if the console becomes defective, I’m not only down a console, but my entire library (and the associated dollars) is gone.
There’s also no guarantee that you’re going to be able to download all of your favorite titles from years gone by either. Between Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, they’ve released many titles on their digital networks but it’s amazing how many games have not been made available to gamers. It’s somewhat puzzling considering the outcry from publishers and developers around re-selling titles and third party companies generating revenue from it.
Again, getting back to ‘content’ and it’s availability, you’re at the mercy of Nintendo, Microsoft or Sony, as it pertains to releasing games available for download.
No cover art…no satisfaction of a physical collection…no manuals to flip through…for a nostalgic gamer, it just isn’t the same.
Honestly, I thought I would have more cons for digital media, but I just can’t think of any. However, these are pros and cons that I’ve thought of, and I’m sure I’m missing elements on both sides for both physical and digital. Personally, I’ve been a fan of owning physical media, but as the years go by, it seems more and more that digital makes more sense. Now, that’s just ME and the circumstances in my life.
By Andrew Cook- @MasterMastermnd
On the question of digital vs. physical I prefer physical media for several reasons. For starters, I think of myself as a casual collector. I’m not the hardcore type who buys two copies of each game and keeps one in the shrink-wrap, but I do like to have a library I can directly handle and admire. Perhaps devoting space to a monument for your own taste is a little egotistical, but it also makes it easy for me to share my favorite experiences with my friends. I don’t have to sell them on anything; I can just lend them the game.
And, to be blunt, I buy physical because I do not trust game publishers or hardware manufacturers and physical media gives me a measure of control over what I own. From the beginning I was afraid the rise of account-based networks would become a way to wrest control of our purchases away from us, and digital sales to charge us multiple times for the full experience. For the most part, especially from major publishers like EA, I believe my suspicions were confirmed. As such, through the entire seventh generation I bought not one game over Xbox Live or PSN, and only downloaded three packs of DLC (all for Mass Effect, and the last of them didn’t download correctly and messed up my game, thanks guys).
I’ve loosened up a bit since then, what with the rise of indie developers and the bountiful support they provide Wii U. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Nintendo embraced DLC and digital with gusto and typical generosity. That being said, I still prefer to buy major releases on disc, that way I know if push comes to shove I can just disconnect and have a disc that plays in a machine. That feels right, and it’s kind of the point, isn’t it? The days when I could just pop Final Fantasy VIII into my Playstation and have fun seem a lot more honest than the current era of patches and day one DLC, and that’s more than just nostalgia speaking.
On top of all that, truth is, I’m just old-fashioned. I don’t have a smart-phone. I don’t use the cloud. I’m 25 years old and I’ve been gaming most of my life, my first memory is playing Super Mario Bros. when I was four or five. We bought cartridges then, so I imagine that purchasing ritual is deeply ingrained into my idea of what exactly gaming is.
For all these reasons, I don’t really see a shift in my behavior unless the choice is made for me. I imagine it will be, we’ve made a lot of advancement since I was a kid for good or bad. It’s important to remember, however, that no matter how we choose to play, as consumers we control the direction the medium takes. It can only be as honest or craven as we allow.
By Nick DeLong- @MGNickD
I won’t beat around the bush. I am a devout physical media snob and likely always will be. Not because I believe that digital media is any less worthy of my money than physical, especially considering that they’re typically the same product simply being delivered differently. The real benefit is that I LOVE having my various collections on display in my home and thumbing through them looking for the day’s time sink. Flipping through the CD binder for something to listen to on my commute. The experience is almost entirely lost when scrolling through lists of intangible items on some product page.
Even when browsing for movies to watch on Netflix, I miss the days of heading down to my local video store and browsing their collection, flipping the cases over to check out the screens and synopsis, handing it to whatever partner and gauging their reaction to see if we have a winner. This is exactly the sensation that Netflix, Steam, and their ilk (admittedly excellently) emulate, but it loses its appeal somewhat when the tangible element of selecting the item is removed from the equation.
Coming back to games, I of course have a Steam account and a library full of the disparate titles they offer. In fact, I preach the gospel of the service as often as I possibly can. The deals on offer there are insane at times and completely irresistible, making for an excellent companion to my physical collection. I have a Netflix account and turn to it for something watch very regularly, I have an iTunes account full of music, a few eBooks, and piles of games on PSN, XBLA, and eShop. However, when given the choice, I always have and always will choose the physical version of any product over its digital counterpart.
Ultimately, I believe it comes down to the fact that I grew up in the 80s and 90s, when digital media was still essentially a pipe dream. All of the items I have had for the majority of my life have physical products, so that is my comfort zone. I definitely believe that the digital age is coming (if not already here) and that, soon, physical products will become less and less available, but I’m not looking forward to this revolution. I fully expect to be dragged kicking and screaming into it, desperately hanging on to one of my many shelves of goodies.
Long live physical media!
By Chris Scott- @kaiyanine
For years I have had stuff. Piles of stuff. Stuff everywhere. Books, games, CDs, you name it and it probably cluttered up certain sections of my living space.
And then iTunes and the iPod happened. I stopped buying massive amounts of overpriced music from the local record store. I transfered my collection to digital and began carrying my complete collection of music with me everywhere I went. And then I sold my CDs.
Soon my library of PC games followed the same path as I moved to buying all my games digitally via storefronts like Steam, GOG, and Origin. My DVDs weren’t far behind as I started getting digital versions from places like iTunes and Amazon. And when I got a Kindle my new book buying went nearly exclusively digital. But physical console/handheld games still cluttered up my space.
There are many different reasons for this but the biggest was that being able to trade those games back in. With that credit received, I’d cycle it back into new game purchases. New game purchases were almost always done at a discount because of this, and who doesn’t love a discount?
Every other digital venture presented me with the same product I’d buy physically at a cheaper price when I got it digitally. Music and books were nearly half off. Movies were generally 25% or more cheaper. And while PC games were not generally cheaper than their physical counterparts upon release, finding physical copies of most PC games was time consuming at best.
But digital versions of PS3 and XBOX 360 games did not have these benefits, at least not outwardly. Over the last few years both Sony and Microsoft have done a very good job of enticing people to buy digitally. Weekly and monthly sales on the two platforms offer some great deals on both new and old games and I’ve seen myself buying during these sales amassing a quite a large digital library. But it wasn’t until the Xbox One and PS4 (the WiiU is a different story entirely) that I decided to go fully digital.
Through programs like Xbox Rewards and the point system on my Capital One Playstation card, I get rewarded for making digital purchases from the respective storefronts. Xbox Rewards gives me a 10% rebate on every digital purchase on Xbox Live and Capital One grants me 3X as many points when purchasing on PSN. Coupled with the weekly/monthly sales and programs like EA Access and Playstation Plus, my starting price for most games begins below the suggested retail price.
I will admit that there are concerns with going digital for others that just don’t apply to my situation. I pay for a very fast internet connection and it does not have a bandwith cap. I also early on bought a 3TB external hard drive for my Xbox One, which heavily soothed the storage capacity issue many worry about. And while they don’t affect me, they are very really concerns for many but I’m happy with my choice to go digital only.
Being able to quickly boot up any game I have without leaving my seat is a wonderful feeling. And doing so without feeding the used games culture, whatever you think of it, makes me feel a bit better about my hobby. But it’s mostly about me not having crap everywhere and being lazy. So take that as you will.
By Douglas Carter- @ThatZooooooooo
Video games have come a long way over the years, from being arcade games and simple niche home games where you spent time after school to the multi-million dollar masterpieces that rival modern movies in cost and scope. With this great gap in time, there has come advancements in the technology used to make them as well, from simple 8-bit graphics to smooth 60 FPS 1080p HD video. Starting with the Xbox 360 generation of consoles as well as the rise of Steam, digital distribution has started to rise to coexist with physical releases as well. Many Independent developers and big name developers alike have been supporting sales of digital content with greater gusto than ever before.
While I personally think the argument of “Physical vs Digital” is a moot point, as both have their place and can coexist peacefully, I’ll still take a scholarly look at the debate to the best of my ability. I was also pressed for time, so I couldn’t do as much research as I wanted, so if I get something wrong, I’m sorry.
So… Which is better? Physical or Digital?
Let’s look at the pros and cons at each…
Note: For the time being, I’m not taking into account DLC and patches. I’m strictly examining the distribution method itself.
Physical games are the ones we know and love, that come in a hard jewel case, plastic case, cardboard box, or what have you. These are your cartridges, disks, and anything else you can hold.
-You have the game on hand and can easily transfer it between consoles with minimum hassle, such as lending and borrowing games.
-You can easily sell physical games to other people, and buy previously owned games easily, with previously owned games being usually discounted
-You have a weapon in a fight.
-That new game smell.
-Higher cost to produce all of the disks/cartridges, casing, and related materials for the game in the long run, thus a slighted higher markup on physical games.
-If the cartridge or disk breaks or something, you’re out of luck and need to buy another copy outright. In cartridge based games, this could mean loss of data as well.
-You’ll run out of space to store all those games.
Digital Games have started to become more and more prominent in the past 8-9 years or so, coinciding with physical games. Their appeals have led to many developers to embrace digital.
-Generally lower cost to produce for, thus favored more by independent developers, and usually cheaper to buy.
-You can lose your console or even delete the game, but so long as you have access to the internet, you can always download the game again at no cost so long as you purchased it before. Some games also have cloud saving, but data loss can still happen.
-No way to sell the game to somebody else, so no recoup if you want to sell it at some point.
-Hard to let people “borrow” games without generally having access to your account
-If you lose access to your account or have no internet access, and you don’t have the games downloaded on your system, you’re screwed. You have to buy them again if you lose the games.
-Not as easy to transfer games from system to system.
-You’ll run out of space to store all those games.
I may be missing a few things, but as I said, I’m pressed for time, and this is what I can think of right now. This is also shorter than what I usually write.
So… Which do I prefer?
Call me old school, but I personally prefer Physical distribution. I just like having physical things, and being able to just bring my crap with me to other people’s houses for fun times. Digital Games are very convenient, and cheaper in some cases, and some games are exclusively digital, but I just like having things to hold.
And, that new game smell. I could get high off that all day.
Again, I like both methods of distribution and they both have their place, and it’s up to you to decide which method is better for you. I’m in favor of having both available for convenience for everyone!