Debate: Physical vs Digital Copies

Last week, I went over the debate over discs and cartridges and talked about the strengths and weaknesses of each. Like the Handhelds vs Consoles debate, one side’s strength is the other side’s weakness. Discs tend to be better for the producers since they are cheaper to mass produce with more memory, but cartridges tend to be better for the consumer since they load faster and last longer. Even I prefer cartridges more, and it’s not just because of the Nintendo 64 and 3DS. It’s because I care more about durability of systems than I do for the other issues in the debate.

This week, I covered more about the types of games, and it’s not on just discs and cartridges. Both are even on one side of the debate. This one is different. Prior to the 7th generation, all games have to be bought at public stores like GameStop, Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, or wherever you get them from. You could also get them from eBay, Amazon, or other online sites. But starting the 7th generation, you can buy games digitally through the system’s online shop. You don’t even have to order them. It just downloads to your system. It isn’t perfectly better, but neither are the physical copies. This debate is otherwise known as Physical vs Digital.

There are nine issues where the physical copies and digital copies compete with each other. I would reference Nintendo, but I may also bring up other systems, as well as Disney and its competitors. Did you know that Apple and Google only has digital when you download games for the iPhone and Android? There’s no need for physical copies. This debate is not just for games, but also for movies.

Issue # 1 – Space Efficiency in the Real World

The debate begins with how much space in real life does each digital or physical copy take up.

In real life, if you bought a lot of movies or video games, you would have a lot more items to hold onto. You might want to look for a suitable storage space if you want to store your games. A shelf would be best. But what if you were buying too many video games? You would have to buy more shelves. Eventually, you would take up too much, and you won’t be able to purchase anymore games.

The digital copies, however, can’t be stored in the real world. It doesn’t have any correlation to how much real space you use. What if you never bought a video game physically, but you did digitally. You will own more games, but have nothing on your shelves. And what if you are running out of room for your console? You can save whole games onto a flash drive. If you could hold only two or three on one flash drive, you would need another flash drive then. One 3DS case is just as big as 16 flash drives in real life. That would be 48 digital games for one physical game, with the same quality and performance as the original.

So what’s the winner of the debate? Although it would be nice to fill your shelves with a lot of video games you enjoy playing most, you could own even more games if you got them all digitally. This isn’t just applicable to games, but movies too. And digital purchases still stay on your account. Winner: Digital; Loser: Physical.

Issue #2 – System Damage Replacements

This issue is not much, but it’s more about what happens if your system got ruined, if someone stole all of your games and your gaming equipment, or if anything else happens? Let’s talk more about this.

For physical copies of games, once you lose them, you can’t get them back easily. Damaged copies count as lost copies as well. If this happens, you might need to get a new copy, which costs money. That, and they are hard to find, especially if the console for the game has phased out.

For digital copies, they are saved to your system. What if you lost your system? You can get a new one. The system will cost money, but not the games. The reason? When they are on your purchases, you can download them anytime you want.

It seems that physical copies are lost forever once gone while digital copies are still yours as long as you have them purchased on your account. Winner: Digital; Loser: Physical.

Issue #3 – Availability

This issue doesn’t necessarily refer to duration of being in the stores, but more to stock issues. When buying the physical copies, you have to go to the public stores like GameStop, Wal-Mart, Target, and many other stores like that. Chances are, they might be out of stock. So they aren’t always available in stores. But are they always available in the digital stores? Yes. There is no limited stock in the digital stores. Winner: Digital; Loser: Physical.

Issue #4 – Switching Between Games

Just like most of these issues, there won’t be much to say. However, when you are done playing a game and you want to switch to another game, you’ll have to remove the cartridge or disc when you’re playing a physical copy. Then you’ll have to put them away and get another one out. Although laziness is not a good idea, switching between games digitally is a lot easier and less risky than switching games physically. This is true with movies too. Winner: Digital; Loser: Physical.

Issue #5 – Game Quality

Whether you bought the game digitally or physically, the quality has no differences. The graphics would still be the same, the glitches aren’t any better or worse either way, the mechanics aren’t altered both ways, and controllers still play the same way. It just appears to be the same game, but on different ways of playing. Winner: Tied; Loser: Tied.

Issue #6 – Data Storage Limits

The biggest weakness of digital downloads (or digital copies) is how much you can have on a console. Digital copies may be more space efficient in the real world than physical copies, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can have an unlimited amount of them at once. In fact, you may not have much stored onto your system. Games these days are in HD and have a lot of features. HD games take up a lot of memory. I have an 8GB Wii U, which will not store as much. The N64 games don’t take up too much memory, but the Wii U games take up a lot of memory. Because of this, I can have only one Wii U game, which I don’t have enough for one. The physical copies have that much memory, but at least they are stored onto the disc and not the system. This is true about movies too. I have six Star Wars movies on my iPad. Nearly half of my total data has been taken up by these sci-fi epics while I have even more games than movies that don’t take up a lot of data. Winner: Physical; Loser: Digital.

Issue #7 – Ability to sell back

This issue contradicts the third issue in this entry. Digital copies are easier because you can get them at any time and have as much as you want, but if you don’t like the game, can you sell them back? No. Once you purchase a game or movie digitally, you can never sell it back. But at least you don’t have to keep it in your library. For physical copies, when you buy them and don’t like them, you can sell them back any time if you don’t like them. Winner: Physical; Loser: Digital.

Issue #8 – Property Rights

This appears to be another issue to debate on. When you buy the game digitally, you don’t really own it. If you buy a game physically, you own it. What happens here is that when you purchase a game or movie digitally, it goes to your account. However, the developer has the right to pull movies, tv shows, or games off the digital store. Not only you can’t purchase new copies, but it won’t show up in your purchases anymore. So if you remove it from your library, you can’t download them again.

For physical copies, once some products have been recalled and removed from the store, you can’t purchase new copies. But as long as you have a physical copy of a game, it’s yours forever. They can’t take back physical copies that have already been purchased. So if a game is no longer available commercially, but you already bought it physically, you can still play at any time. Winner: Physical; Loser: Digital.

Issue #9 – Downloading to obtain

The last issue is about downloading and installation. When you have a physical copy purchased from the store and brought home, you can just pop your game in right away and play it. For digital purposes, you have to download them to your system. If you have a good internet connection and if the servers of the store are nearly empty, it will take a short time to download the game. But what if your internet connection is poor, or if the shop is slow? Then it will take longer to download, especially large games. And the internet can drop out any time, even when you’re downloading. If you have to install a game onto a computer, but through the physical copy, you wouldn’t need to connect to the internet to download. Winner: Physical; Loser: Digital.


That’s all for the nine issues. Throughout the entire debate, we all know that physical copies take up less memory on consoles, can be taken back for refund, yours to keep no matter what happens, and don’t require installing to play. Digital copies don’t take up any space in the real world or use more work to switch between games. They’re also available at any time and can be replaced very easily.

But what is your opinion? Do you like to play games that take up less storage space that you can own forever, or would you play games that are space efficient and don’t sell out in stores? It’s your call, but here is my opinion.

This time, I have a hard time choosing what I like more. I honestly prefer physical more when it comes to cartridges, but digital when it comes to discs. Durability is important to me. I appear to enjoy games I get digitally, but storage space for digital games is a problem. I’m okay with the Virtual Console since we can’t get those games physically anymore, but I’m not downloading a Wii U game for the Wii U.

Another advantage of digital copies, but only for the older games for the Wii U (NES, SNES, and N64 games), is the save states. If there is a very tough section, you can set save states so you don’t have to start all over again. But that’s only for the Virtual Console. Sony doesn’t do this. Neither does Microsoft.

Physical copies may take up a lot of space physically, but I don’t need too many video games. But what if I want a larger and neater library? That’s why I would stick to physical copies. Plus, I don’t have to worry about the digital store pulling these games off.

And the winner of this debate is:

*Physical Copies*

Feel free to comment. I would love to see your opinions on what you like better.


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