Prior to being confronted with the option of either purchasing a PS5 with the disc drive or going without the capability for $100 less, I never gave much thought as to whether it made more sense to own the hard copy of a game versus the digital version.
Usually, it was a matter of circumstance. If the game was a gift, it was a physical copy, whereas if I bought the game, it was probably digital out of convenience. I honestly can't recall when I stopped caring, though I suspect it was the precise moment downloading games became effortless.
Intentional or not, Sony forced me to actually consider the way I was buying games, and, as a result, the choice couldn't be more clear.
Hard copy is totally the way to go.
I wouldn't describe myself as staunchly opposed to digital, and will even concede some scenarios where it might be best. For example, if you have to play Outriders the second it's released, digital is probably the fastest way to guarantee that happens. Maybe Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 is an impulse buy and you just want the game without performing taxing tasks like putting pants on to go inside a store. Or maybe you need Monster Hunter Rise in your possession before your parents see your report card and change their mind. Believe me, I understand each of these scenarios well.
In my advanced age though, I have gained much experience, wisdom and patience. Now, I see the value in venturing out to pick up a game or simply waiting until it arrives at my front door. It’s probably no coincidence I got a lot more frugal over the years, too, because when discussing why hard copies rule, frequently I'm getting excited about literal dollars and cents.
Sure, you might advance a few dozen levels ahead of me before I can strap on my velcro shoes, hobble out to the Buick and drive 20 miles per hour on the freeway to the store and back, but I will go to my grave maintaining there are good reasons to make that journey.
Do people still buy used games? I do on occasion. You know what I love even more than buying used games, though? Selling my old copies!
Sure, you only get a fraction of the price you paid at retail for trade-ins -- sometimes less than a buck for old, outdated sports titles -- but if you have enough neglected games cluttering the shelf, they can quickly add up. There have been plenty of occasions over the years when I covered the entire cost of a new game or controller or at least a large sum through reselling and trades alone.
I get the sense the used market isn't what it used to be, probably because prices aren’t always significantly less than buying new. Even if you never purchase another used game for the rest of your life though, you can at least trade your own. That is, as long as you bought the hard copy.
Sharing is caring
While we're at it, let's just put this out there: if you're truly done with a game, you don't have to sell it for loose change or let it languish on your digital shelf. If you have the physical copy, you could let a friend borrow it or just give it to somebody when you’re finished.
If it's a game with little-to-no multiplayer value, you could even split the cost up front and pass the hard copy around between as many people who want to play it, so long as everybody doesn't mind waiting their turn. Bottom line, the game is yours to play and isn’t tethered to your hardware or accounts.
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Unless it's a brand new title that just hit shelves, chances are one or more retailers are running deals on hard copies of games.
Brick and mortar businesses like GameStop, Walmart, Best Buy or pretty much anywhere else that sells hard copies know they're in direct competition for your business in the digital marketplace.
And that means reduced prices. Retailers run 50% off specials, buy-two-get-one-free deals or simply mark down the sticker price all the time, any of which tend to make hard copies cheaper than digital. Again, this isn't true on release day, but not every game in my library is purchased at launch, either. To the contrary, I'm not at all above waiting until something goes on sale.
Image credit: Brian Welk
Digital downloads might be more convenient, but regardless of the medium, nothing beats the feeling of amassing a great collection. Every human being is immediately impressed when they walk into somebody's home and there's a room with an entire wall of vinyl albums, DVDs or even regular, old books. Just think, somebody took the time to buy, save and curate all of that.
Video games are no different. Displaying your collection shows years or even decades of hard work and dedication, not to mention your taste. It’s both decor and a conversation starter.
Besides, if your collection is entirely digital, it's not at guests' fingertips. An old, forgotten game trapped inside a dusty console is not something people are going to innately know or remember you have, much less ask to play. When it's visible on a shelf, on the other hand, there's no telling what classics might draw somebody's gaze and wind up being played.
You own it FOREVER
As the world continues to move more and more online and everything becomes permanently stored in the cloud, the chances of losing your digital library decreases dramatically. However, I still have this fear that anything I buy digitally will disappear or become useless -- and it's not all that unfounded.
Just last week, Sony announced it will be closing down the PlayStation Store for PS3 and PS Vita games this summer. [Editor's note: On April 19, Sony announced it was backtracking on this decision.]
Movies I "purchased" on old cable boxes? Gone. Music I saved to crashed PCs and broken or lost external drives? Squandered. Games I downloaded to old consoles? They too will likely disappear if/when the system eventually goes bad.
You might not consider whether you will want to play a game 10 or 20 years from now at the time of purchase, but the only way to ensure beyond a shadow of a doubt that you will have the option is to possess the physical copy.
Digital software and the technology used to display it is constantly changing. As long as you own the hard copy though, you'll likely always be able to find a machine to accept it.
Lead image credit: Brian Bencomo