When you’re buying a console game, you’ve got two options: you can buy it as a download through the PlayStation Store or Xbox Games Store depending on your platform, or as a physical disc from Amazon or a local retailer.
There are pros and cons to both option, so let’s consider which one is right for you.
Downloading Is Easier…As Long As Your Internet Is Good
If you’ve got a fast connection, downloading games from the online store is a lot simpler than going to a shop or ordering a copy from Amazon. With my moderately quick 10Mbit/s connection, a 40GB game takes a little under ten hours to download. That may be fine for some, and too slow for others. I just leave my PlayStation to download the game overnight; I’d rather do that than drive anywhere or deal with an Amazon delivery. If you want to play a game right now, though, maybe you’d prefer to head to a store, come home, and start playing.
Also, if you have a cap on your data usage, keep an eye on it—those closer to their caps may prefer to buy discs as well.
Furthermore, for brand new games, you may end up playing it sooner if you download it. If you pre-order a game through the Xbox Games Store or PlayStation store, you’re able to “preload” it a few days in advance of the official release. This means the game is downloaded and ready to go as soon as midnight on the release day rolls around. While everyone looking for a disc is standing in line at midnight, you’ll be chilling on your couch playing the game already.
Downloaded Games Are Safer from Disaster
Discs can get scratched, lost, cracked, stolen, and any of a dozen other things that read like a list of disasters not covered by your car insurance. They’re fragile and expensive. If you lose a disc, you lose the ability to play that game. To offset this, some games stores have offer “disc insurance” for a few dollars, so if something bad happens to your game, they’ll replace it free of charge.
With downloads, however, your games are totally safe, with or without insurance. They’re tied to your PlayStation Network or Xbox Live account. It doesn’t matter what happens to your console’s hard drive, you can always re-download your games.
You Can Sell, Trade and Lend Discs
The biggest thing that physical discs still have going for them is the secondhand market. You can’t sell, trade in or lend a download; it’s yours forever and ever, whether you like it or not.
When I was younger I used to rely a lot on secondhand games. I’d buy games new, then a few weeks later when I’d completed them, trade them in for another game. Sure, I never got quite as much as I’d paid back, but the difference was less than the cost of renting the game for three weeks. If there was nothing new out I’d wanted, I’d pick up a secondhand copy of an older game I’d missed, or wanted to replay. Even now, I’ll still check out the secondhand section whenever I’m in a game store.
If you buy a downloadable game, you just don’t have the same options. You can’t trade it in a few weeks later and buy a new game with the proceeds, or pick up an old secondhand game for a couple of dollars. Although there are regularly sales through Sony and Microsoft’s online stores, the prices rarely reach the lows of the used market. You’re paying a premium to download.
Similarly, you can’t lend downloads to your friends. There are some complex workarounds bandied about online, but nothing as simple as just handing your friend a disc. With a physical game, you still get the pleasure of sharing games with other people.
Personally, I download almost every game I buy. I miss the bargains of secondhand games and being able to share things with my friends, but downloads are just so much more convenient than physical discs. For most people, it’ll probably work out the same.
If, however, you really love secondhand bargains or your internet isn’t fast enough to quickly download games, physical discs might be the better choice. They’re on their way out, but they’re not irrelevant just yet.