Some futuristic fanatics think the time is just around the corner when we'll all be living in space pods, driving hover cars, and taking our meals in the form of high nutrition, easy-to-swallow food pellets. If you adhere to their way of thinking, it follows that digital downloads will inevitably become the distribution method of choice, resulting in the brick-and-mortar game store going the way of the woolly mammoth. While digital distribution has its pluses, there are still some things a digital download can't do, and with that in mind, we'd like to examine the benefits of buying games digitally and physically.
The most obvious benefit to downloading a game online is immediate gratification. You can buy the game at any hour of the day or night, and there's never any worry that you'll get to the checkout page only to see a big, frowny-faced "Sold Out" sign. You don't have to stand outside a Best Buy in minus-ten degree weather with two hundred other shivering fools hoping to get one of the few numbers the store's handing out that guarantees you a copy. More than not having to stay out all night, you don't have to go out at all. You can stay in your jammies and not interrupt your pizza munching or movie watching while you wait for the download to finish. With the ability to download your game to any computer, you can play it anywhere and enjoy auto-patching and not having to hunt through your desk's disgusting Cheeto-crumb mess for lost disks and validation keys. You can also enjoy many "try before you buy" free trials, and best of all, there's no clutter. No boxes, plastic wrapping, or manuals means more room on your shelves for that prize-winning Spawn action figure collection.
While digital distribution makes a convincing argument, there are still some significant benefits to owning an actual physical copy of a game. For one thing, fast installation. Depending on your Internet connection, you could be waiting hours for a game to download (Fallout: New Vegas, anyone?), but with an actual disk, the process is much faster. This can be an extremely attractive perk if for some reason you have to uninstall and reinstall a game. Other advantages to buying boxed games are that you can easily lend them to friends and you can play them even when you don't have access to the Internet. The most compelling argument by far though for buying physical copies concerns the collectors out there. Those of us who love looking at our vast game collection, counting it, cataloging it and crooning softly to it like Gollum with the One Ring are unlikely to be talked into buying games digitally.
After convenience, cost is the next consideration when choosing how to buy your games. Digitally distributed games are often a few bucks cheaper since you're not paying for packaging, shipping, or point of purchase costs. Even better, if something happens to the game, you can easily download another copy and don't get stuck having to spend money buying it all over again. Another ancillary and often overlooked benefit to buying games digitally is that when you move, you don't have to pay a big surly guy named Bizzy to drag twenty boxes of games to your new place.
While it's true that boxed games usually cost more (you're not only paying for packaging and distribution—you might also have to pay more for shipping), there's the possibility of saving money by buying them used, something digital distribution doesn't offer. You can also sell or trade your games once you're done with them to stretch your gaming dollar.
When thinking about entertainment, we rarely consider the impact our choices make on the world around us but digital distribution definitely has the edge on physical copies in terms of being green. Downloads don't create landfills, and by downloading you avoid polluting the air and wasting gas driving to the game store.
Owning boxed games creates waste in the form of game wrappings, old disks, and plastic shopping bags, and obviously, when the day comes that you finally tire of that special edition of Assassin's Creed 2, you'll toss it out and last we checked, plastic action figures don't biodegrade.
The final verdict is that when deciding to buy a game at the store or via digital download, it comes down to personal choice. Each method offers unique benefits and limitations and while what all gamers have in common is the desire for convenience and a good price, they have to decide for themselves what's most important to them. Do they trade immediate gratification for the ability to resell, or do they think owning a beautiful box means more than saving a few bucks? Luckily for both types of game buyer, it appears that the market for both is still fairly strong and that for the foreseeable future, gamers who are also collectors will stand in the way of the digital method becoming the only one.
CCC Freelance Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*