Why you should still buy physical copies of video games | Popular Science

I have a shelf of Nintendo Switch games. I know I could buy the games online, and that it would probably be easier, but I think physical copies of video games are just better.

Now, I am in the minority here: Physical game sales are in a free fall. And in many cases this makes sense. Online games happen mostly in the cloud regardless of whether you buy a physical or digital copy. And PC Games, at this point, are more-or-less only available as a digital purchase. For me, though, when it comes to offline games I prefer a physical copy.

Recently I wrote about why you should keep your DVDs and Blu-Rays around and there was a pretty big response. A lot of readers apparently feel strongly that there are benefits to buying a physical product, as opposed to paying to download something. So here’s why I think it’s also better to buy a physical copy of a game whenever possible.

This is a big one for me. If I pay for a digital download I’m only paying for myself. If I have a physical copy of a game I can lend it to my friends when I’m done playing. It’s a great way to share the experience of a game with a friend—they can play the full thing and we can talk about it. It’s the same reason I like buying physical copies of books, even though I also love reading ebooks: lending things you love to friends feels great.

And there’s another, related advantage: your local library, which probably offers more than you think, can lend out video games. I love being able to try out a Switch game for a few weeks before deciding to buy it myself.

Paying for a digital download gives you the right to play that game on your computer—a right that can disappear. In some cases the store that sold you the game may shut down, making it impossible to re-download the game. In other cases the licensing may simply change, or your account might be shut down. A physical copy of a game ensures, in most cases, that I can play the game even if that happens—it’s mine until the disc physically stops working.

A physical disc could also prove compatible with future systems. The Analogue Pocket is a good example of what this might look like—it is a modern game console designed to play old Game Boy cartridges. At some point in the future there could be a similar device for playing current games, but because of copyright restrictions such technology would almost certainly not (legally) work with downloaded games. An esoteric point, maybe, but one worth keeping in mind if you want to collect for the long term.

Not everyone is going to care about this, granted, but I like the way a collection of games looks on the shelf. I enjoy physically browsing the collection while deciding what I want to play next, and I like seeing multiple console generations of games next to each other.

Plus, sometimes these games come with useful printed materials inside. My copy of Hollow Knight, for example, came with a giant fold-out world map. I love having this handy when I’m playing the game—there’s something delightfully tactile about a physical map that contrasts nicely with the digital world. Not all games offer a bonus like this, granted, but when they do it’s great.

Downloading multiple entire games can fill a hard drive quickly. Physical copies of games don’t add to that. Now, there are limits to this way of thinking—plenty of games have required updates that are going to fill your device.

This one isn’t a big deal to me, personally, because I tend to just keep old games around—I know I’m probably going to want to play them again later. But a nice thing about buying a physical copy of a game is that you can sell the game. Now, it’s hard to get much of the original resale value back—stores that buy used games don’t offer a good rate and selling on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace can be a tedious process. The opportunity is there, though, and can cut into the cost of your gaming habit.

Justin Pot writes tutorials and essays that solve problems for readers so they can focus on what actually matters. When not writing, Justin is probably brewing beer, hiking, or hanging out with people he likes. He lives in Hillsboro, Oregon, with his wife and the best cat on earth. Keep up with Justin at JustinPot.com.

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