Editorial: Direct Download vs. Physical Copies

The other day I was looking up patches for a certain game, Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines to be specific, and I came across a forum post about how the poster paid $100 for his physical copy of Bloodlines, instead of paying $20 for a downloaded copy.  The poster then continued to state he didn’t pay for the downloaded copy because “it didn’t seem like the real thing.”  This is not the first time I have heard that argument, but my mind was still blown with the fact that someone would pay an extra $80 just to have a physical copy of a game.  See, I have never had a problem simply paying and downloading for a copy of a game.  In fact, I just recently purchased Patapon 2 for the PSP, which is only available as a download in the U.S.

It is no secret that the future of gaming is direct downloads.  Steam has absolutely blown up in recent years, Microsoft has been pushing for a console that is essentially only a hard drive and no disc drive whatsoever, and Sony’s next version of the PSP, the PSP Go!, is heavily rumored to have no UMD slot at all.  The ease of just downloading a game whenever you want is much better than driving to a brick-and-mortar store and hoping there is a copy for one to buy.  However, is this a good step for the gaming industry?

The moral battle over buying a used game has been raging since buying used became a viable option.  Most gamers have no problem buying a game used, especially if it means saving some money in this turbulent economy, and some would rather give publishers and developers as much money as possible.  Moving the entire game industry to a direct download system would not run these stores out of business, but change their business model drastically and most likely force stores to close down.

So, my dearest readers, I have two questions for you.  Do you prefer physical copies of the game or are you fine with direct downloads?  Is the Steam model of simply downloading games to a hard drive a good step for the future of this industry, or would you rather keep the option of holding a physical disc in your hands?  The choice is yours…


  1. I sincerely hope we don’t see a future where there are no physical copies of games. The ‘owner’ is then deprived of any ability to pass on or sell the game when they are done with it, nor can it be loaned to a friend.

    It may be easier in some ways if one has a good internet connexion, and it is certainly more profitable for producers in such cases, but it harms consumers in the long run. No thanks.

  2. Personally, I’m all in favor of direct download, as long as I can re-download the game whenever I reinstall or move to a different machine (be it console or PC) for whatever reason. I think Steam handles things great, I just wish some of the game prices on the store were more in-line with other retailers like Amazon. I’m a bit worried about what happens when Valve finally shutters the steam servers, but I imagine it’s so popular at this point they’ll have to release some method for unlocking your games so you can move them between machines.

    If Sony handles things right, I think the downloadable model will work even better on the PSP. When I’m picking up my PSP for a long trip somewhere, I don’t want to have to bother taking all my UMDs along with me, I just want to grab my PSP and go, then decide what I want to play later. With a large enough memory stick, I’ll never have to worry about whether or not I brought a certain game with ever again, which would be awesome.

    Basically, I am a lazy bastard, and anything that will keep me from having to walk over to my game shelf I’m all in favor of, provided the games will be around for the forseeable future.

  3. I would take less risks and buy less games if I didn’t have the option of trading them in later. My internet would also take a million years to download a modest size game. Further I like to have a physical copy, as if I look after it then I know I will always have access to it and that it won’t be tied to a particular machiene.

  4. I love the current mix of both. I love having a bunch of XBLA games, WiiWare games, and Virtual Console titles. I find it convenient and organized.
    However, I love the joy of going to a store and picking up a game I’ve been anticipating for months (or even years in rare cases).
    And as Lusipurr points out, you can’t lend or borrow games with an only direct download model. Funny how I never even thought of that before.

  5. The only appealing aspect of digital copies for me is the ability to get games that you may not be able to buy in stores, but I always want to have access to physical copies.

  6. I would rather live in a future where our robotic overlords force us to labor in mines for coal. Coal that is then use to create energy that pollutes the planet only so the can power there dark, metallic hearts. It would become a world where air burn like acid, and wind beating, barren landscapes are common. A world where the only escape is death.

    I would take that over a world that is DD only…

  7. @Oyashiro: Curses, you have discovered out horrible plot. I’m sorry, but we can’t allow you to live.


  8. Are you our of your mind? your neferious plan will never succeed!

  9. I’m with Lusipurr and Ethos on this one. I’m all for DD as an option, but having it be the only choice would suck horribly. And… Viable? I’m not sure downloading 10GB games is all that viable outside of major metropolitan areas in the US and Europe.

  10. And how much floor space and advertising will consoles get in stores once they no longer have games to sell?

  11. I like to have copies of games. I kind of collect them. Outside that I don’t think a physical copy serves any real purpose for me personally.

  12. Another good point, Noob. I don’t think any of these companies want to see their wares not get in-store advertising. When all that’s there is the hardware and point cards, there’s not much incentive to do big blowouts.

    Not only that, but once we go DD only, kiss the minor publishers goodbye, as there’s no way they’d be able to pay the needed funds to get their games on the front page of the download stores.

  13. Kiss gaming stores goodbye also, there’s no way they can stay in business if gaming goes DD only. Expect to go looking for subsequent console generations in an obscure corner of the kids section of your local department store. Or do they plan on selling the consoles online also?

  14. Well, at least here in the US, consoles are sold in the electronics sections of department stores, not the kids/toy section. Still, game specialty stores will die with DD only.

  15. @MC – Yup. Electronics section over here, too.

    I think I’m more curious than anything else about the way this plays out since this really could go in MANY different directions. And if nothing else, stores like EB are not going down without a fight.

  16. I think this is a long way off at the very least. As someone else points out, high-speed internet connexions are a luxury which most of us take for granted. Whilst even in rural areas they are becoming more common, they are not universal yet and there are plenty of places without.

    Outside of North America, things are even worse. In Russia, for example, many people do not know what broadband even is, nor have they any idea of wireless internet connectivity–presuming they are lucky enough to have any internet at all!

    All I can say about the advent of a Download-Only business model is ‘long may it be delayed’. I enjoy being able to loan games to (and borrow from) my friends. Imagine not being able to rent a game to try it out; or to finish it, if it is short and not worth buying. Imagine having to physically take your console to your friend’s house if you want to take a game over there for a party or something.

    On the other hand, I can’t buy Braid used. Luckily, it has a demo so I was able to try it out first, but if it were available for rental I would never have bought it. I beat it in the space of an afternoon and it has no replay value, really.

    Too many limitations. And what about when the console is deprecated? What about when it is no longer supported? What about when the system shuts? Will your old games remain viable when the authentication servers no longer exist? What about if your system breaks; where are your games when the download service is long-since discontinued?

    Today, I can toss my NES games into my NES and play them. I can even play my old Atari games on my 7800. If my NES breaks, I can buy another one and plug my games into that one instead. I can loan my games to friends who also have an NES, I can borrow games from them, and I can buy them used on eBay for a couple dollars in most cases–sometimes less than a dollar.

    I like actually ‘owning’ my game. Owning it meaning that I can sell it when I am done with it. Owning it meaning that I can give it away when I no longer want it. Owning it meaning that I can loan it to a friend. Owning it meaning that I OWN IT. It isn’t owned by a company who ‘lets me use it’ according to the policies they decide are most profitable.

    I own it. That’s why I paid money to BUY it, after all.

  17. @lusi – That brought a tear to my eye! Bravo! I’m voting for you at the next presidential elections.

  18. If games go DD only and reqire constant authentification etc, I start looking to pirate.

  19. Whichever delivery method you prefer, I think we can all agree that more options are always better. I really do hope that we’re not heading to a download-only future, but rather a download-anything future, where all games are available from both retail and the mysterious entity known as the internet.

    As for MC’s point about minor publishers, though, I think I’d have to disagree. In this supposed download-only future, the minor publishers would probably get about the same amount of exposure on the online storefronts as they do now in retail stores. Maybe I’m just out of touch, but I’ve never seen much retail space dedicated to anything Atlas, and they’re a fairly large “minor publisher.” I imagine word of mouth would still be how most people hear about the smaller games, and the same group of gamers would probably end up buying them. Just my $0.02.

    And @SN: if that ends up being the case, I say pirate away! I think that piracy is one of the main reasons iTunes is now DRM-free. Piracy goes a long way in keeping companies honest. That’s why I still buy DVDs rather than video off iTunes of the PSN. I’d much rather have a copy I can do whatever I want with than one locked into a particular system.