Why you should not buy digital games if physical copies are also available

Martin Brinkmann
Sep 17, 2020
Updated • Sep 17, 2020

If you like to play games, you may have access to a wide range of devices to do so: from smartphones and game consoles to PCs, tablets, and handhelds designed specifically for games.

The landscape has changed significantly in regards to how you obtain and play games. In the past, all you could do was buy physical copies of games, usually on cassettes, floppy discs, CDs, memory cards, and Blu-Ray discs. Nowadays, much of the market has moved on to digital purchases, and these offer a number of advantages on first glance, but also disadvantages when you look closer.

With Sony releasing the Playstation 5 in two versions, a $399 version without optical drive and a $499 version with an optical drive, and other console makers offering digital versions of games and physical copies, some may be tempted to buy the cheaper version and go all-in on digital games.

Digital purchases become available instantly, and while that means downloading the entire game to the device, it eliminates the need to find a place to purchase the game, insert the disc or memory card, and start the installation this way. Additionally, many games still require an active Internet connection to download patches or game files that did not fit on the media.

Game streaming will rise in popularity as well, and that eliminates the need to install games. Sometimes, gamers who purchase digital may play games before gamers who purchase digital copies got them, and if you want to play a game right at the moment, e.g. with your friends, buying digital is often the only option to do so.

Sales are more common when it comes to digital games as well, as manufacturers and game companies have better control over the pricing and can adjust the price of games quickly.

There are downsides to digital games, and these weight heavily in my opinion. The biggest drawback in my opinion is that digital games are linked to a specific account, and that selling them is only possible if you sell the entire account. Physical copies of games can be sold individually on the other hand.

My daughter has a good collection of Nintendo Switch games that were bought over the years. If she wanted to sell one, say Animal Crossing: New Horizons, she could do so as I made sure that we purchase physical game copies only. She'd have to sell the entire Nintendo account if the purchase would have been digital. Most companies prohibit customers from selling their accounts.

Collectors may also prefer physical copies. While the days of Big Box PC releases are gone, some prefer displaying their game collections neatly in their homes or game rooms, and that is not possible at all with digital game copies. There are still deluxe or collectors editions out there, and these usually come with all sorts of extras such as a manual, maps, figures, or extra discs with soundtracks.

Paying $100 less for the disc-less Sony Playstation 5 may be enticing as the money can be spend on another game or peripherals such as a second controller. I advise against this if money is not an issue because of the flexibility when it comes to reselling physical copies of games.

It is definitely the better option when it comes to Nintendo Switch games, especially first-party titles, as these don't lose much in value usually.

To sum it up: digital games make a gamer's life more comfortable but due to the way licensing works, you don't really own the game in the same way that you own a physical copy of a game.

Now You: are you a gamer? Do you buy physical or digital predominantly?

Article Name
Why you should not buy digital games if physical copies are also available
Should you buy physical or digital copies of games for your gaming systems? Here is a pro and con list to help you make an educated decision.
Ghacks Technology News

Tutorials & Tips

Previous Post: «
Next Post: «


  1. D said on September 21, 2020 at 6:25 pm

    You/yours may be laying too many games … Get outside.. go for a Walk in the Forest.. Build a Bird House. Make work bench… change your car oil,, rotate your tires… (learn to manipulate objects in the real world). Teach you child how to hunt, fish , camp , cook over an open fire.. Get back to reality.. Plant and tender a Truck Garden.. Those will be the memories you will keep and your children will keep. in the future.. Buy your kids a nice pair of binoculars.. serviceable hiking boots (be sure to wear them around the house for a few weeks) … a 3 day Back Pack… Buy a half dozen Quail raise them producing your own organic eggs.. (No hard) Do the same things for yourself and learn how to use them then do so. Make a model airplane, Learn how to work a Loom or a Spinning Wheel…Sew a piece of Leather into something useful.. Learn how to properly sharpen knives.. Get back to that which makes you human.. you will not regret it

    1. Joe Frank said on October 16, 2020 at 10:11 am

      And then your kids become meth addicts and blow up the truck garden and then threaten you with their newly sharpened knifes, and your wife leaves you for your sister, and you lose a finger in your loom, and your bird house gets infested by killer bees that kill your dog, and you get salmonella from your Quail eggs and go into a coma for the next twenty years. After awakening, you are broke, crippled, and too old to do anything, except play a video game, the only thing that ever made you happy, but it’s too late to enjoy more games, as you are now dead. Oh the memories.

  2. Wickedly Sadistic said on September 19, 2020 at 11:47 pm

    I used to only buy physical but after having to replace a couple of original black ops still at $59.99 and advanced warfare same I started buying digital..

  3. ULBoom said on September 18, 2020 at 5:05 am

    “100 Goobs!” Often heard while attempting to play a newly purchased X Box disc. Takes a long time on our 200 moobs Internet connection.

    I look at discs occasionally, something’s on them, apparently not much of the actual game. Must be an hour of loading circles.

    We have games in every format imaginable for all kinds of devices.
    The kids like to game but strangely, No, not really, the one device they seem to like the most is Wii. But our second one quit and with everyone at home, prices are insane on ebay and Amazon these days.

    Steam’s OK but head up your butt bizarre, as expected with a game subscription company. A few years ago, I requested (WTF? Requested???) my account be deleted since my son was gaming so much he became incomprehensible. They would only do so if I provided a good enough reason. Dweebs! “Steam good. Grades bad.” worked. That’s a good reason?

    I don’t game much any more, mostly just keep the junk games run on functioning.

    1. DonJohn said on December 22, 2023 at 5:42 pm


  4. matthiew said on September 18, 2020 at 3:20 am

    That was a long-winded way of saying you shouldn’t buy digital games if you want to sell your games

  5. Apparition said on September 18, 2020 at 12:24 am

    I’ve been buying exclusively digital games on both PC and PS4 since 2013. I won’t go back to physical. Physical games are dead. They’re pretty much just a key to unlock the game, as you have to install it on your drive and download gigabytes of updates on launch day anyhoo. No real point to physical, IMO.

    1. takisgreek said on March 28, 2021 at 10:21 am

      I have played uncharted, god of war, ghost of tsushima, the last of us even death stranding without any patch and without any internet connection without any problem. In 20 years from now if my console works I will be able to play them again, if I will not be able to turn off the digital

  6. Anonymous said on September 17, 2020 at 11:30 pm

    I been done with gaming since 2017. As I get older it became less interesting. Everything is rehashed anyways.

    1. Joe frank said on October 16, 2020 at 9:51 am


      While my young friends have unlocked the mysteries of the Internet, and speak in a cyber-language I can’t understand, I take naps in the afternoon, and hobble from room to room, frantically looking for my glasses.

  7. Q said on September 17, 2020 at 8:32 pm

    Martin, the main negative point you presented against digital only games is that they are more difficult to resell.

    Do you have good strategies or places to sell items like games? I often found reselling minor things difficult in that it takes a significant amount of time to distribute information that one is selling something, potentially prepaid packaging, and present the item for sale.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on September 18, 2020 at 6:52 am

      Well there are two strategies you can follow: you could sell the entire system with all of its games, which works really well for consoles, especially Nintendo consoles. Places like eBay, Craigslist, Facebook Groups should work well as games are popular.
      Selling individual games is more time consuming, and you may want to set a threshold for offering those money-wise. It makes little sense to sell $5 games unless you really need the money, as you spend some time setting up the offer.

      Ebay works surprisingly well if you use the app or website. I use the app to take a screenshot of the product, save the item as a draft, and complete several drafts then on my PC as it is easier to edit. Since most items don’t need an extensive description, it takes maybe 2 minutes per item to get it published on the site.

      Facebook Groups may work as well, and other free services, e.g. Craigslist if it is popular or other classifieds sites in your country may work well as well.

      1. Q said on September 18, 2020 at 8:07 pm

        Thanks Martin.

        I have never actually tried selling on eBay, but it is something I was thinking about trying.

        It sound like you do not bother taking pictures of the actual physical products themselves and rather rely on screenshots to be sufficient. I would have thought that when selling used items, people would first want to see the condition of the product.

      2. Martin Brinkmann said on September 19, 2020 at 6:49 am

        I do take at least one picture of the product with my smartphone, it is easy with the eBay app. Condition is also important but those are the two main things.

      3. Q said on September 19, 2020 at 9:12 pm

        I see. Thank you.

  8. JohnIL said on September 17, 2020 at 7:51 pm

    I bought a couple digital games from PlayStation and it took forever to download. Then you also deal with the massive size of these games as well. Even the updates have become game size monsters in terms of hogging your storage. I do think its terrible that Sony charges you $100 to get a optical drive in PS5. They are obviously trying to encourage the all digital format. If you don’t have a physical media you loose out on any trade in value. I finally sold off my PS4 and all my games and won’t be entrapped into these consoles anymore. The games are expensive, the hardware is pricy too and some say $100 games are coming. I will pass.

  9. Tom said on September 17, 2020 at 4:09 pm

    Once single player games that do not have any multiplayer functionality whatsoever began requiring a connection to the Internet and online registration in order to be played, that was when I stopped buying games forever.

    That’s because it’s just a question of how long before they break your stuff after taking your money, like this.


    And also what they’re doing with your personal info, and how long until it all gets exposed, like this,


    I personally blame Valve for this mess, because they started the trend of “We sell you a game on a disk but you are not allowed to play it until you install our intrusive software and register on the Internet with us, tee-hee”, with Half-life 2.

  10. Dave said on September 17, 2020 at 3:56 pm

    If you go with a console, you get what you paid for.

    1. Anonymous said on September 17, 2020 at 11:41 pm

      its hard to seperate physical media and online download in that discussion, when there are additional hooks, like licensing/registration etc.

      everything thats bound to an account just plain sucks (its ofc a trend and wet dream of any software company to reduce rights of users – and bind them even more to your service, make users maximal dependent & be able to leech as much data they can. see ms switch from a product to service win>10 vs win10, ) . if steam or amazon think you are a bad guy (and nothing prevents mistakes), they just flip a bit and your oh so sweet collection of ebooks or games is unavailable for you. Seeing how they wall behind limited ways to talk to the right ppl, w/o lawyer youre always on the inferior side.

      for pc games, the physical media doesnt always prevent the need to have eg. an steam account or a registration at the pubishers service to gain all features of the product (eg onlinegaming). anyway, if you own the physical media you just have one more big option, – esp for consoles, the argument o beeing able to sell a full working game is gold.

      id say it so: always look that the product you want can get backuped fully functional locally, never priorize convenience over independency and/or your rights as customer. Once you lost land, youll never get it back.

  11. Claymore said on September 17, 2020 at 12:36 pm

    Why you SHOULD buy digital games:


    Even if it’s planned to get 8x Blu-Ray drives, capable of transferring up to 288MBit/s, it’s very unlikely to really achieve that. The laser has to seek for the packages every time. So if you don’t have really big packages for the game, you won’t even get near that rate. And I don’t even include the overhead here.

    Just compare a normal HDD to an optical drive: They’re almost the same in terms of how they operate.

    However: If you have a pretty good unmetered, stable connection (50Mbit/s+), you’re very good to go.


    Yes, you only own a license. True. But: You don’t have to worry to scratch the discs. You don’t have to worry about the writing layer, maybe not able to be read after several years.


    Mostly. updates are automatically included in the downloaded game. If you have a disc, you have to wait to get it finished and then in the worst case, you have to download 100GB for updates. Double the work. And you don’t have to worry about updates at all: No install 1st update, then 2nd, then 3rd.


    Digital copies are more likely to get a discount than a game on a disc. See Steam, see Origin, see uPlay, see GOG, see HumbleBundle, etc. Years ago, physical copies were a thing. Why? Because they had a description. A map. Artwork, etc. Now? Only the disc or if thing really went bad: Only a license code for a digital copy to download. Physical copies will keep the price for a very long time – digital ones go for cheap at sales or bundles.


    Physical copies were once the best you can get. Something nice for your shelf to collect. Artwork, maps, merchandise in fanboxes, etc.If you compare digital to physical, digital wins.

    1. takisgreek said on March 28, 2021 at 10:27 am

      There are countless special / limited / deluxe edition to get everything you ask for, I have some of them like days gone special, horizon zero dawn limited etc and I feel 100% full and happy.

  12. Yuliya said on September 17, 2020 at 11:24 am

    I’m not a big fan of optical media, if they came on some flash sorage, maybe. I say maybe because the last phisical copy of a game I bought, Tommb Raider 2013, on its DLDVD there were some 7GiB of data, but not enough to run the installer offline. It still required downloading over 2GiB of data. Now if I want to install it I won’t even bother with that DVD (none of my machines have optical drives anymore), I’ll just download it from Steam and be done with it.

    I’ve also had issues with optical media deteriorating out of nothing. DVDs just stopped working, even though they had no damage or scratches. I’d rather trust an external HDD to hold my DRM-free content – been there, done that, 10+ years old HDD still holds data from 2008 with no issues on reading it.

    GoG is the golden standard these days. You get the digital game, but you can download its installer and keep it on something like an external HDD, install it at your will, offline, not even requiring the GoG client. I hope more publishers will publish their games on GoG, or at least Valve to follow GoG’s model. I don’t believe Valve is a bad company, on the contrary, but GoG is on a whole new level of user friendlyness.

    1. silly billy said on October 16, 2020 at 9:47 am


      GoG is not new. They are 12 years old.

    2. Gerold Manders said on September 17, 2020 at 5:36 pm

      Depends on the hard disk. If you don’t use them for a while, these can also lose data. Or even develop hardware problems, because you are not using them.

      As with DVD’s, you must store these properly, in a dry and temperature controlled environment.
      I have many CD’s and DVD’s, which are still in perfect condition, while others deteriorated like crazy. Now I know why the difference between cheaply produced ones and properly produced ones.

      Next to all precautions you apply to DVDs, hard disks not in use also need to be turned over every 6 months or so. Lubrication is an issue. Bits flipping from 1 to 0 on the plate(s) of inactive drives is a problem as well (active drives do “revitalize” content on them that hasn’t been accessed for a while).

      Having blind faith in any type of storage media, without taking necessary precautions and maintenance in mind, is futile.

  13. ramsam said on September 17, 2020 at 11:19 am

    Appreciate that you give importance to Grammar in today’s world

    1. ahahah said on October 16, 2020 at 9:42 am


      You should have used “grammar”, not “Grammar”. Also, you should have wrote “I Appreciate”, and not just “Appreciate”. Also, you didn’t put a period at the end of your sentence.

      You get an F, as your grammar is very poor.

      1. hahaha said on December 10, 2020 at 6:39 pm


        The commas (and periods) in your comment should go inside the quotation marks not on the outside. Also, you used the wrong form of the verb ‘to write,’ you wrote “you should have wrote,” the correct form of the verb would have been “you should have written.”

        You get a D, as your grammar is almost acceptable.

  14. John said on September 17, 2020 at 11:06 am

    Is it a big deal to buy an external optical drive, so you would spend less money? ;)

  15. Tyrone said on September 17, 2020 at 10:43 am

    you are clueless martina… all the so called ‘physical games’ require online account with licence registration as well as mandatory patches and drm as well…

    1. Gerold Manders said on September 17, 2020 at 5:15 pm

      Yes and no.
      Cartridge games are somewhat of an exemption. Those must work as these are often used in mobile units. And with mobile units it is possible the device is not having access to any kind of internet.

      Discs are used in stationary consoles/PC, which usually are connected (by wire or, heaven forbid, WiFi) to internet, so online activation/patches/DLC is not a problem…for the publisher of the game and console manufacturer, who can and do charge the customer for those “privileges”.

      Born in the ’70s, entered Arcades in the 80’s, gamer ever since.

      Lost my interest in games after 2005 or so. At that time it became blatantly obvious that how to purchase video games and how you are getting fleeced continuously after purchase was the new way of “gaming”.

      Before that I was actively purchasing games for my PC, PSX and PSX2 on a monthly basis. Nowadays an occasional indie game through a service like GOG, perhaps once a year.

      So yes, I would game more if it wasn’t for the overly excessive money-grabbing for incomplete products, that passes for “gaming” today. And whoever said that online multiplayer gaming is better than (private) LAN parties, has never been to a LAN party.

  16. Allwynd said on September 17, 2020 at 10:28 am

    The biggest problem with digital purchases is that you purchase not the product, BUT A LICENCE FOR THAT PRODUCT. And that licence CAN BE REVOKED at any given time and you can’t do much about it as most of the times it’s conveniently placed into the EULA you agree with without reading it carefully.

    Simply put, you can risk losing stuff you purchased and are powerless to do anything about it.

    The other issue is if the service that distributes the content becomes temporarily (or permanently) unavailable, you can’t download and therefore access what you paid for. This goes both ways as it may happen that your ISP has an outage or other problem and you’re again unable to access your digital products.

    Therefore, as a result, you may also have to back up all your digital products (games, programs, etc.) on a 100% accessible storage unit and in the end it kind of defeats the purpose of digital altogether.

    Also, there is a typo in the last sentence of the second paragraph “ON first glance” -> “AT first glance” is how it should be.

  17. adwad said on September 17, 2020 at 9:55 am

    if you are talking about console… sure.

    if you are talking about pc… then not really. almost all pc discs are worthless as all you are doing is buying a key (steam, ubi, ea, etc).. that’ll still be tied to an account. a day 1 patch will most likely require you to redownload the whole thing anyway, and thus not saving any bandwidth.

    unless you are not installing it and are just collecting with a view to resell down the line… in which case, the key might have expired by then (if they switch providers.. go free to play.. and then “vault” the older contents… like destiny 2).. which may or may not make a difference to the buyer.

    1. KW England said on September 17, 2020 at 7:09 pm

      I think this also applies to music media. I always buy and rip CDs if they are available. The CD is a physical instantiation of my license to rip the CD to my computer. It is also one of several backups. (The booklets are worthwhile too. Not many downloads include any additional information.)

Leave a Reply

Check the box to consent to your data being stored in line with the guidelines set out in our privacy policy

We love comments and welcome thoughtful and civilized discussion. Rudeness and personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please stay on-topic.
Please note that your comment may not appear immediately after you post it.