The Perks of Buying Physical Media for Gaming Consoles

Two reasons why all-digital gaming would hurt consoles.

Joey Davidsonby Joey Davidson

With the brand new PlayStation and Xbox announcements bound to happen sometime between now and E3, a lot of chatter around the web has turned to what new features the machines will sport. Will they have anti-used gaming software? Probably not. Increased storage? Almost definitely.

One thing that a lot of writers and gamers hit on is that the new consoles could abandon physical media. What do I mean by “physical media?” Discs, cartridges and proprietary software cards. The stuff you buy in a store that you physically put into your gaming device. Word has it that Sony and Microsoft see the benefit to switching to an all digital world, but I don’t want that to happen.

Now, the good news? I think these companies can’t afford to go fully digital. They’d be missing out on the massive chunk of the marketplace that doesn’t have internet strong enough to download big games. Not everywhere in the world hosts speedy downloads, so 20 gigs of data for one game (for instance) isn’t feasible.

That said, these are two reasons why I don’t want to say goodbye to physical media.

The psychology of buying something real.

Of the two reasons I’m about to throw down in my argument, I’ll go ahead and admit that this is the weakest. However, I know how I view digital vs. physical goods, and I know that I’ve heard this complaint echoed among friends and fellow gamers.

When you walk into a store and drop $70 or $80 on a collector’s edition of some brand new game, the physical heft of the case and goods it comes packaged with sort of justifies your purchase. You get to hold on to your game, you put it on your shelf, you actually own something real and tangible.

Here’s a crazy thing that you might not know: if Steam up and exploded tomorrow and Valve was no more, your games would be gone. The titles with Steam’s DRM would be unplayable. This won’t happen with physical games on today’s machines.

Plus, I’m a collector. Maybe you’d call it “hoarding,” but I like boasting a quantity of games on a shelf.

The problem with pricing.

Now, listen, Steam is a wonderful marketplace run by people who understand the value in digital distribution. They regularly host sales where they slash the prices of games both old and new in their library. That leads to better savings for gamers and more sales for devs, pubs and the marketplace. Xbox LIVE and the PlayStation Network? The prices don’t drop on their old games. They may put one or two titles on sale every month, but the discounts aren’t that deep.

Now, if you took physical media out of the equation and made it so that you could only buy games from Xbox LIVE and the PlayStation Store, consider what would happen to pricing. There would be no such thing as supply and demand. Say some game doesn’t sell well out of the gates, right now you’d see its physical copy drop to $40, $30 or $20 bucks. On a digital marketplace? Forget it, that game’s price is locked.

Take Fable III as a prime example. It’s $19.99 right now as a digital good on Xbox LIVE. You can buy it new from Amazon for $12. Want it used? $3. That kind of pricing would disappear with digital-only software sales.

I like the world of physical gaming media because of a few key reasons: the game is absolutely mine when I buy it, consumer demand dictates pricing (not publisher law), sales happen organically at retailers around the world, and I’m a collector and I don’t want to rely on stable internet as the only means of buying a game.

Am I crazy?

Joey Davidson is the Associate Gaming Editor for CraveOnline and co-host of the Next Gen News podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @JoeyDavidson.