Is it better to download a game, or purchase the actual physical copy? I’ll admit I am old school and simply can’t feel fulfilled if I don’t have the box with the CD or cartridge inside. I feel robbed, like something is missing or I should be holding something. Sure, I’ve downloaded games before but there is some sort of eerie feeling of emptiness in the end which I cannot shrug off.

This is worse when it comes to console games where you really do have a choice between going to ‘Insert retail store here’ or just log into my ‘insert online console market’ and with a few clicks (or taps) download what I am looking for. And so, I began my quest and analysis about how or when either path is plausible, seeing which is best for each case.



Physical copies

Let me start by saying that I do not live in the United States but in a city bordering said country, and let me tell you: the games here are horribly expensive.

Taxes, transportation and what not inflate game prices to the point they cost double of what they should. Interestingly enough, some game stores actually go to retails in the US, buy the games and re-sell them over their place those high prices in order to get some profit. I am not saying that video game stores shouldn’t earn profits, but the fact that I can still find Wii games still costing over 60 USD is rather ridiculous.

Naturally, I prefer to cross over the border and buy my stuff at ‘Videogame Store’ in sunny San Diego where I can even find it bundled with other cool stuff if I pre-order things. I like pre-order gimmicks, they make you feel like a winner.

However, if you aren’t aware of how a border crossing looks like on a weekend, let me point you out to a famous picture that will probably make LA traffic look like a child’s play:


tijuana border crossing

US-Mexico border lines: Making the ones at Disneyland park look fun


If your first response was “HA HA HA HA NOPE!”, congratulations! You are part of the millions that ponder whether it’s a good idea to spend up to 4 hours waiting in line to cross over and get deals cheaply. This is a billion dollar market here where Mexicans flee their overlords to buy stuff that they built with their own hands, exported and bought back to technically re-sell to us at three times the price.

It is not unheard of asking a friend that’s headed towards such long and arduous torture if they can be nice and lend them some help in buying their own stuff there. Many tips and tricks exist but for all that, it is a freaking and horrible destiny that sadly many have to go through.

And even if you manage to cross over, you have to go through the usual deal people suffer anywhere: if your game is available on the store.

If you want that highly coveted game on the first day but didn’t have the money to have it on hold for you, you’re pretty much f*ck’d. Good luck trying to bribe the game shop trainee into letting you buy a game that’s already reserved for somebody and have them give you an apologetic talk about how that is just impossible and you’re just holding up the line. It recently happened to me, where I actually ended up going to 4 different stores in the same mall to try my luck on a game that I never expected would sell out so fast. At least I got it, but it was rather troublesome.

And let’s not begin with California’s taxes. . .


Virtual Copies

Downloading a copy only requires you have enough GBs on your hard drive, a stable internet connection, credit or ‘points’ on your preferred gaming system and the minimum requirements to run it.

That isn’t so hard, is it? Just sit back, relax and click all the games that you want. Let them queue and have them download while you go out on a nice date with your pillow friend or save the world from talking squirrels.

Though that, my friend, is the first obstacle of this side of the court.


Look at them. That pose shows they are plotting your demise!


Downloading a game can be as stressful as making that 3 hour line at San Ysidro during the summer: It’s slow, obnoxious and you may end up regretting it even when you’re just about to cross over. Depending on your basic internet connection, your download can be incredibly fast or so slow your 52K modem will start laughing. It all depends in your ISP, the fact that Comcast is the only thing available or you live in Australia.

Sure, virtual copies can be much cheaper than physical given the fact that they don’t have to waste plastic to case your game but are you willing to spend up to a week hoping that your internet doesn’t commit suicide and you have to start over again? Did we mention Comcast?

Another thing to keep up – as far as I know this is a thing in the US, to my big surprise – is Data caps.

Depending on your internet plan, you can download a limited amount of things including games. So even if you did buy that highly coveted game before anybody could, you would still end up waiting for it to download only when you have your internet up for it and sometimes it’s either that or more important things like your bills and ‘Rowdy Sexy Blonds 2 – the Revenge’.


This game appeals with my interests. . .


Let’s not forget another important thing: the money.

According to some flash ad prone to give me seizures, personal data is a booty being collected by black hat hackers and some other non scrupulous people. Like your kids trying to get your credit card out of your wallet and buy some Gaia Cash or some of those crystal clusters for those supposed ‘free-to-play’ games.

Must I remind you about the PSN Network hacking that occurred on 2011 where millions of credit cards got compromised? Sure, you can always buy those ‘console point cards’ instead but really that involves you to go to a retail store to get them and I suppose that defeats the purpose keeping yourself in exile from the common populous.




Physical copies

So you decided to wait in line to get that all desirable copy of the game you wanted. You play the crap out of it and complete every single dungeon, mission, puzzle, you name it. You play it until the case becomes dust and the disk becomes some sort of parasite absorbing the soul of your game console, not letting it go.

However, a new game comes in! New challenges to defeat, new scores to try to beat. Simply to put it, a new experience to dive into.

You take the CD or cartridge out of the console, pop in the new one and it’s rinse and repeat.

But how many times can you do that? I ask it in the sense of how much physical space do you have in your storage/room/shelf to keep them? Unless you are some sort of videogame collector where you want to showcase your love in pristine shelves with each game’s label or box showing for easy access, you may end up with a cluttered closet or wondering where to put them.

It becomes a bit worse with portable consoles like the 3DS: sure, you can carry many games in your 3DS exclusive bags, slips and pouches – there are in fact dozens of accessories being sold for such thing – but you do have a limited quantity of games you can carry comfortably without your bag looking like some sort of deformed balloon. You’ll probably leave some in your room, but I’m sure you’ll eventually feel that itch that reminds you that you could have brought that other game along with you instead of the ones at hand.


“Welcome Stranger! Whatcha buying?”


Virtual copies

This one is easy to see why it’s so comfortable: you buy the game, download it and play it. Once you’re done, you just repeat the process and that’s that. There’s no bulky mess, no hassle at changing cartridges or CDs and you barely move your hands to do anything other than playing. Isn’t it wonderful?

Except that you loose certain key privileges: you cannot borrow your games to a friend unless you borrow the console/PC the game is installed in. That’s kind of a shame, isn’t it? Not to mention it can be a bit unnerving to let go of that precious console you bought thanks to saving food money.


“It has been an honor playing with you”


Also, good luck trying to sell that game once you’re done with it. I heard that you can actually do that on platforms like Steam – Praise GabeN – but on most digital markets that’s pretty much impossible. It is true that you have the advantage of cloud managing your apps and games across devices or consoles, which I find it neat, but there are no options that I know yet of being able to just send off a game and sell it to somebody who wants it.

Lastly, if you are like me, you can have a hard time deleting a game from your system once you are done: the sole fact of erasing thousands of hours of gameplay in order to make space for more stuff is just painful. It’s data in the end, but you gave your sweat, tears and blood to finish that quest! You should have something to keep that feat. Some sort of monument would be nice actually. In the end, you might end up wincing and closing your eyes as you hit delete on your PC and watch all that gameplay go to the bin.




Physical copies and Virtual Copies

I’m tackling both at the same time since they are sort of related.

On one side, pre-ordered physical copies may or may not have goodies or ‘tat’ as some British bloke likes to call them. On the virtual side we have ‘exclusive weapon that fires bacon’ and that sort of thing to make you feel special. These extras can be either retarded and pointless or incredibly awesome and worthy of worship. Some are collectibles, some are just skins. It all depends how creative the PR guys are when promoting the game.


“Holy crap! Free VIP Car Wash?! Where do I sign?”


After they have sucked some money out of you for the game, what’s left for them to do? Ah! That’s where the DLCs and ‘Super OMEGA ALPHA BETA KAKAROTENO Edition’ come in and by the heavens over my head, these DLCs can be either epic expansions or just excuses for milking their clients for more cash.

Let’s start with one of the biggest culprits of this game: Capcom.

Now, how many Street Fighter II do you know? There’s the regular one, the SUPER Street Fighter II, there’s the SUPER Street Fighter TURBO, etc, etc.

Oh! But these ‘revisions’ existed way before anything like downloadable games or even online stuff existed. We are talking SNES era, baby!. Currently, we have examples such as Marvel vs Capcom 3, the infamous ‘in CD’ Resident Evil 6 DLC, and of course Street Fighter IV.

In this case, there are no advantages or disadvantages per-se: if you bought the game online you might get a small discount for ‘upgrading’ your game, but there is no guarantee of it. Physical copies have it a bit worse, as they become utterly obsolete and you end up buying the same game but with those 2 or 3 characters extra. Though, with the advent of content downloadable for consoles, you’d think that they couldn’t just offer these upgrades as DLC? Nah! Let’s just squeeze more money out of the gamer and have a blast with it!


Pictured: EA games HQ


Really, there isn’t a sole winner to between downloading or buying the game at a store.

Will downloading become a substitute for physical copies? Well, given that the game industry is so jittery about piracy and other things, I don’t think we’ll see the end of it any time soon. The PC master race surely has embraced downloading as it’s prime medium to obtain games but they are very much aware of the complications it may or not occur from going said route. Meanwhile, console users may seem a bit indecisive on this regard. At least, I’ll be very sad when the moment to say ‘bye bye’ to physical copies comes.

Technology is evolving, games are evolving and so are the gamers.

The fact that I’m making such questions shows just how many advantages we have nowadays. We hope that for the sake of the gaming community, even more opportunities come to connect and share this wondrous work of art.

So, do you download your games or do you prefer physical copies still? Please let us know in the comments below!


Special thanks to Tania at for this article.


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