Do you still buy physical games?

I always used to buy physical copies of games. But almost my entire games library is digital these days.

It’s a process that happened almost without me realising it. Getting a gaming PC a year and a half ago meant embracing digital. I mean, do they even still sell physical PC games? Probably someone does, but I doubt there are many people still collecting physical PC games – put your hand up in the comments if you do.

Getting a PC also meant that I’ve been flooded with cheap or even free digital games. Gaming PCs are still incredibly expensive compared to consoles, but the games are a hell of a lot cheaper, so I’ve often defaulted to getting the cheap PC version of a game when given a choice of formats. And then there are the constant giveaways of games on the Epic Games Store and Steam, not to mention generous Humble Bundles and the like. In the past year and a half I’ve accrued more cheap or free games than I could finish in a lifetime.

But even when it comes to consoles, I’ve started to accrue far more digital games. Partly that’s because I do a lot of reviews, and that means being sent digital code rather than physical games – although I do get the odd rare physical disc every now and then. But mostly I find I’m buying games digitally through choice.

I’ve never been much of a games collector, but I’ve tended to buy physical games in the past because it means I can sell them on when I’ve completed them, getting a little cash back to spend on new games. But nowadays you can often find the digital version of a game for far less than the physical version, especially in sales, so the cash-back incentive isn’t such a big deal. And increasingly I’m finding I regret selling games when the developers bring out updates that make me want to play them again. I’ve bought and sold No Man’s Sky twice now, and I’m probably going to buy it again in the near future.

Some of the games in my collection a few years ago. I’ve since sold all of these.

It’s got to the point where I’m so used to playing digitally that the idea of digging out a physical disc and slotting it into my console feels like a massive hassle, prompting lots of old man grunts and complaints as I struggle up from my seat to hunt down a DVD.

I think, dear reader, that I may well never buy a physical game again.

You should never say never, of course, but it feels like it’s got to the point where the benefits of digital have begun to outweigh the negatives. Of course, some people like to collect boxes and line them up on their shelf, which is absolutely fine, but it feels like that’s pretty much the only reason to buy a disc or cartridge. You could argue that some people don’t have the internet bandwidth to download huge games, but we also live in an age of massive updates, which means you’ll be downloading giant files whether you have the physical game or not. And there’s also the fact that many of my favourite indie games are ONLY available digitally.

Let’s not forget, too, that we’re running out of places to buy physical games. Independent game stores are dying off alarmingly quickly, and the major game-store chains are on life support. Online retailers are still thriving, of course, but why buy a physical game online and sit waiting for days until it can be delivered when you could buy it digitally and play it straight away? The joy of buying a physical game from a shop was always that excitement about getting it home and playing it, perhaps flicking through the manual on the bus. But manuals are long gone, and the stores that sell games are going, too.

And then there’s the big elephant in the room that we have to address. In a coronavirus world, does anyone really want to risk going to the shops?

It feels like we’ve reached a tipping point, and the inevitable march towards an all-digital games market has only been speeded up by COVID-19. David Braben, the head of Elite: Dangerous maker Frontier Developments, reckons it’s “probably two to three years before physical more or less goes away”, and digital already accounted for 56% of the AAA games market in the UK last year.

Physical games are doomed, it seems. But will you miss them?

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