Physical games are way better than digital downloads

Nintendo Switch Lite
Nintendo Switch Lite (Image credit: Rebecca Spear / iMore)

There's a lot of debate out there about whether digital downloads or physical games are better. I concede that there are times when downloads can really come in handy, like when someone doesn't have a lot of space in their house or when I can't find any physical copies of a game in stock anywhere. However, I'm here to tell you that physical copies are much better because they provide more long-term perks than digital copies do. That's why I will always purchase physical copies when given the chance.

Tangible ownership

"When you purchase a digital copy, you're actually renting the use of a license."

I might purchase a game from a digital store, but that's no guarantee that I'll be able to hold onto that game for years to come. When you purchase a digital copy, you're actually renting the use of a license. This technically is the same for physical copies, but as one writer explains, it's far more likely for an online store and its third-party partners to revoke the use of a digital license than it is for a company to burst into your home and steal your cartridges.

With this being the case, games can get delisted from online stores for a variety of reasons and there's not much you can do about it. A gaming studio might shut down and their games can be removed, which was the case for Telltale Games. A game might be removed for legal reasons like with LEGO The Lord of the Rings or the digital store itself might no longer be supported as time goes on as we've recently seen with the Nintendo DSi store and the Wii Shop Channel closing up for good.

This means that if, you removed a game from your system to make room for others, but there's no longer a way to download that particular game to your console, then you might no longer be able to redownload a game and actually play it. With physical cartridges and disks, you trully are the owner of that particular copy. Another perk of palpable ownership is that I can share my massive physical library of both current gen and past gen games with friends and family. Obviously, this isn't something you can easily do with digital copies unless you allow someone to borrow your console as well.

Resale value

Gamestop Store

Gamestop Store (Image credit: Shutterstock)

You cannot currently resell a digital version of a game (although some law makers are trying to change that). But, if I buy a physical game and then decide down the road that I don't like it enough to keep it, I can sell it on eBay or trade it in towards another game at a used video game store. While on the subject of used goods, second-hand video games tend to be a lot less expensive than digital copies, so you can save money and still acquire the games you want.

I know it can be hard to realize that current gen games and gaming systems will one day be old tech that people are willing to toss in the dumpster or give away to used goods stores. But honestly, that day really isn't too far from now. As years pass, game cartridges and systems will grow more and more scarce as people get rid of them. This means those games might also increase in value as collectors seek them out for their own personal libraries.

"If I found myself in a tough situation, I could sell my retro games and make a decent profit."

Games, especially those that experience major success or develop a cult following, can become incredibly valuable as the years pass. This becomes especially true if the game doesn't get ported to a next gen console and can only be played on the original (i.e. Earthbound, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, etc.) Even then, there are collectors who prefer to play a title on the system that a game was originally released on rather than playing the port on a newer system or on an emulator. True, some people will pay top dollar for a console that has a specific digital game on it, but that's way more expensive than just purchasing the game itself.

That being the case, I'm often shocked (but not too surprised) when I go online or into a used video game store and see how much one of the classic games that I own is selling for. If I found myself in a tough situation, I could sell my retro games and make a decent profit. In the case of many of the Nintendo games I own, I'd make a lot more money than I initially spent on them.

Even when damaged, some games can still be valuable

Now, it is possible that a physical game (whether it be a cartridge or a disk) can get damaged and is no longer usable. Sometimes you're just stuck and can't do anything about it. However, in the case of some popular titles, a non-working game can still hold value, so can sell the shell and make money. On top of that, some game cases can sell for a decent amount of money. I've even seen broken cartridges get turned into framed art or other cool decor.

Game goodies

The Witcher 3 physical copy

The Witcher 3 physical copy (Image credit: Rebecca Spear / iMore)

I'm definitely someone who loves tactile video game goodies, which is why I love games that come with extras as well as collector's editions. For example, when I purchased The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for my Nintendo Switch, it came with two metallic stickers, a map of the northern realm, and a small compendium booklet. The map is now hanging in my office and I've placed one of the stickers on my laptop.

Some collector's editions come with sweet figurines, collectible art books, or other trinkets. I love being able to put these awesome items on display or decorate my walls with them, which is something you definitely cannot do with digital copies.

The nostalgia

Gamecube And Nintendo 64 Games

Gamecube And Nintendo 64 Games (Image credit: Rebecca Spear / iMore)

In my basement, there's a large collection of physical games from previous gen consoles like the Nintendo 64, Playstation 2, Sega Game Gear, Game Boy Color, and more. I keep them around as decorations, momentos of my childhood, and because every now and then, I get the itch to play one of these now-classic games on their original gaming systems.

I don't know how many times I've had a friend over who's gone down stairs, raved about my collection, and then told me that they wish they'd held on to their childhood games and systems. Playing the games that were popular during different phases of our lives is a very nostalgic experience. Granted, you could still play a digital game years down the road if you kept the gaming system. However, being able to hold the case in my hands or turn the cartridge over in my fingers really brings me a tangible joy that I don't get with downloads.

Physical value

There are circumstances where I occasionally do decide to purchase a digital game, as long as I have the space for it. However, whenever I have the option, I will always go for the physical copy. The long-term perks, ability to resell my purchase, and the option I have to share my games with family members and friends really makes tangible copies the better option.

What do you think about physical game copies versus digital ones? Let us know in the comments below!

Rebecca Spear
Gaming Editor

Gaming aficionado Rebecca Spear is iMore's dedicated gaming editor with a focus on Nintendo Switch and iOS gaming. You’ll never catch her without her Switch or her iPad Air handy. If you’ve got a question about Pokémon, The Legend of Zelda, or just about any other Nintendo series check out her guides to help you out. Rebecca has written thousands of articles in the last six years including hundreds of extensive gaming guides, previews, and reviews for both Switch and Apple Arcade. She also loves checking out new gaming accessories like iPhone controllers and has her ear to the ground when it comes to covering the next big trend.