The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Digital or physical? That is a good question to ask when thinking about how you are going to purchase games on any console. Both options have benefits and drawbacks. Whether you buy digital or physical (or both) depends on what is most important to you.

The good and bad of digital game downloads on Nintendo Switch

The good

Nintendo eShop

The most obvious benefit to downloading a digital copy of a game onto your console is the fact that it doesn't take up any physical space. You won't have a shelf full of old Switch games that you never play any more. You also don't have to worry about losing the cartridges. Your little brother can't steal them and take it to a friend's house. Your parent's can't take them away from you when you are grounded (they can take away the entire console, though).

Another great reason to go digital is that you will always have all of your games with you, no matter where you go. This is especially useful for mobile gaming on the Switch. Whether you download games directly to the console or to a micro SD card, you don't have to worry about carrying a case filled with cartridges around when you want to take your Switch on the road.

When you download games from Nintendo, you also don't have to wait, even one second, to get a game. You could be sitting in class or home sick without a car and still be able to download and play a game at your will.

Preordering games can be even more of a delight. When you preorder the digital download of a game from Nintendo, it is pre-loaded onto your device at the time of your order. You can then start playing it right after midnight on the day of its official release. No waiting in line. No waiting for a delivery. If you stay up late enough, you could have most of the game completed before your friends even get up for work.

Not to sound like a tree-hugging hippy, but digital downloads also cut down on the amount of waste produced for a game. Instead of dealing with the plastic of the cartridges, case, and even sealed packaging, you are dealing with ones and zeroes. A much more environmentally friendly way to consume.

The bad

Nintendo Switch

The most obvious drawback to purchasing your games digitally is that you don't really own them. Nintendo's End User license agreement states:

The Software is licensed, not sold, to you solely for your personal, noncommercial use on your [device].

While Nintendo won't be hacking into your Switch to take back the download you paid good money for, they do have the right to revoke any licenses you buy (or get for free). If, for example, you download a game that Nintendo eventually takes of the market for some reason, they have the right to remove it from your account. If you delete the game from your device, it's just gone.

Because digital downloads aren't physical, they can only be used by the person whose account the game is tied to. You can't let your friend borrow it when you're done. You also can't sell it or trade it in to a game reseller.

Nintendo also has somewhat strict rules on transferring purchases. Content is tied to a user account and the device associated with the account. If you were to, say, get rid of your Switch, and didn't download your games onto a micro SD card before it left your possession, getting those games back when you buy a new Switch would be pretty much impossible.

The good and bad of physical game purchases on Nintendo Switch

The good

Nintendo Switch Pro Controller

The most obvious positive about buying a physical copy of a game is that it can be shared with others. If you're friend wants to borrow Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild after you're done playing it, no problem. If you're brother wants to play Splatoon 2 in his bedroom on his Switch, he can sneak it away from the rest of the family if he's sly.

It also means that parents can take games away from their kids when they ground them.

You can also sell or trade in physical games to help support your entertainment habit. Some rare and out-of-print games have been known to sell for a lot of dough on the resell market. With a physical game, you have the opportunity to be a collector.

Selling your old games isn't the only benefit of buying physical copies. You can also buy them cheaper on the resell market. Sometimes for more than half of their full price, if a game isn't particularly popular. Plus, retail stores will oftentimes put games on sale, so you could potentially buy a brand new game at a discounted price (especially if you're a savvy shopper). Digital games do, also, go on sale from time to time in Nintendo's shops, but they are at the whim of Nintendo instead of your discount-finding prowess.

The bad

Nintendo Switch

The most obvious negative about owning physical games is how much space they take up. If you end up owning all 80 games promised to come to the Switch (so far), you're bookshelf is going to be stuffed with cases. Plus, you'll have to carry all of those cartridges around with you where ever you go. I hope you have a proper travel bag for your pile of Switch games.

Physical games can be lost or stolen. No one can steal just the digital copy of your game, but some nefarious classmate could find a way in to your locker and swipe your favorite Switch game while you're running laps, even if you're holding your Switch in your hands while you run.

Are you a first-day purchaser of games? Well, if you're buying physical, get ready for some late nights out. If you're lucky, and your local game store stays open late for new releases, you might be able to buy a new game right at midnight if there are enough copies to go around. But, if the game is super popular, you'll probably have to stand in line for a long time in order to get there early enough to get a copy ahead of everyone else. Otherwise, expect to read spoilers on how a new game ends before you even get it delivered from the Post Office.

Which should you choose?

Of course, everyone's preferences are personal, and I'm not one to make these decisions for you, but I recommend a little bit of both.

Personally, I have physical versions of about 80 percent of my games, mostly because it's really important to me to be able to loan them out to friends or trade them in when I want something new. If sharing and selling are important to you, stick with physical copies.

Of course, there are always going to be a few exceptions. I will sometimes download a digital copy of a game when it is on sale for a really low price. I've also been known to download a game on day one because I really didn't want to have to wait for it to arrive in the mail or have to pick it up at my local game store.

If you like the idea of taking all of your games with you without taking up any additional space, and you aren't the type of person to sell or trade in your games, digital downloading is your bag. You'll be able to make fun of your friends when you finish an entire game before they even get up for work in the morning.

And, when you're at your local game store, take a peak at their used section. You never know if you're going to find something you've always wanted to play, but didn't want to pay full price.

What do you think?

Do you prefer digital or physical games on console? Do you know which method you'll prefer with Switch?

Updated July 2017: Updated for the launch of Splatoon 2.

Nintendo Switch


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