For many people, getting a game on “day one” means going to the local game store, waiting in line at midnight, and then dealing with the possibility of all copies being sold out by the time you get to the counter. This is natural, when you consider that up until about ten years ago, physical copies were the only option when it came to video games or movies. However, with the rise of Steam and other online game stores, not only has the digital option made a powerful impact on the market, but it actually managed to become the most popular option.
Why makes digital versions so popular? What’s the appeal of physical copies? Let’s go over the general features of both types:
The love of collectors and the norm for old-school gamers, physical copies of games still attract a lot of people. While physical sales have dwindled down over the last decade, as long as publishers will release physical copies, there will be people to buy them. Why? For some, it’s because of their awful Internet, and this is especially the case in the United States and in Australia, where Internet speeds are extremely slow, and data caps are a thing. For them, it’s way easier and faster to buy the disc, pop it in, install the game and then download the updates than to download the entire game.
For others, it’s the feeling of actually owning the game. While even physical copies are still mere licenses to games, this wasn’t the norm a while back, and many people don’t know that things have changed. Sadly, nowadays, physical copies don’t have the same feel to them as they’ve once had, mostly because they’ve become nothing but empty boxes with a single piece of cheap paper, which tells you to download Steam and activate the game there. Even the discs are now just installers for the DRM required for the game.
In spite of all this, collectors will still buy physical copies for the sake of it. The funny thing is, collectors and their lust for physical and collector’s editions might just be the reason we will never see the end of physical copies.
Here is where most of the meat on the bone is for publishers and developers nowadays. Ever since Steam became popular and since Sony and Microsoft have started selling games on their online stores, digital copies have also risen to the top of the popularity scale, and have even lowered piracy numbers.
Why? Convenience. Once, the most popular reason for piracy apart from not affording the content you’re pirating was the fact that you had to search for it in all stores across town, sit in a queue, and then drive back home before having to install the game and only then get access to it. Buying digital copies takes care of all this hassle: you purchase using your credit card/PayPal/your Steam/Xbox Live/PSN “fun bucks” balance, and two clicks later, you’re installing the game on your (hopefully) fast Internet connection.
However, digital copies suffer from a huge disadvantage: the feeling of not owning the game. What you’re purchasing nowadays is just a license, and can easily be revoked if you’re caught breaking their terms of service. With a disc, people feel safer, as nobody will come and take the disc from you. What is more, on Steam, you can lose access to your entire library of games for a single offense, and even if you were wrongly convicted, good luck contacting Steam Support and telling them that.
Despite all that, digital versions of games will continue to be the majority in the future.