Digital or Physical

Fun with Polls

A few days ago I posted a poll on my twitter feed asking a simple question about my followers gaming habits.  In the end 88 folks responded to the poll which is honestly more than I thought there would be… but far less than needed to really make it scientific and such.  Essentially I was thinking about how I have shifted from only purchasing games in physical retail stores… to almost never doing so.  In fact not counting the land-run for copies of Wildstar to redeem for bonus loot, the last game I likely purchased in a store was TERA back in January of 2011 (yes I had to look up the release date).  Even then the only reason why I purchased a physical copy was that it was not available through any of the online retailers I trusted, and I didn’t realize it was a game I would be interested in playing.  This was another case where I was following the great internet zeitgeist and getting in on the rush of yet another game…  that I would ultimately walk away from quickly.  This is also the last game other than the Wildstar land-run that I purchased from a GameStop… but that is an entirely different thing for a different day.

For Those Who Can’t See the Embedded Tweet

  • 65% – Mostly Digital
  • 16% – Mostly Physical
  • 19% – Fairly Equal Mix of Both

There are so many times that in my mind I think I represent the new normal, when in truth I am probably an outlier.  So with digital purchases I wanted to take the temperature of my gamer friends about the subject.  As it turns out I am in fact in the majority with 65% of you stating that you mostly purchase digital games.  Now the weirdity with twitter polls is that if you are using a third party client, you don’t actually see them.  As a result I had a large number of people comment directly but in those cases I am uncertain if they are also represented by a vote.  As a result I am only going to be looking at the poll numbers for percentages, but using the folks that responded to indicate trends.  Here are a few of the interesting trends that emerged.

Import Troubles

There were a few people that indicated that they purchase almost 100% digital other than when they are importing a game from another region.  This makes complete sense as the payment methods that are widely available in English speaking regions, are totally not the case in other regions.  Then there are problems for example with South Korean games where you have to have some sort of national id to be able to purchase the game in the first place.  I know from past experiences trying to play Phantasy Star Online that figuring out how to pay for a Japanese game can be maddening and there are entire guides out there that are the equivalent of showing a screenshot and showing where to click to get through the sequence of screens to make a payment.  Especially now that Amazon allows folks to order from the .JP website with non-Japanese payment methods, sometimes just buying that physical copy can skirt a whole slew of frustration.

Console VS PC Divide

Another group of folks commented that they are 100% digital on the PC, but almost exclusively purchase physical copies for their consoles.  This again makes sense, because digital purchases on consoles are often times more expensive than purchasing through a retailer that is offering a discount to get your business.  There is also the case that consoles have a finite amount of storage space.  I know personally I have gone through the trouble of upgrading the hard drive in my PS3, PS4, and Xbox 360 to keep from running into the wall where I am constantly having to uninstall one thing to be able to play the next.  However in this case I know I am very much not in the majority.  Even with my Wii U I have an external hard drive connected so I simply won’t have to worry about storage space.  Buying that physical copy for the most part lets you insert disc and play… even though there is a modern trend of having to wait for a lengthy install process before playing it.  Also having that physical copy allows you to trade it off after you are done with it… which is apparently a much wider practice than I would have thought.  I tend to hold onto a game forever even in a case when it was a bit of a bomb.

Physical Exclusives

Another case that came up several times is that I had a group of folks that indicated that they buy digital unless there is a physical collectors edition… and then they go with the cool boxed edition.  I think this is a combination of a bunch of things, not the least being that the physical collectors editions have statues and mock-ups of in game items that you can’t get in any other form.  Then there is also the cool factor of seeing a wall of games.  I used to have a dedicated gaming space and a huge bookcase full of games similar to the one you see behind Jasyla in most of her videos.  Then problem being after several decades you end up with so much clutter that something in me snapped and just started giving it all away.  I mean that said I have a closet packed to the brim with older console stuff, but I’ve only started holding onto the things that were particularly rare.  It can be amazingly cool however to gaze upon your collection of rare physical collectors editions of games, so I absolutely see the appeal.

Concerns about Long-term Play-ability

This one came up a few times and I was not honestly expecting it.  There is a concern that while the console might work for decades… the game companies and the digital delivery methods might be long gone.  As a result we would be unable to play digital games.  This one also makes quite a bit of sense as I have lived through both the downfall of game consoles…  as well as the downfall of digital stores.  While the Dreamcast went the way of the dodo, I can still freely play the games that I have on their goofy gigabit pseudo dvd system.  Similarly I can talk about the disappearance of the Games with Windows store that Microsoft ran…  however in that case I think they simply rolled those purchases over to the Xbox store.  There is a certain amount of liability for digital purchases, so long as the main game company is in business.  This is the reason why you still see PSP titles available through the PSN store… even though that platform has long been shuttered.  I guess my line of thought has long been that if Sony and Microsoft are gone… there are going to be wider problems with their consoles given the amount of connectivity that is interwoven.   I know when my internet went out a few weeks back, it was kinda hell to find a game on the PS4 that I could play without it needing to “dial home” for something.  All of that said… I absolutely get this concern because the only way I can play Hellgate London is because I held onto my physical copy.

Wrapping Up

I really appreciated the wide number of responses that I got from folks on this question.  Actually it turned out pretty cool, and I have considered doing something like this again in the future.  I liked seeing all of the different points of view in a question I had thought about quite a bit myself… but one that wasn’t necessarily a hot button topic.  The other big scenario that I purchase physical copies of games… are when I happen to find a deal that is too insanely good to pass up.  Even then I take that serial number… and input it into steam because the last thing that I want to do is remember where the hell my physical copy is.  I love being able to have a console or a gaming machine loaded full of options, and be able to keep them “on tap” as it were.  I guess for me that was always my dream of having some sort of a gaming system where I could simply hit play and select one of any of the games I owned.  There was a period of time where I had sixteen consoles hooked up in my loft, but the complicated system of “A/B” switches that were required to make that work is maddening.  I love that I can just flip on my PS4 or Wii U pick a game and go, and this is also a big reason why I have zero qualms about repurchasing a game on a newer system.  In the end we all have different habits and different norms, and I thought it was awesome just how free you all were with your thoughts.

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