Physical vs Digital

Physical media vs Digital media

In the age of on-demand and instant access digital purchasing has changed the landscape of media, the debate continues if this is a good thing or not though. With the increase of digital purchasing we have seen huge impacts on physical stores, the brick and mortar, as well as direct impact on how digital media is marketed or delivered. This of course is having an impact on how gamers get their digital games.

Typically when you wanted to buy a digital game whether for PC or console you had to visit a retail location. Back in the day not all retail stores had in-depth electronics sections that carried just about everything so you had to visit a specialty store such as Electronic Boutique or Babbage’s. Both of these were either gobbled up or simply became the now on every corner, soon to be less corners, GameStop. Perhaps you were lucky enough to have an independent retailer you would get to know which could mean some killer recommendations. Also taking a trip to your local shop of choice was something to look forward too, whether part of an outing or just picking up a newly arrived order.

Visiting your local shop wasn’t the only thing to look forward too. The games purchased came with materials oriented to the game whether they were physical collectibles, art work, instruction booklets, promotional materials, or starter guides. Practically every physical purchase was paired with something that made it a little special. These days your lucky to get a flyer that gives you the URL for the complete PDF manual, which itself my have only a button layout on it. Of course with the purchase of physical media came the renting and lending of games, especially ones based on consoles. PC games had their own licensing hurdles and still do to this day which prevents most lending and sharing, legally. Of course the availability of physical media also meant a second hand market which gave rise to stores like GameStop and Microplay along with a host of other smaller stores. They become havens for trading, renting, and buying second hand digital games and accessories. It really seemed like the hay day of digital gamers not only were they able to swap things they bought for new ones but they could also try a lot without having to make a purchase. Nintendo itself famous fought the rental market under a basis that their IP was being violated, this went no where but it was first red flag that game producers were going to seek more control over their creations…

Rise of digital kingdoms

As the availability of broadband access grew so did the market for digital content. This primarily expanded across the mobile market as they catered to closed purchasing systems within their respective digital devices. It wasn’t long however before the digital gaming market swung towards the same plan and began to cultivate their own private markets within their respective devices as well. The Xbox Store, Playstation Network, Steam, Origin Access, etc all grew from the idea of distribution and control of games and their content. Whether exclusive titles or limited access releasing a title digitally saves on production cost as their is no media to produce and also prevents used media after the fact to compete against. Meaning each transaction is pure one to one, any additional Gamers will have to buy their own at the set price versus buying a copy at a used price. The growing adoption of digital media over physical is a contributing factor of course to the decline and disappearance of the traditional brick and mortar stores just as the availability of online purchasing has done to so many others.

Media Mousetrap

Whether you purchase digital or physical media both have their downsides. Physical media lets you control absolutely what you play and when you play it. You can even loan your physical media, PC games are the exception, to whomever you want the physical media is the license for use. Also your license or access cannot be revoked, barring online only titles, so long as you have the media and the device it plays on. That is the failing component for physical media however the device it plays on. As PCs and consoles advance in technology the media they use or support don’t always work as you move from one generation to the next. So long as your hardware is compatible or functional your physical media lives to play another day. This can mean keeping older hardware around to play it on but never the less it is ultimately up to you.

On the other hand a digital media purchase grants you rights to use that media typically on the system you purchased it on, you and you alone. There is no lending within most of the digital kingdoms of games to others and certainly there is not a used market for digital media purchases. There is a market for bulk/whole sale digital media through various websites often coupled with questionable levels of legitimacy. However you secure your digital media ultimately your tied then to the digital kingdom you purchased it from and with that tie subject to their decisions regarding licensing or the licensing within the games themselves. Typically this means so long as your have a digital media downloaded or installed prior to it being removed then your all set, however change device, uninstall it, or suffer some other digital malady your access to the removed or unsupported digital media is gone forever.

Another past time for the grownup gamer is collecting their favorite games of old. Whether it is a collectible limited edition box set for a PC title or perhaps a physical copy of a nostalgic console favorite. You can’t really have the same experience filling up a hard drive with digital media. Also if a game fades from a digital kingdom due to licensing or even hardware support the only people that will remember it are those that played or still have an installed copy, but they most likely won’t be able to share that experience with anyone else. As a grownup gamer one of the things I have been able to enjoy is sharing my generations games with the current one. How many generations before we have a gap created by digital media where sharing that nostalgia is impossible?

Digital kingdom’s secret gardens

While the rise of the digital kingdoms is bad enough the digital fleecing hasn’t stopped there. Now within the very games themselves there are entire economies often based on download-able content often called micro-transactions. Whether these are the infamous “loot boxes” or pricey vanity items, game developers are now seeking additional ways to monetize their games beyond the cost of purchase. Sometimes double dipping with a full triple AAA title purchase price and then another pay wall after the fact to boot! So not only do we have the distributors seeking to control of the digital games but the developers themselves are setting their own rules for their internal economies.

I don’t believe we can turn the tide against purchasing digital media as the majority has spoken with their dollars and obvious consent. I also agree there are models where micro-transactions within digital media make sense, but there are other times when it is clear abuse of the gamer.

The winner is…

Honestly in my opinion there is no clear winner in the physical vs digital media debate. There are Pros and Cons and pitfalls to both types of media, however digital media usage is definitely winning from merely the numbers perspective.

With digital media clearly gaining ground through its ease of use and our increasingly disposable society. Is it much surprise that generations that buy $3 shirts for a day don’t care if they give $20 for a game they may play twice? Or the same generation that can’t see the harm in $1 purchase they may make two-hundred times over a year in a single mobile game?

What we have to communicate to game developers and the digital kingdom holders is that we aren’t all willing to give up our hard earned money for a so-so experience and we certainly won’t support a game with endless micro-transactions. We can’t turn the tide of digital media but it isn’t too late for us to influence and determine just how that digital media works going forward.

So we’d like to know . . .

What game did you play recently with micro-transactions?

What game had micro-transactions that made you quit out right?

What type of micro-transaction do you consider fair within a game?

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About the Author: Buruko

A gamer & father of two who strangely still tries to cram gaming into his busy schedule.