Is It Worth Getting Physical Today?

In response to:…/disc-vs-download

My mind has been shifting on this subject for a while. It’s been about a decade since I cared about owning physical books. I have a full bookcase, half of it is graphic novels, the other half political, arty and non-fiction that are easier to flick through in a physical book than an eBook – and not necessarily the sort of title you read cover to cover like a novel. If I kept all the books I ever read I’d need a room for them. Same with films. I stubbornly held onto DVD, then BD, but then Netflix got good… and it’s not hard to obtain things that aren’t on it, legally or otherwise.

As for games and music, these were the last thing I wanted to let go. I still buy CDs and vinyl records of my favourite albums (records only of the really important albums) because that way my son can have them eventually. Unlike CDs, though, video games are no longer “physical media” even if you buy them as such.

“Day one patches” and general updates are a fact of life today. As annoying as they are, they also at least serve to provide us with the best experience possible (assuming the developers fix the problems – and don’t leave their games a buggy, broken mess *cough*Skyrim PS4*cough*) and so ultimately I support them. The problem is that this data is never on your disc, it is on your hard disk.

Speaking of which, the two main consoles today require all game data to be stored on a hard disk to run your games. Then the games are inflated in size, with the blame laid at the feet of “higher resultion textures” as if that makes a game twice the size of its PS3 counterpart. Hard disks quickly fill, which will eventually lead a person to delete games to make space for newer ones. Now, you may think “great, that works, and if I want to play again later, I’ll just reinstall the game,” but one thing you’re not thinking of is the future.

Think of today. You may well enjoy the odd retro treat – many people do. Assuming your console and cartridge haven’t died of old age, you plug in and get on with it. Same experience every time. Now think of 2038. 20 years from now you may think about having the same nostalgic trip with your good old PlayStation 4. You insert your Doom disc, it starts to install and… oh wait you’re missing half the content and Sony have shut the servers down/gone bust/found a new way to gouge money by charging access to the updates. You lose.

As the games are installed to hard disk, there is no value any more to the BluRay disc. One real benefit comes when you have more games – I have around 75 titles on disc, and a few more than that downloaded. Unless I have a game in mind, you can bet I’ll pick up the downloaded titles 8 times out of 10, simply because of how easy it is to scroll through the list of titles, see one I fancy playing, and hit X. The disc-based games took up enough space that I put the boxes away in a cupboard and put the discs in a folder. Pulling that from its drawer, flicking through to find a game, ejecting the disc that’s in the console, and inserting the new disc all take time and importantly take away from the urgency of selecting a game and getting on with it.

So, whilst it’s a shame that physical media is likely to die out over the coming decade, I don’t see it as necessarily a bad thing. I mean I haven’t bought a boxed PC game since Steam really picked up around 2005. Half-Life 2 in fact was my last PC disc I ever bought, in November 2004.

The biggest difference between Steam and its Xbox, Playstation and Switch counterparts is that it is platform agnostic. The people who own the gaming platforms (Windows, MacOS etc) that you may be using don’t control Steam, and as such the prices are usually low, and the sales legendary.

This is the big hurdle for console downloads. Once physical media is gone, we who choose to play on the consoles are at the mercy of the platform holders who will set the prices themselves – and set them high. Console games already cost considerably more than their PC versions thanks to licensing and tight market controls, and the removal of physical media means the end of physical shops, and the beginning of a new monopoly.

Which I can’t see being a great thing.

So I suppose I am torn. Ultimately I support downloaded games more or less completely – but not at the high price point at which they are sold today.

Come chat about this subject – you can find me on Twitter @bitlandgaming, or my good friend Mr Vimes who prompted this essay @8BitVimes


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