Physical all the way!

Yesterday I wrote about one side of the medal: it’s a fact that more and more games are downloaded.  Digital games seem the way forward, and it sure has a lot of positives going for it. (Read about the pro-digital arguments here.)

But, as with every positive side to a discussion, there’s a negative too. Let’s explore the other side of the medal: why would it be smart to buy a physical game cartridge for as long as we can?

Can’t Re-sell a Game

We all do it from time to time, unless you really are dead-set on keeping your collection perfectly complete. There are some titles that I’d never part with, but there are also games that I’ve played and won’t play again,or titles that weren’t as good as I thought they’d be.

And let’s face it, gaming is an expensive hobby. At times I was glad to add to my funds again by re-selling my games. Looking back there are one or two titles that I was sorry to have sold, but I can always buy them back.

No Sharing the Game With Friends and Family

If you are a parent like me, or if your partner loves gaming too, it’s nice to be able to share a game. Of course, you can still do this with a digital game, but you’d have to give them your device as well. Which means you can’t move on to play something else! Many games have more then one save-slot, which makes sharing a game so much easier!

You Need to Invest in Memory

My first 3DS was the original aqua blue model, which came with a 2GB SD card for storage. Nintendo adjusted it to a 4GB card in later models, but I quickly found out that even 4GB was just a grain of salt in a vast ocean.

How quickly your need for memory grows! All my 3DS’s (one for each region) now sport a 32GB card and I suspect even that might prove to be a tight fit. And just when I had them all outfitted, I found that the new 3DS uses a micro SD card; changes are made so quickly.

The PS Vita made it even worse. Where you can use a standard SD card in a 3DS, Sony has locked down that side of the business; you can only use a special PS Vita card, which sets you back an ungodly amount of money. I bit the bullet though, and bought myself a 64GB card.

Digital Games Aren’t Any Cheaper (Usually)

You would think that the games would be cheaper as a download: no boxing, no artwork on the box, no material needed for the game card or for the manual, no distribution network, no retail store cuts. All, “Directly to you,” as Mr. Satoru Iwata used to say (always made me smile when he said that in a Nintendo Direct).

So, why the same price, and in some cases even a higher price? I see the same in eBooks; the most famous books differ very little from the price that you pay for a real book on paper.

Special Editions

This applies mostly to the collectors out there, but digital games generally don’t get a special edition to cherish. Publishers sometimes try to give something extra when you buy digital, like a costume set or a home screen in your 3DS.

But let’s be honest, you can’t beat the special editions that come with a music CD, a gorgeous figurine, or an art book. I still cherish the magic book I got with my Japanese version of Ni no Kuni for DS; it’s a special possession.

The Fragility of Digital Storage

A little tale from my own experience, back from when I bought a New3DS in the US to replace my old American XL. I waited till I was home from holiday to transfer my games over because I needed good wi-fi, and I bought a new 32GB Micro SD to replace the 4GB that was in the device. I read up on the transfer guide online beforehand, so I think I can safely say I was prepared for the task.

Imagine my panic when I had done all the necessary steps and turned on the New3DS only to see a home-screen that was mostly empty! My MiiPlaza data had made it just fine, but all other downloaded games and save data was absent! Horror of horrors, as you can imagine. I felt awful, thinking of the 20+ games’ worth of progress (hundreds of hours) that I had possibly lost!

After some moping around I put my cry for help in the forum of a gaming website and my cry was answered: a friendly fellow gamer pointed me toward the fact that my new Micro SD Card needed to be formatted for it to work! I looked on the Nintendo site for the formatting program they recommended, formatted the 32 gb Micro SD card, copied the gaming content, é voila: all my data was there!

My oh my, what a relief! It got solved in the end and in hindsight it was my own mistake, but it was a reality check: are my games and my progress safe? I know of other people who haven’t been as lucky and have lost all their progress in digital gameAnd here’s where Nintendo has a major weakness compared to Sony and Microsoft.

Nintendo games are tied to your Nintendo Network ID (NNID), and your NNID is tied to your physical console. If you lose your 3DS (or Switch), you aren’t automatically able to download your games again. It seems that if you know the serial number for your old device Nintendo Support can help by unlinking your NNID from your old system and linking it to a new one, but it’s not an easy (or guaranteed) process.

In a recent interview Reggie Fils Aimée acknowledge that this is a problem that Nintendo needs to solve in the near future. He’d better hurry, as PSN and Xbox Live handle this much better; bought content is tied to your account only, so it’s no problem to switch. Log in on a new console, and all your games are waiting for you to download.

Ownership of a Game

I’ve saved this one for last, but it’s the one that gives me the shivers. I have to wonder whether the games I’ve bought digitally are mine indefinitely. I came across an example that happened in August 2014, when a short, free demo named P.T. was released for the PS4 to promote the then-new instalment in the Silent Hill franchise.

It was really only a couple of hours long but it was seen as a big innovation and game changer for the horror genre. Hype around Silent Hills was high, and then suddenly it was cancelled.

What happened next is a perfect example of the fact that no, you don’t own your digital games. P.T. was taken down from the PS Store, and user licences were revoked. That meant that if you needed to re-download the game, you couldn’t. Pretty soon it was as if P.T. had never existed, except with people who had it saved a copy of it to keep it safe.

This is only one example, as there have been more instances where downloaded content has been altered or removed from a storefront. So far I haven’t seen any major examples of games really disappearing from devices, but I think we can safely deduce that it is a possibility with most devices now online 24/7.

Many of you already reacted here on the site or on Facebook, discussing why you choose digital or physical. Have these arguments got you thinking, or are they exactly what you already knew when preferring physical game cartridges?


  1. I prefer physical mainly because of the reselling/returning and ownership issues.On occasion I buy a game I don’t like so I could return or trade it in for credit, but with digital that isn’t an option. I once had an odd experience when I used to buy digital music. I had bought from a company (fye I think) that discontinued selling digital music. When I tried to move the mp3 files to my new computer they refused to play due to being unable to connect to the website for licensing confirmation. So they all become useless. After that I preferred physical copies so licensing or internet access wouldn’t be an issue.

    1. When I investigated for that article I first found out that digital games ( and music too) isn’t really your own. St first I was like, this can’t be true, but by now I know better. Not nice when that happens, right, like with your music. And still I’m mostly downloading…

      1. I have a few digital games on the computer and 3DS such as Terraria (PC) and Pokemon Yellow (3DS). I use Steam sometimes and I can really see the ease of having digital titles. I have a few friends that are PC gamers so digital is all they have. At least they don’t have to pay subscriptions to play online like pS4 unless its something like Warcraft.

    2. This is the reason why my husband and I only buy CDs or albums! We then rip the tracks ourselves for digital copies of the songs. Even then, we’ve had trouble with iTunes not recognizing our ownership of these titles, although they have gotten better about it due to customer backlash.

  2. I prefer physical especially for Animal crossing new leaf welcome amiibos. If the ds gets messed up you lose all your games.

  3. I prefer having a physical copy of all my games. To me, it is part of the experience of holding, touching, seeing, and inserting it into the game machine. I have some of those special collectors editions with booklets and stuff. Love that sort of thing. (I do not sell. That is blasphemy) I have never liked the digital downloads. I have very few of them. Spread across all of the portables and consoles that I have and own, I probably have less digital downloads than I have fingers, counting on both hands.

    1. One of my readers on Facebook said that if in future, digital is all there is, he will stop buying games. Actually, I don’t know how many years of physical games there are left ( same in books, for that matter), but I’m pretty sure that in the end it will be just download. What will that do for your gaming?

      1. That is simple. Totally retro gaming. That is where I spend 90% of my gaming time anyway and I am totally satisfied. I have a large library of the past in Nintendo from the original gameboy, and the rest of the portables, plus consoles. I still enjoy those games. One big plus to growing old is I forget that I played or had that game, LOL. So many times I find things still fresh. What was fun back then is still fun now.

  4. I am with u there, urbografxkid. I do not sell my games or collections. But I have slightly more digital than you, lol! That is because they are either below $20 and digital option only for older system ( PSP game for vita ) or some indies that looks pretty fun ( eg: Yono and the Celestial Elephant, cat quest for switch. ( thou cat quest will have physical for PS4 ), but I will support switch even thou it’s digital only. )

  5. Another advantage, at least for Americans: if you are an Amazon Prime member in the USA, you get a 20% discount on the new release or pre-order of any physical game. (You get 2 weeks to buy it at 20% off once it’s released.)

    1. The 2 extra weeks after release no longer apply. And no more discount for LE/ collectors as well. Used to be great, that is why I join prime, you get release day delivery on top of 20% pre-order and 2 weeks after release, not anymore. I am looking into BestBuy gamers club now ( still have not sign up cos there are not enough games I want to get on release day for this and early next year to justify signing up yet. )

  6. All totally valid points, and this is why I’m a collector hard-set on purchasing cartridges. Physical games for life! (quite literally, if we consider your last point.)

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