Why we still need physical games

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You need a top of the line computer to get the most out of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020. Just downloading the game within a single day also requires the kind of internet speeds that service providers in rural areas just can not or will not offer. 

Microsoft found a solution to that problem, in the form of a mammoth 10-disc physical copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, available in Europe. Microsoft is good about handling accessibility, but more and more publishing companies are adopting an all-digital approach, which leaves people who live outside of big cities and suburban areas in the lurch.

One of the main reasons why gamers consider physical games is their convenience. Games on a disc can be played from the moment you buy the game, no downloading necessary. With AAA games getting ever larger, that can mean a painfully long wait - and if your internet connection is capped at a certain amount of data per month, you may be out of luck. 

You also miss out on a lot of great quality indie games that have no options for physical copies. Untitled Goose Game? Never played it. Fall Guys? What's that?

Fall Guys Mobile game

(Image credit: Bilibili)

Physical copies also offer the ability to loan games out to friends so they can try a new game without paying full price for it. The chance to give a game a real playthrough is offered for digital games with beta versions and previews, but there is a lot of value in having access to a full game before buying it for yourself. 

Game discs also hold trade-in or resale value, no matter how big or small, which disappears with digital games which are tied to the owner's account.

Some gamers also want to actually see their collection in front of them. According to one survey in 2018, most of the respondents said they bought physical game copies because they wanted to add to their collections. 

The days of having shelves upon shelves of pristine boxed games are nearly over. Some do enjoy the ease of finding a game to play not by scrolling through a giant library on Steam, but by scanning a shelf for the right one.

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Saving money

There are pragmatic reasons for buying physical games. Many people still buy physical game copies because stores often have them on sale, so they end up costing less than the digital versions.

Gamers who don't have credit cards or Paypal accounts also buy physical copies in stores. Following massive data breaches like Sony's, it's no wonder some players don't want to input their banking details online and choose to buy a physical copy instead.

All of this is to say that there are many benefits to buying and owning game discs. Smaller independent companies should consider making them, especially for graphics heavy games. According to this LA Times article, it costs roughly $4 to make and ship each game disc. As for the price of the final product, let the markets decide whether the price for games made by smaller, independent studios should increase in response to demand for game discs.

There are some drawbacks to making physical games ubiquitous though - many computers no longer come with disc readers because so much data is available to download via cloud services. 

Gone are the days of multi-disc Windows installation procedures, and as a result, the hardware just isn't available on most computers that aren't custom-built. That said, it's easy to plug in an external DVD drive into a PC or laptop.

The good news for collectors and physical copy enthusiasts is that the new crop of next-gen consoles have disc drives (except for the upcoming PlayStation 5 Digital Edition, which has no optical disc drive). 

This is a win for customers who play physical copies and also for anyone who wants to play Blu-ray discs in the console. Console gaming has long relied on physical copies for sales, but in recent years, more and more games have been offered exclusively in the PlayStation or Xbox digital stores, available for download directly to the console itself. It's not a bad thing by any means, but it still limits the immediate playability of these games for people with slow or spotty internet connections.

In the aforementioned survey, 23% of gamers surveyed said they prefer to download their games rather than play physical discs or cartridges. We live in an increasingly digital world, so that result is understandable, but it shouldn't be used to discount the experiences of people who need to have physical copies of games in order to enjoy them. Improving accessibility in gaming is a long process, and recognising the needs of people who have slow or no internet options is a step in the right direction.

TechRadar’s PC Gaming Week 2020 is celebrating the most powerful gaming platform on Earth with articles, interviews and essential buying guides that showcase how diverse, imaginative, and remarkable PC games – and gamers – can be. Visit our PC Gaming Week 2020 page to see all our coverage in one place.