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Distribution Wars: Physical editions are coming back

Many thought that physical game releases had had their day, but the reality seems to be very different.

For what has now been a number of years, people have been predicting the decline and complete disappearance of physical game releases. Valve and their distribution service Steam can perhaps be largely credited for popularising the digital game release.

It certainly has many advantages. Digital games can arguably be cheaper due to a reduction in production costs; they can be instantly bought upon release from your home, and then can even be pre-loaded for immediate play once the game is released. On top of that, they don’t require physical space to store and can be transferred from machine to machine as needed.

The argument for physical games is a simpler one, a purer one, and (perhaps) a nobler one.

It may seem strange coming from a community of hobbyists who are entirely based in digital worlds, but to lose our physical game libraries that are displayed proudly upon our shelves is simply unacceptable to many. The games and the worlds that we love are clearly not real and they never will be.

To take away the only rooting that those worlds and games have to the real world and make every last thing about video games digital is simply a step too far. There needs to be some physical record of the game’s existence in a thousand years. Yes, it is perhaps a silly and emotional reason, but to many of us, it truly matters.

Pictures on a screen is not a game library

Given all the practical advantages of digital distribution, however, the prediction seemed well-founded in many ways. After Steam’s enormous success, even consoles started making digital distribution an option. Yet physical releases are still going strong. Despite the fact that it costs the publishers money to make them, they are still willing to do it. Physical releases, if anything, are having a comeback.

The thing is that digital distributions have not only failed to kill off the physical, but the physical is fighting back admirably. From collector’s editions of games (such as the Fallout 4 Pip-Boy Edition) to the excitement of launch events at retailers, there are plenty of reasons to love physical releases even if you aren’t the sort of person to dedicate an entire wall to your game cases.

Yacht Club Games has recently announced over a year after their debut game Shovel Knight was released in digital form only, that they will now be self-publishing physical copies in response to the demand from fans.

Not only are games still getting physical releases, but games that were formerly digital only are even now been treated to physical editions as well. The same thing has happened to Telltale’s episodic game series. After the series have been completed, they have all been released in boxed retail versions.

Looks like physical games have a future

Between the popularity of collector’s editions and the willingness for developers to retroactively make physical copies of digital games, it is clear that the prediction was more than a little off.

Physical game releases are not going anywhere in the near future, and frankly, I don’t think they are going anywhere ever. Just like the console wars, the distribution wars simply add choices to the market for consumers. Both distribution types have their merits and each one appeals to a certain type of gamer. More choice for the consumer is always a good thing.

Pick your favored method, or even better take every game on a case-by-case basis and get it by whichever method suits you best for that particular game. Don’t worry about one distribution method killing off the other; it would seem that they are both here to stay.

Do you tend to favour digital or physical releases? Do you think physical releases have had their day? Let us know in the comments below.

Published Jul. 2nd 2015
  • OrganisedDinosaur
    Correspondent
    Only discovered today that the Limited Collector's Edition of Halo 5 (which is very overpriced) doesn't even come with a physical copy of the game! Wow...
  • Si_W
    I prefer physical copies but only because bizarrely in the UK a physical copy is cheaper from somewhere like Amazon than the equivalent digital copy.

    As an example, I pre-ordered The Division at £39.99 ($63), which Amazon then cancelled as the normal DVD version was withdrawn for some reason. The digital edition is priced currently at £49.99 ($78).
  • Tommy _1510
    As long as digital versions do not get the same treatment of physical versions under US law, then I'm sticking with physical whenever possible. once digital versions also fall right of first doctrine then that will be different.

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