Unboxing the future of gaming: the digital shift explained

As games get more expensive to develop, studios must find ways to cut costs and some are doing this by changing how physical copies work.

In the ever-evolving gaming industry, the ongoing shift from physical to digital releases continues to generate discussion online. And, boy, it's a debate that stirs the pot unlike any other.

Digital games are no longer the future, they're what's happening right now, and this is making it more difficult to justify the need to have physical releases.

The long and short is this: physical copies are becoming a thing of the past, like the VHS tapes of yesteryears. Meanwhile, digital releases, which are quick and convenient, have been all the rage for the better part of the past two decades. But, as with any change, especially one this monumental, there's more to it than meets the eye.

Stalwarts believe there's something special about holding a copy of a game in your hand, especially if it contains the actual game and not just a physical box with a digital code. It's argued that you can't beat the sense of ownership, nostalgia, and connection that you get with having a physical copy over a digital version.

These folks, like this one guy who collected Game Boy copies for years, see collecting as an opportunity to preserve their memories, support local game stores, and get the thrill of the chase of finding a hidden gem in a second-hand shop.

Finally, there's the topic of game preservation. Many games these days can no longer be bought from digital storefronts, leaving the only way to access them is having a physical copy or pirating them from less-than-ideal sources.

Alan Wake 2 helped reignite the debate about digital vs physical copies in the gaming industry.

Now, on the other hand, we've got the case for digital copies.

They're more convenient, easier to access, and they reduce carbon footprint. Financially, they're also cheaper to produce for publishers as well, which is why Alan Wake 2 is digital only. Plus, let's not forget the rise of video game subscription services and online games. It's like everyone has signed up for the Xbox Game Pass or PlayStation Plus. And, with services like these, digital libraries have become the new game shelves. All you need is to look up a game in your library and boom! You're ready to play. You don't have to worry about scratching your disc, losing your cartridge, or, heaven forbid, a cluttered gaming shelf.

It's clear each choice comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. But, while digital releases are understandable from indie companies, even larger studios are opting to go this route.

Going back to Alan Wake 2, a game by Remedy Entertainment, the game is going down the digital-only path to save a few pennies. True, it will sell for a lot less than most games these days, but a lot of gamers are crying foul that those who can afford a physical release should do it. At this point, it begs the question, is Remedy really thinking about saving costs and padding its bottom line or are they just following the trend? The jury's still out on that one.

Many games have been lost simply because they're no longer being sold online.

Again, the biggest thing here is preservation. Without physical copies, games become harder to archive and keep available. As licensing issues continue to rear their ugly heads every now and then, possessing digital ownership of a game isn't like being able to hold it in your hand. When games start selling for $70 a pop, it's understandable gamers want assurance that it won't just vanish into thin air. A physical copy, even when the servers for updates are switched offline, solves this problem.

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if we're for or against digital distribution. But, just like how some people collect the darndest of stuff, the stubborn love for physical releases will continue to persist for time immemorial.

After all, in our fast-paced, digital world, isn't it comforting to hold a piece of your favourite hobby in your hands? Maybe, just maybe, we'll find a middle ground that satisfies both who prefer digital and physical copies. Because, let's be honest, we're all here for the love of gaming, aren't we?

It doesn't matter if our games are on discs or if they're in our digital libraries. It's the thrill of playing that keeps up coming back for more, And that, my friends, isn't going anywhere, digital or not.


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Ray Ampoloquio
Ray is a lifelong gamer with a nose for keeping up with the latest news in and out of the gaming industry. When he's not reading, writing, editing, and playing video games, he builds and repairs computers in his spare time. You can find Ray on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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