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Pros and Cons of Downloading PC Games vs. Buying

In recent years, purchasing and downloading games online has been increasingly popular. A 2010 statistic from NPD revealed that 48% of PC games purchased were downloaded – almost equal to purchases of hard copies of games. And just last year, over $1.4 billion of the gaming industry’s revenue stemmed from downloadable content encompassing full game downloads, social network games, and digital add-ons to full games.

While downloading games has been a mainstay of the PC gaming world for some time now, for their next-gen consoles both Sony and Microsoft are looking to move to a model in which over half of the games both PS4 and Xbox One (respectively) plan to offer will be available in a digital download-only format.

With these stats and news items in mind, it gives us PC gamers a chance to consider the pros and the cons of downloading games versus purchasing physical copies. It’s a convenient option for gamers, but there are downsides. Here are just a few things to consider when you’re making your next game purchase.


  • Immediate delivery: This is one of the biggest selling points for downloads. No need to hop in your car and drive to the store when you want to play the game. Sure, you’ll have to wait for it to download, but that’s a small price to pay when you can sit in the comfort of your home while the game is delivered to you digitally. Another bonus is that most games will be available for download at midnight the day that they’re launched—this means no waiting in long lines outside of a video game store for three hours behind some guy that smells like a bag of cheese puffs.
  • Never sold out: There’s really nothing worse than driving to a video game store, excited about a new release, only to find that all copies have been sold out. Downloading your games will help you avoid this major inconvenience, as there is no finite supply of downloadable copies of games. When you download your games, you’ll save yourself the hassle of worrying about whether or not a store will have any copies of the game you’ve been waiting for months, or maybe even years, to play.
  • Readily downloadable at any time: This is also a nice convenience. Ever get the itch to play an old game, but forget where you placed your disc? No worries, because when you download your games, services like Steam, Origin, etc., save your entire digital library online, so you can simply re-download that old game any time you want. This makes managing your video game library simple, and you’ll never have to keep track of where you placed a disc ever again!
  • Physical storage space: We all know that one guy (or girl) who has a video game collection that is somewhere in the hundreds (or more). Their gaming room, closets, floors, etc., are a mess, full of boxes, instructions, and other miscellaneous gaming paraphernalia. While collections are nice to show off, they aren’t always attractive, and they can take up a lot of space. When you download your games, you won’t have to worry about finding room in your house, or space on your shelves, for any of your games. It’s a nice convenience, and it lessens your potential of scaring girls off the first time they see your overwhelming collection of roleplaying games.


  • Risk of no offline play: This one is the biggest disadvantage to downloading your games. Most companies that offer their games for download do so through a proprietary DRM service (think Steam or Origin again here). While some of the games on these services offer an “offline mode,” not every game does. So, what does this mean for you? Say a storm knocks out your Internet service or you’re traveling and have no access to the Internet – you will not be able to play your games. This is a pretty annoying inconvenience to a gamer.
  • DRM (no sharing): This ties into the previous point as it relates to DRM as well. Because most—not all, but most—downloadable games are run through a DRM service, you can’t share your games with a buddy if they want to give them a try before they decide whether they want to make a purchase or not. If downloadable games are the future, gone are the days of bringing a game to a friend’s house or vice versa. The plus side of this, however, is that it does help to eliminate the pirating scene, which is good for the gaming industry as a whole.
  • Waiting for downloads: This is an issue that will affect most people. Modern games can be as large as 30+ GB, and that can take a while to download. If you’re on an Internet connection that is less than ideal, this can take hours, or even days, to download. And after you download the game, you still have to install it! If you don’t have decent Internet speeds, purchasing disc-based games may be better for you than downloading your games.
  • No physical box or instructions: This may not seem like a huge disadvantage to many people, but for collectors, this is a big deal. When you download your games, you won’t receive a physical box or instruction manual. In lieu of this, you’ll receive the instruction manual as a PDF in most cases. For practical purposes, it’s nice that you still have access to the information contained in the instructions, but much like book purists who refuse to switch to e-readers, nothing really beats having the real thing in your hands.

These are just a few of the pros and cons for downloading games vs. purchasing physical copies. Have any other advantages or disadvantages to add to this list? Let us know in the comments section below!

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