Soapbox: This Is Why Physical Games Are Still Important 1
Image: Push Square

I’ve got a confession to make: most of my PS5 and PS4 library is digital these days. I understand why the industry is increasingly transitioning away from physical media, and I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t address that right from the off. However, I still purchase plenty of cartridges and discs, and I believe boxed games still have an important place in the industry. With increased speculation that Microsoft is looking to transform Xbox into an entirely digital ecosystem, I figured it was an appropriate moment to consider the pros of a market that’s increasingly under threat.

First and foremost, I love shopping for physical games. One of the first things I do whenever I go travelling is mark some local game shops on my Google Map alongside the typical tourist spots and trendy coffee shops. While shopping for video games isn’t anywhere near as exciting these days as it was in the 90s, I still deeply appreciate digging through the stock of independent stores, and few things are more rewarding than discovering a gem you didn’t know existed.

When I was growing up, before UK chain CEX turned into a mobile phone shop, I distinctly remember perusing the limited selection of Japanese imports my local store had. This, in the late 90s, was a truly mind-blowing experience; the Internet was relatively new in those days and the industry hadn’t been globalised, so you’d discover titles you didn’t know existed. Looking at the box art alone was breathtaking, and helped shape my passion for the industry today.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate the independent retailers – especially those stocking retro games. One of the stores I grew up reading about in old British gaming magazines was Akihabara’s Super Potato, and I would finally visit it for myself last year. It’s true that a lot of the store’s best stock has been plundered over the past 20 years and exported out of the country, but it was still lovely to see rows and rows and rows of old games.

And this is an experience that’s not just reserved for Asia. When I was in Berlin, I happened upon a wild store on the outskirts of the German capital, which was absolutely stacked to the ceiling with old games. To be honest, this place felt like a personal collection, and despite my best efforts I couldn’t actually find anything I wanted to buy – but I still appreciated its existence all the same. I think stores like this, and the people that own them, are important.

I understand that consumers are increasingly transitioning towards digital purchases; the data is frankly undeniable. But I think boxed media is important: no amount of convenience can replace the feeling of physically holding something you love in your hands. There are also the issues of ownership to explore; while I’ve personally invested a degree of trust in Sony to honour and retain my PS Store purchases for the foreseeable future, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge these legitimate concerns.

Retro stores will probably exist as long as there’s a market, but it’d be sad to see their stock end with the PS5, if there is to be an all-digital future. I don’t think Sony is likely to do away with physical media to be honest; it seems content continuing to ship boxed games and letting nature take its course. I feel sad for Xbox consumers, though, who won’t even be able to buy a physical copy of Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 later this year. I understand the market may be small, but it doesn’t sit right with me.

I will never sell my original copies of Shenmue; I own both games digitally now on the PS4, but those launch day Dreamcast copies mean so much to me. They are memories: the smell of the paper manuals, the touch of the printed discs. While I myself am part of the problem, someone who’s increasingly purchasing more and more disposable digital games these days, I think it’ll be sad if future generations never have the opportunity to develop a physical connection with the software they love.

What’s your relationship with physical games these days? Do you still buy boxed releases, or are you all-digital now? Do you enjoy visiting real video game shops, or can you find everything you need in the PS Store? Let us know in the comments section below.

Do you still buy physical video games? (943 votes)

  1. Yes, I only buy physical video games44%
  2. Sometimes, but only if it's cheaper or a game I love39%
  3. No, I'm basically all-digital these days16%