A new generation of consoles are upon us. Both Sony and Microsoft have released two versions of their new systems, one with a disc slot and one without. The digital only versions of the consoles are at a cheaper price making them more accessible to gamers. In both the seventh and eight generation of consoles, we did see a shift towards digital consumption. Physical games are still popular but the rise of digital storefronts can’t be ignored. Of course, if you’re a PC gamer, you’re well ahead of the trend here with the likes of Steam, Origin and Epic Games.
Personally, I have dabbled in the digital stores on Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo systems, picking up the odd indie game here and there. During the Xbox 360 days, I picked up some greats such as Mega Man 9, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time Re-shelled, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game and Shadow Complex. The digital market has allowed indie developers and smaller products to flourish while keeping their prices competitive. Without these market places, a lot of talented developers and wonderful games such as Super Meat Boy would probably never have seen the light of day. Digital also allows players to experience classic games legitimately at a cheap price. For example, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night can easily fetch north of €200 for a physical copy but it can be gotten relatively cheap through a digital store on almost any console. Not all digital stores are cheap though. I often found the PlayStation 4 store to be expensive as it’s really the only place I could purchase digital games for the system from. The issue was that Sony would lock the account to a particular country so if you purchased a voucher from another area, it wouldn’t work. I found this out the hard way with the Spider-man DLC code I got. There is a way around it by setting up a new account but it’s annoying you have to do this.
However, like many things, digital can be a double-edged sword. While giving indie developers a chance to showcase their amazing talents, licensed games can often be caught out. We’ve seen the likes of X-Men: The Arcade Game, The Simpsons Arcade Game, Lego: The Hobbit, Lego: The Lord of the Rings and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game all delisted when the license expired. Of these, only the Lego games are available because they received physical releases. Thankfully, Scot Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game is coming back. The other two games (and a few more) can no longer be obtained through the digital store and the only way to play them is to have already downloaded them, find a machine with them downloaded on or emulate them. This is a little sad as there will always be late adopters to consoles who will miss out on these great games. I was a late adopter to the PlayStation 3 and most likely will be to the new generation of consoles so there may be some games I’ll miss out on.
I, myself, prefer to purchase a physical edition of a game. Sure, I don’t have a lot of space, but I like owning the cartridge or disc (or cassette tape if you remember that far back) and playing the game on the original console. I’m not the only one to prefer physical copies and we have seen the rise of companies such as Limited Run Games, Super Rare Games and Strictly Limited Games to cater to lovers of physical media. These companies sell physical copies of excellent digital games, such as Costume Quest 2, Cosmic Star Heroine and Golf Story. While they are great, I do have two issues with them. The first is that living in Ireland, the postage can often be ridiculous, creating a barrier that doesn’t exist in other countries. The other is that their very model is open to scalpers. By having limited copies for sale, once a production ends, it is not uncommon to see their games go for large sums on sites like Amazon and eBay.
As mentioned above, I am a fan of physical media. When I lived in London, I would often travel across the city to game stores, visit the London Gaming Market and bought a lot from eBay. This allowed me to build my collection through less “grey area” methods (more on that in a bit). I picked up great games such as Wild Arms, Die Hard Arcade, Illusion of Time and Metal Gear Solid Twin Snakes. These were all games I missed out on the first time around. While a lot of the game I purchased can now be gotten digitally, for me there is nothing quite like playing them on their original hardware, glitches and all. It also means that for licensed games, once a physical copy exists, players can still access them. If someone is a big Lego fan, they can get their hands on the likes of Lego: The Incredibles, Lego: Indiana Jones and Lego: Batman long after they’ve been removed online.
I want to finish with the “grey area”: emulation. Emulation comes in two forms. The first form is through a storefront. Examples of these are Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Mega Man Legacy Collection and Super Mario 3D All-Stars. These are emulations of older games that can be purchased legally. The second is through ROM sites. These can be played on a Raspberry Pi or a PC. I’ve noticed that when people talk about tracking down physical copies of older games, there will always be someone who brings up emulation. I have used emulation in the past to get arcade games for my Raspberry Pi. Personally, I’d much prefer to buy a physical copy of a game than emulate it. I’ll always try to track down an original copy (it’s why I’m looking out for a NTSC-U/C PlayStaton 2) or even acquire a repro but sadly, this option isn’t available for a lot of the older arcade beat’em ups.
Do you prefer to buy physical or digital? Are there any digital games that are gone that you’d like to see return? What digital only games do you recommend that I may have missed out on?