Welcome to part one in our miniseries in physical video game collecting with Part 2: How to Collect, and Part 3: What Physical Games to Collect available as well. Pencils ready, as it’s learning time.
Why Physical Over Digital?
DRM, server longevity and resale value are the short and long of it. You, the end user don’t technically own anything stored or bought digitally. I know you think you do, and that’s a nice safe fluffy idea that helps you sleep at night, but there’s a different truth at work. Remember that Xbox One pre-launch when Microsoft tried to roll out a series of game ownership limitations such as being unable to sell your games to used game vendors such as Gamestop and require always-on DRM that essentially mandated that you keep your Xbox One connected to the internet at all times in order to retain play-rights of your games. Yeah, okay, there was plenty of backlash and these policies were reversed. Will this storm of bad ideas reappear? Gods I hope not. Unfortunately, we have another problem, however.
Read more about the Xbox One DRM debacle: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/jun/19/xbox-one-drm-second-hand-restrictions-abandoned
Dead Servers, Lost Games.
Let’s talk about the Wii now. The Wii virtual console was touted as a huge, absolutely worthwhile win for Nintendo. For a modest price, you can replay some of the older Nintendo classics via downloading onto your Wii Why buy a NES, SNES, Master System or Genesis when your Wii can play hundreds of the best games? Well, here in 2020, however, there’s just one problem. Nintendo ended support for their Wii servers and shortly after the Wii U version of Wii content via Wii Shop Channel. Done-zo. They put the kibosh on those aging things. So, wait. Didn’t we buy those games? Didn’t my dollars go into cyberspace and pull down some righteous classics for my Wii and Wii U? They did, but with the stipulation that it may not last forever. It’s probably in those confounding Terms of Service corps keep wanting us to read. Try booting up your Wii and accessing the Virtual Console. Error message. ERROR MESSAGE DJSW#$(*U398fsSf. Or something like that.
It’s not just Nintendo and Microsoft either, Sony did it too. Maybe not as egregiously, but it still happened. Y’know, I still play my Playstation Portable every couple days and I still wish there was some way for me to use the browser or directly download my digital purchases. There is a way, but it requires downloading games from PSN to my PS3 and transferring via USB cable to my aging handheld device. Awkward and unlikely for many people as who else but a collector has a working PS3 still hooked up and ready for play? You can’t even do the same thing with your PS4, which is just asinine folks. If Sony made the tech for once, why not just bake it into their new system? Oh, right. The Vita. *snicker*
The point is: You don’t have ‘forever’ ownership of anything digital. If Valve goes under tomorrow, there’s really no telling what will happen to my library of 361 Steam games. It’s just a sad reality of how these complicated digital rights are.
What Does the Physical Format Offer Me?
It offers you control over the gaming process as a whole. Maybe ten years from now you’re going to feel really homesick for the world of Horizon: Zero Dawn and maybe the PS4 servers will still be a thing in 2030, yet there’s little indication that that’ll still be the case. For the moment, PS3 servers still exist, and with the advent of PS1 and PS2 classics on PS3’s PSN that were released all the way up until 2015, perhaps Sony has an eye toward the true long game. With rumors of the PS5 being capable of playing the entire Playstation library, that would indeed show us consumers that they’re not going to axe their back catalog entirely.
Anyway, you’ll really want to play Horizon: Zero Dawn and honestly the best, most foolproof way to ensure this is to pull out your physical disc and pop it into your trusty console.
Physical games are yours. They are real. You can literally hold them in your hands. You can turn them into elaborate coasters or frisbees in Kane and Lynch: Dog Day‘s case. No one can come up to you and say, “Sorry bud, those games won’t work anymore. I know you bought them and shit, but whatever, can I interest you in the latest system tho?” The shutting down of older digital servers is essentially a form of theft. Legal theft. In many ways when you buy something digitally, you’re accepting that this is a potentiality. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.
Lets say you get hit by a truck. Probably an F150 because y’know how those drivers are. They gots places to go. What’re you going to do? You’re living paycheck to paycheck and you bought all your games digitally. I guess you’ll have to sell a kidney. Sorry, sister. Oh wait, no you don’t. Because trick! You bought everything physically and kept everything in great working condition with original packaging. Neat! You were able to sell everything but your favorite games and pay your hospital bill. Righteous. Good work.
Okay, so, for most people their game collections probably just sit and gather dust until they eventually toss them over to Goodwill/Savers or give them to a collector friend. The option does exist to take the time to sell them properly via Craigslist and eBay. Do not ever trade in at Decluttr or Gamestop. Don’t be that guy. They massively devalue everything, especially titles over a generation old. Then, they take another huge cut if you actually want that in cash format because the first nut punch wasn’t quite enough.
The point is: The option exists. You have that tool in your chest. Physical games have values ascribed to them by the gaming gods. Digital games have no physical form and therefore no real value. Maybe one day we will get to sell our digital games via the interwebs, but today is not that day.
The Last Reason to Buy Physical Games
Streaming platforms. Do any of us watch Cable television anymore? Do we mosey on over to Walmart and buy full seasons of our favorite shows anymore? Not really. There be Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Prime, HBO Max, and many more for anime titles. I want to watch that show now and in HD over my internet connection, m’kay. The same is in the works for games. With Sony’s PS Now, Microsoft’s XCloud, and Google’s Stadia, we’re seeing an entire new generation of gaming happen without much fanfare. Console-less gaming. Hardware-free, disc-free, cart-free. Ownership free. Why take the time out of your day to make decisions with your money about which game to buy and play when you can just go visit a streaming buffet and pick one of 800+ titles right now. Yikes.
Disclaimer: I use PS Now on my PC to stream PS4 exclusives because I’m a cheap guy and don’t want to pay full price for a PS4. I could do a separate article on PS Now and how well it functions, so maybe I will. *shrug*. Oh yeah and I have Game Pass for PC. Not a streaming platform, but an owner-ship free gaming method that’s not console specific.
Both Sony and Microsoft (not going to include Google quite yet) are ushering gaming forward a system of non-ownership and non-commitment. Let’s do a little maths.
Edward buys a $60 physical copy of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Monies go to the retailer who in turn bought the physical copies from the game publisher Activision who markets the game for FromSoftware. Then Edward feels that Sekiro is just too hard or perhaps he’s too much of a wimp, so he goes back in same-day and returns the game. Yikes, they don’t allow returns because of the included DLC codes and the like. So Edward braves up and sells that $60 for $35, recouping at least some of his shameful purchase. That $35 goes out the window for the retailer but they put it back on the shelf for $55 used. Victor comes in later that day and buys Sekiro used, with his Retail Power Up rewards discount for $50 plus some tax. Retailer makes a $15 profit, but it’s a clean profit. None of which goes back to Activision and FromSoftware. That same game can be resold and sold dozens of times, accounting for pure profit for the retailer and not the game publisher. This is why Microsoft thought of limiting game resales.
Also, this is why digital shops are everywhere. Sony sells you Sekiro for $60 on PSN. This is $60 profit split between Sony, Activision and FromSoftware. There was literally only the cost of maintaining the servers to deduct from this, which is negligible. Nothing but data was sent to you. Bits of data that are encrypted and laced with DRM. Eek. You cannot trade this game to anyone else, else in the case of giving your entire PSN account away to someone else, which may or may not contain hundreds of digital purchase. Either way, it’s extremely frowned upon to sell DRM’d accounts like Steam, Xbox Gamertags, PSN handles and more. Why? Digital games are meant to be one purchase only for one household only.
Final Thoughts are Final
Alas, companies like Limited Run have the right idea. Turn digital-only games into physical disc releases and sell to a willing crowd of avid collectors. You wouldn’t tell me that calling an Uber is the same as owning a car, would you? That’s the difference between digital and physical ownership. There is ample reason to start collecting physical games in 2020. There are still an absolute ton of games out there and they could be yours. Between servers shutting down, games moving toward streaming formats and copious amounts of DRM, there are just so many reasons to start collecting physical games.