As of yesterday, there has a been a lot of coverages around the interwebs of Google’s latest project, Stadia; a streaming service for games that is comparable to the likes of Netflix. However, what I’m not going to do is rehash the same old article that you’ve probably read over a hundred times already. I’m not here to pass judgement on Google Stadia, especially as it’s only just been announced.

Instead, what I wanted to do was talk about the gaming industry’s move away from physical discs to digital downloads and, now, streaming of games. I wanted to talk about my opinions on this move, and why I still prefer to own physical copies of games rather than digital versions.

Potential Loss of Access

The first thing that we’re going to talk about is the fact that, with a physical copy of the game, no-one can take it away from you (except by breaking into your house and stealing it). Once you’ve paid for that game, you have it on disc for as long as you look after the disc. Naturally, there are certain types of games where you’ll still lose access to them eventually, such as MMORPGs when their servers are turned off. However, that’s the minority – for the large majority of games, we will be able to keep them and play them whenever we want.

However, when it comes to digital games, there is something that happened in the past that we all need to keep in mind. How many of you remember P.T? Judging be the playable teaser of Silent Hills’ popularity, I would guess that a lot of you do. Well, if you take P.T as a case study, it paints a potentially scary side to digital games. When you have “bought” a demo, even though it is free, you download it to the hard drive of your PS4 and added to your PSN account. From there, you should have access to it for as long as you have that PSN account. However, after the Silent Hills project was shelved, the demo was entirely removed from the PSN and you could no longer redownload it, even if you had already added it your PSN account.

The reason I want to bring this to light is that, if that could happen with a demo, it could potentially happen with a full release game as well. So, in my head, there is always going to be a concern in my head about whether the digital games that I purchase will just be removed one day. On top of this, with Google Stadia being compared to Netflix and other streaming services, it also brings is a similar issue.

There have been many shows and movies on Netflix, Amazon Prime and NowTV that my wife and I enjoyed. However, they all had a limited lifespan of availability on their specific streaming service and are now no longer available. If the gaming industry is moving towards a similar setup, then I must admit, I have concerns that we will have incidents where we will be enjoying a game and then it will be removed from the streaming service. And when that happens, we won’t have a leg to stand on, because we won’t actually own the game.

Ownership of a physical copy of a game means that you are able to ensure you continue to have access to it whenever you want to play it. That game can’t be suddenly taken away from you.

Games As A Service

Now, this one is a bit more controversial, potentially. Gaming as a service isn’t a new thing at all. I mean, MMORPGs have been charging subscription costs for years. However, until recent years, this mentality of monetisation was largely limited to the MMORPG genre. That was fine. The issue comes with the prominence of gaming as a service in other types of games now. For example, there are a huge amount of Freemium games out there now, where you can get the game and play it for free, but to get the most out of it you need to pay a recurring fee or buy in-game “coins” of some sort.

Again, this used to be limited to the likes of Free-To-Play MMORPGs or Mobile games, but has now flooded the PC and Console market as well.

The reason why it is possibly a controversial subject is that, for some games, it is a legitimate business model. For example, MMORPGs like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV use that money to help fuel development of high quality content that is added to the game (in the case of FFXIV, that includes free content every few months). So, gaming as a service can be a good thing. The issue arises when this mentality becomes the most prevelant thought in developers or publishers’ minds – when a game is built and developed purely with the intent of making it an ongoing subscription service, the gamers are the ones who lose out.

But that’s not really fixed by having physical copies of games, so you’re probably wondering why I’m even talking about it, right?

Well, it comes back to the Google Stadia again. You see, a single game that is pushed out with the sole intention of driving a subscription fee is bad (in my opinion) so an entire gaming library could be horrendous. At the moment, we don’t really know much about the games that are going to be on the Stadia. In fact, we only have a few named so far;

  • Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
  • Doom Eternal
  • An unnamed title from Q Games

So, as it stands, it’s unclear how many AAA titles are going to be ported across. There is a high possibility that we’ll end up having a lot of games added to it that are lower quality games with excessively long game time – this would purely be to ensure that you keep paying your subscription fee.

I am hoping that won’t be the case and that the Stadia will offer top quality games, but the cynic in me doesn’t think that will be the case. I do, however, really want to be proven wrong. If gaming as a service can be made into a positive for both the industry and the gamers, then that would be great. It is, however, still a concern for me.

Especially when I think back over all of the games I have played across the last 25 years of gaming, and realise that my favourites were all disc-based games before the internet was really a thing. Those games offered me hundreds of hours of enjoyment, without the need to pay money for them every month…

Preservation Of Games

The third part of this little look into my head and why I prefer physical copies of games comes down to the preservation of the medium. Relatively near where I live, there is a Video Game Museum, which is amazing. On top of that, collectors such as myself and those much bigger than me are storing and protecting the games that they love. This care and storage help to preserve the creativity and brilliance of these games that would otherwise be lost to time.

Now, I know full well that digital games can be made available at any time through online stores, or the files can be stored on the cloud for safekeeping. But, let’s take a step back and look at some recent news; specifically, let’s look at a MySpace. Now, this is a bit different, yes, but think about it – 12 years ago you added photos or music files to your MySpace. They should have stayed there forever, until you decided to remove them. However, due to an error in server migration (which happens far more often than you would think), all data from those 12 years is gone. It’s lost, forever – you are never getting those photos or music files back.

Next, imagine that those files had been your games that you had lovingly been collecting on your favourite Digital Store. All of a sudden, every game you have owned and collected over the past 12 years just disappear. Oh, and it’s not just your copies of those games, but every copy of every game from the last 12 years. All of a sudden, that’s 12 years of the gaming industry that basically no longer exists.

Yes, this is an unlikely thing to happen, but when you consider the fact that MySpace lost photos and music (which take up a lot less server storage space than games), there is the possibility. On top of this, even the likes of the PlayStation Network were hacked into, and there are numerous reports of Xbox Live accounts being accessed remotely as well. Hackers are always finding new ways to access digital data and networks, becoming more and more aggressive in their actions once they have access. With the way the internet landscape is now, there is an ever growing chance that someone will one day find a way to access and format the servers that hold your games. And that’s not me trying to scaremonger.

I work in the Digital industry for my day job, and we are also having to find new ways to secure servers. The problem is, these security “holes” can only be fixed when they have been discovered and it is usually hackers who discover them.

With physical copies of games, it doesn’t actually matter if those servers are compromised. You will still be able to play the games that you love, because you have the disc version of it.

Cases On The Shelves

The last aspect of owning physical copies of games is really a personal aesthetic choice. As many of you know, my blogging office also doubles as a game room and streaming area. In this room, I have bookcases and shelves that are filled with games. They are all sorted alphabetically by platform, and look beautiful! That’s something that you just don’t get with digital copies of games.

Yes, your PSN account or Steam library may look nice with a long list of games, but it really isn’t the same. I mean, think about how amazing a room full of old books looks. It’s an outstanding sight! That’s also true for games, with their cases and box art creating wonderful collages of colour and style.

That’s completely missing if you purchase the games digitally. Instead, you have a single console in the room, with all of the games just floating in the digital cloud. You don’t get to marvel at the beauty of those CD or DVD cases on the bookshelf. Yes, it’s not exactly a big thing at all. But for me, I would much rather have a book case full of games to look at then just the one console.

And That’s All Folks

That was a very long post, wasn’t it? I apologise if it ended up being more of a rant, but I really wanted to share my opinion on digital versus physical games. Naturally, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. I mean, life would be boring if we all agreed on everything. But I hope that I have at least managed to explain the mess of thoughts in my head in a coherent manner.

What are your opinions on digital games versus physical games? What do you think of the Google Stadia? Let me know in the comments below!