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Switch Physical vs. Digital -- The Great Debate

by the NWR Staff - October 24, 2018, 12:32 pm PDT
Total comments: 7

With a full release schedule and plummeting microSD prices, we try to decide between physical and digital Switch games.

Every game purchase comes with a choice: do I want a tangible, transferable, displayable physical copy or a convenient digital license that ties my ownership to the whims of corporate overlords? We asked Twitter, but Twitter was split. A lot of users stick to physical Switch games, but most players decide on a per-game basis. The NWR Staff decided to weigh in.

Donald Theriault

My default setting has been digital for a while, as I love the convenience of not having to swap cards. Schlepping a large collection of DS/Wii and back games to a new apartment under a severe time crunch a few years ago, and losing several rare DS and 3DS games (Pokemon Black 2/White 2/Conquest, 999) in early 2017 have only calcified this in my mind.

Generally, I want to go for the best possible price for me in terms of cost. This was physical, until Amazon did away with the 20% - oh wait, 10%, because my local retail scene is a tire fire and Amazon's being hauled before a competition bureau - and suddenly, digital becomes a better price. And if I buy enough digital games, I don't have to actually pay for my Switch Online plan. Just have to spend $75 a month to cover a family plan with gold coins, which given how much good stuff comes out for Switch in a given month isn't hard at all.

Jordan Rudek

Since digital store fronts have become more popular, I've generally being going digital purely when a sale happens. I don't buy many games digitally for their full retail price. I get most of my physical games these days from pre-order deals, like Walmart's E3 deal that saw a selection of upcoming games go from $79.99 to $50.00. I also take advantage of trade-in promotions at EB Games, so it's almost like I'm renting games for a small fee.

In the back of my mind, there's always a nagging feeling about wanting to collect games, but it's hard to justify the yearly expense considering how many games I play and would want to keep. As time goes on, I am more inclined to buy certain Switch titles digitally, and I have gone ahead and pre-loaded Dark Souls and will be doing the same for Smash Bros Ultimate. Multiplayer games that I can return to on a whim seem like really good digital purchases, and I do feel that I will be gradually buying a larger percentage of full-priced retail games digitally as my interest in convenience and amassing a portable library increases.

Zach Miller

I tried to embrace the Shiny Digital Future on Wii U, but that kind of turned sour once I realized I had a lot of games (like Splatoon) that I never played and could have sold. I also didn't love the handicap of dedicating an external hard drive to a single console. The Wii U takes up three electrical plugs now (system, Gamepad, hard drive). Thus, for the Switch, wherever possible, I'm going physical. Yes, it's inconvenient to swap game cards but it's not like I'm not already doing this on 3DS.

I also like the look of Switch game cases, and some publishers (Nicalis) include nice little trinkets in physical copies that I'd be missing out on with digital. I even went through a very brief spat of purchasing physical copies of games I had review codes for (Cave Story+, The End is Nigh), mostly for the bonus swag. I quickly realized that's a dumb idea and stopped. Physical cards also keep full games off my Switch's microSD card, which is already ballooning due to review games. I archive whenever possible but fridge-cleaning will eventually be a necessity.

Casey Gibson

For me it's always been an easy choice to go physical over digital because I'm a sucker who loves to put his collection on display. Bookshelves full of games littered with amiibo look awesome and surrounding myself with them is something I truly enjoy. Combine that with the 20% from programs like Gamer's Club only help the cause of filling my apartment with even more games. However with the end of those programs shortly upon us and the convenience of having all my games on my person at all times, digital becomes a bit more appealing.

I used to have the desire to double dip on games I reviewed where I was fortunate enough to receive a code, wanting that tangible game card in my collection. However I'm slowly embracing the idea that my collection will be mix between the two. While I can undoubtedly see the pros of going digital, I still have serious concerns for the future when digital shops close down rendering my games useless if needed to be redownloaded. Thus I'll continue my semi-regular trek down to the local brick and mortar store on launch days to snag my games and pray there's enough room in my apartment to house them all.

Matthew Zawodniak


Carmine Red

A couple days ago one of my co-workers was looking for a new game to play and so I came in with all the physical Switch games I owned. The entire collection, 88 games plus the little red plastic RDS Industries game cases I keep them in, fits in a single 1 gallon ziploc bag.

I loved that. I felt like a walking talking Switch evangelizer / game lending library. Into indies? Give a try to Owlboy, Lumo, or Yonder and just give em back to me the next day if they don't click! Looking for something meaty to play after Zelda? Here's Skyrim, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and Mario vs. Rabbids, maybe one of these might float your boat!

Yes, it's possible to share digital games with Nintendo's fledgeling online account system, but that feels fraught with complication. Given the choice I'll almost always go for these tiny new Switch cartridges. Physical isn't just being able to hold something real in your hand, it's about the simple act of being able to put something real in the hands of someone else.

Also, my Switch's 512 GB micro SD card only has about 80 GB left, so.... yeah.

J.P. Corbran

I’ve been all-digital for a long time now. I don’t own a physical game for Switch, Wii U, PS4, or Xbox One, and my only physical 3DS games are from early in the system’s life before retail games were available digitally. I have no desire to ever buy another physical game again.

I love the convenience of having every game I own immediately available whenever I turn on the system, especially with hardware that’s portable like the Switch and 3DS. In addition, having carted a huge DVD collection from place to place over the years, I really don’t want the hassle of making space for the hundreds of games I’d have sitting around here if not for the ability to buy versions that take up no room whatsoever.

The only time I even think about doing things another way is when I run into the limitations of my storage devices. Having to upgrade from a 200 GB Switch microSD card to a 400 GB one was expensive and time consuming, but in the end I’ve come to accept that dealing with that is preferable to the hassles of physical media.

Neal Ronaghan

There are a lot of games. Folders please.

Adam Abou-Nasr

Fire Emblem Awakening was supposed to be the last Fire Emblem game. It certainly wasn’t meant to sell out at launch. And yet, I found myself alone in my first apartment desperately trying to download Awakening over my phone’s hacked mobile hotspot, unable to find a copy anywhere else. I went digital.

I like to pretend I have my entire game collection, but painful holes dot my shelf: my sister had Chrono Trigger in her DS when she moved to New York; my brother lent my Tales of Symphonia to a guy his friend used to know at some point; my Game Boy collection seems truncated and lacking, my foggy memory unsure of the fate of some favorites.

But I do know where my Switch collection is. My review copy of Lego City Undercover is at my fiancé’s house, and my review copy of The Lego Ninjago Movie Videogame rests in my Switch. Every other game, review or not, is with me digitally wherever I go. I’ll never have to worry if I insisted an old coworker borrow my Mario + Rabbids or if I’ll have to rebuy a Zelda for a long flight. I’m not parting with any of these.

Have any physical game horror stories? Overpay for a digital game you wish you could sell?Let us know how you decide between physical and digital in the comments!


As an addendum to this piece today, Amazon's absolute incompetence with the handling of 100 Hour Work Week Horse Game has led to me cancelling all the open orders I had with them and getting a refund on Amazon Prime.

ShyGuyOctober 26, 2018

Dang! plot twist and drama? Is this the end of Amazon?

pokepal148Spencer Johnson, Contributing WriterOctober 27, 2018

I mostly go physical because the Switch's storage situation is still not great but for evergreen multiplayer games like Smash I will try to go digital.

steveyOctober 27, 2018

Physical with the ability to rip the games onto the system is the best of all worlds.

AdrockOctober 27, 2018

Quote from: stevey

Physical with the ability to rip the games onto the system is the best of all worlds.

I imagine a ripped game would require inserting the game card/disc like once a week or so to prevent people from ripping the game and passing it along to someone else. I could get behind such a compromise.

nickmitchOctober 29, 2018

I feel like I'm transitioning in to fully embracing all-digital.  Initially, I would go digital on multiplayer games and anything I think I'd frequently come back to.  Having Mario Kart 8D and Splatoon 2 with me at all times is really handy.  But lately, as Donald mentioned, Amazon has made buying physical now the not-consistently-cheapest option, so the main reason I'd buy digital is now gone.  But I also find changing game cards mildly annoying.  Like sometimes I'll grab my Switch to play Skyrim only to find that Just Dance in the game that's in the system.

pokepal148Spencer Johnson, Contributing WriterOctober 29, 2018

The biggest thing against digital is the Switch's lack of options for storage.

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