Recently, we put out the news that the physical copy of Fallout 4 would not come with the full game, and would require you to download the last of the files from Steam upon purchase. While I understand piracy can be hard on developers and there has to be steps taken to lower the risk, it did make me think about how sad it is that these steps had to be taken on the physical copies.
I’ve always been a fairly sentimental person, and up until recently I’ve always made a point to buy my games in a store, preferably in new condition, for the simple fact that not only do I like being able to display them on my shelf, but I like knowing that any scratches or dog eared manuals represented my own hours of play time. That’s why it saddens me that in a world where all of our media is making the move to digital downloads, owning the physical copies becomes more of a chore and a nuisance rather than an object to look fondly upon. I’m still lamenting the fact that even among my favourite game series Dragon Age, I only have the first two to look at above my desk, because buying the third installment as a physical copy was actually a €10 price hike with less added bonuses.
That seems to be the way things are going in today’s market. While you’ll of course get pre-order exclusives for any game, you also get certain exclusives for buying it through Origin or Steam, they’ll usually be somewhat cheaper, and come with the added bonus of being able to pre-load the game and get started right at the stroke of midnight (or 7am, depending on the title). You don’t get that with the physical copies, especially with the addition of DRM, and if your PC happens to be on the slower side you’ll be lucky to even play a game like Fallout on the day in most cases. So honestly, where is the appeal?
For books, it’s much easier to justify a physical purchase if you’re a sentimental type as myself. While a kindle might be handy to keep in your backpack and cheaper to stock, you don’t get the same experience. In the words of Rupert Giles in Buffy (and I’m paraphrasing a little here), it should be smelly! When you read a book, you have your senses in play to help make your reading a memorable one, be it the crease of the page or the smell of old paper, the senses one uses when reading a book alone would be enough to remind you of a long day spent in the library, stooped over the pages and lost in a world that’s not your own. Say what you like about the ease of carrying around a kindle, but you’ll never be able to summon up that experience. Never be able to look at a dog eared page and remember the nights re-reading your favourite passage.
For games, we have a much more daunting task in trying to justify a physical copy. The closest thing we have is the old days of gaming, back when you had no choice but to beg your mam to drive you down to Gamestop so you could buy the latest release. A great example is a few years ago, when I ran out of phoenix downs to revive my old copy of Final Fantasy 7. The game released when I was three years old, and my brother played it constantly before I even grew old enough to realise what gaming was. As a result, the disc was scratched beyond repair and I had no choice but to replace it. I spent a fair few hours hunting through eBay trying to find a reasonable price with a disc in good knick, and even when it arrived I decided to swap the cases so I could continue using my original one.
Now, this wasn’t a case where I had no other choice, the Steam version of FF7 had just recently released, so I could have easily bought that if I desperately wanted to play it. The problem is, it wouldn’t have been the same. I wouldn’t have been plugging in my old, dusty, PS2 to play it on the telly with my old controller, encrusted with the dried sweat of many a summer gaming session. I wouldn’t have had to blow on the disc and wait for it to load, praying for the love of god that I wouldn’t hear that awful scratching noise that meant the disc was unable to read. It wouldn’t have been the same experience, and I don’t think I would have enjoyed it half as much without a physical disc.
Clinging to the physical realm seems to be a dying practice nowadays and it’s honestly a shame. When I look at the shelf above my desk, with all the copies of all the games from consoles gone by, I honestly feel so proud. Not only is it a mark of dedication and an indicator towards my favourite hobby, but I can look up and remember any given memory be it hours spent on Ratchet and Clank and the fact I’m missing the last one cos I’d ‘borrowed’ it from my cousin for two years and he finally took it back, or the more recent and stupidly named F.3.A.R where me and my brother would stop feuding for a couple hours and think about the fact not a single second of the game was scary. When I think about how I’ll be decorating my house when I finally get one of my own, I’d like to be able to think of all the titles I’ll be able to display on my shelves. Instead, the best I’ll be able to do is a framed screenshot of my Steam library, and no one wants to do that! My room, 10 years in the future, is looking emptier of game cases, more scant DVDs and lacking old musty smelling books, and honestly, that’s just incredibly depressing.