Should You Buy Digital or Physical games for the PS4 and Xbox One?

Starting today, digital games, that is downloads that travel straight from Microsoft’s and Sony’s own servers to your hard drive. To be fair, both consoles have offered digital titles for years, however the PS4 and Xbox One introduce innovations that finally make buying digital versions of games a valid option for most users.

However, having the ability to download games digitally, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should download games digitally.

Why You Should Buy Digitally

Digital game purchases offered a terrible experience for gamers until recently. While the PS3 and Xbox 360 both supported digital games, typically users had to wait as long as six months after the disc-based version of the game arrived on store shelves before they could by that same game in Microsoft or Sony’s stores. Whenever the digital version did arrive users also had to pay more than if they’d have purchased it from a used game store.

Xbox One and PS4 Black Friday Deals may bring big game savings.

With the Xbox One and PS4, many of these problems disappear. Both console makers have promised to make digital versions of games on their platforms available at the same time as their disc-based counterparts. Furthermore, users don’t actually have to carry the games themselves. Both the Xbox One and PS4 allow users to log-in to their account and download their games to play on a friend’s console. The Xbox One even allows other users to play a visiting user’s games with their own account.


The best part is that users no longer have to wait to download an entire game before they can begin playing. Both consoles allow users to begin playing once a certain percentage of the game is on their hard drive.

What Makes Buying Digital Such A Hassle

Don't expect PS4 game shortages.

Although there has been some progress where digital games are concerned, there are still a few reasons why users would want to pick up a physical game.

Digital games are subjected to unprecedented forms of digital rights management. For example, the Xbox One doesn’t allow users to trade digital games to other users or sell them. It’s also impossible for users of the Xbox One to allow their friends to play their digital games without their Xbox LIVE Account signed into that Xbox. For example, a user trying to play a friend’s digital version of Ryse wouldn’t be able to, unless that user’s account was still on their Xbox One. If that user has logged in on their own console again, Ryse and their Xbox LIVE Gold status defaults to the last console they’ve logged in on.

To their credit, Sony allows more than one PS4 to play games if their original console is designated as their “primary” console.


Why Buy Discs

Users will be able to purchase Call of Duty Ghosts for the Xbox 360 and then trade it later for a version for the Xbox One.

Simply put, users should buy a disc-based game for no other reason than they don’t have to adhere to anyone’s rules but their own. Users can sell them, loan and do whatever else they want — all without having to sign-in to their account or jump through hoops.

Disc based games are also usually cheaper than their digital alternatives over time for those who don’t mind buying used. Purchasing a used copy of Halo 4 would cost a user $19.99 at GameStop. That’s $10 less than it would if that same user bought it digitally. NBA 2K13 still costs users $39.99 through the PlayStation Store. That’s $20 more than what it costs for a used version of the game at GameStop.

Given the positives and negatives of buying digital, a user’s decision simply comes down to how gaming fits in their life. Users who loan games to friends or resell them to buy other games will want to stick with discs. Not only is it a known quantity, it’s also cheaper if they want to get the most they can out of their budget.

Still, people who don’t resell their games, and people who like the idea of not heading to GameStop to put down money on pre-orders are going to love buying digital copies of their games. They’ll also like having access to their library of titles when they log into Xbox LIVE on any console – no discs required.

The choice is yours, but you should know that each comes with its own set of pros and cons.

The PS4 is available for users to order today for $399, though how long it’ll be until the order can be fulfilled by retailers remains a mystery. The Xbox One launches November 22nd for $499. Pre-orders for the Xbox One are sold out, however users could get one on launch day if they haven’t pre-ordered if they show up to stores early. Microsoft has confirmed that its retail partners will have extra consoles on-hand at launch.


  1. Title should read: “Should You Buy Digital or Physical games for the PS4 and Xbox One?”
    You have: “Should You Buy Digital of Physical games for the PS4 and Xbox One?”

    Change the word “of” for “or”

    Otherwise great article! Thank you for posting this. You documented some very good points.

  2. With Data Caps from ISP’s, I can see where using Digital Downloads and Streaming Services such as Netflix, Hulu and Pandora to name a few might be a issue to think about.

    • You are right. Since i’d never hit a data cap I somehow missed this point in the article. Data caps are a really big factor in this. Especially since the average data cap in the United States seems to fall around 500GB.

  3. You forgot to mention that the Xbox One does the same thing when it comes to having an account with the “Home” console just like with PS4’s primary one.

  4. “Starting today, digital games, that is downloads that travel straight from Microsoft’s and Sony’s own servers to your hard drive.” What in the hell kind of sentence is this? It could be overlooked if it wasn’t the first sentence in your article. Sad!

  5. One tempting feature about digital downloads vs. physical copies (for now) is this: dual-license games. For example, I’m eagerly awaiting my Xbox One preorder to show up this week, but am also keeping my Xbox 360. I’d like to be able to play COD Ghosts on both, since not all of my friends are upgrading right away. Apparently there are places (like Amazon) selling “dual-license” digital downloads of the game that include both a 360 AND an Xbox One copy of the game “tied to your Gamertag” (or so the details on the sites explain). Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find out if my Gamertag has to be logged in to play any games bought via this method — or if my girlfriend and roommates can still play these games using their own Gamertags without having me logged in (i.e., if I’m at work or just not in the mood to play at that moment).

    Know anything about this?

  6. I like the digital versions because I don’t have mess with disks putting them in and taking them out all the time. Just click on the tile and it starts, very nice indeed. But the big negative is once I’m bored of the game I can’t sell to gamestop. I wish MSFT would give digital copies the option to trade it for maybe $10 towards a new game.

  7. I don’t care about the trade in value… I NEVER trade games in. What annoys me is the initial price. These things NEVER go on sale digitally. I can get Assassin’s Creed, Forza, Madden, Need for Speed, all on the Xbox One for $49.99 on Amazon. I like not having to put in a disc, and it’s not even about saving $10, it’s about the principle. They are not having to pay for the disc, the case, the paperwork, the shipping, the retailer mark up… yet they charge MORE for it? What I am REALLY hoping for is that stores like Amazon and Gamestop will start selling a Redeem code to digitally download a game for the same sale price as the discs. Then again that would never happen because they make their money in the used game business.

  8. Another thought. I now have an Xbox One and have purchased 1 digital game and 1 physical game. The physical installs in 10-15 minutes from the disk drive. The digital took 6 hours to download and install. The download was not limited by my ISP but by the load on Microsoft’s servers. At 50 MBit downrate it should only have taken just under 2 hours. Even If I did want to have the option to install on a friend’s console with a 6 hour download I would have to do it well in advance.

    A plus is that you don’t have to worry about scratching your disk. I have had it happen to me before and I keep my disks very safe. It just takes 1 bad drop or someone else messing with it. Once you have a scratched disk it becomes huge pain to fix (if possible).

    What I would like to see and I know Microsoft hinted at it is the ability to purchase the disk and activate your license in the digital store. This would give me us the best of both worlds. It would however prevent trading games unless they offered a way to deactivate a license.

  9. -You cant sell the digital games
    -MS can kill your Code at any time without telling it you!
    I myself bought for the full price via ebay a code. It ran ~1Month and than MS killed my Code
    without any statement before or after! I never got my money back!
    So dont buy Codes! They are not so much cheaper and you cant sell them after you finished the game

  10. If my son buy digital and his ps4 gets full, can he delate the game, and download it again later without paying twice ??? Thanks

    • if you buy a digital game on a ps3 or ps4 you download it as many times as you want I get put a 1TB Hdd in my ps4 and re downloaded my games

  11. Yes, if u buy a digital copy you can delete it and its available for download whenever u want without paying again, sad part is u cant back up full game, only ur data… so is not like with my psvita wich i can backup fully then just switch games that i have in my PC… but at the end yes u dont have to pay again

  12. This is an old thread but wanted to vent. Bought an X1 with Assassins Creed bundle. Absolute nightmare getting it downloaded and installed. Still doesn’t work. Will have to return entire x1 system and exchange just because of the game. I’m not paying for a game I can’t play.

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