Are Physical Games Cheaper than Digital Games?

We break down the factors that affect the cost of physical and digital video games.

3D-rendered image featuring a split view showcasing a physical video game store and a digital game store interface
(Image credit: Future)

When deciding between purchasing a physical or digital video game, one of the factors all gamers consider is the price. So, let’s break down the factors influencing the cost of both formats to determine which is more economical. 

Physical Games

Pros

Resale Value: Physical games can be sold, traded or loaned to friends and family. This resale and shareable value can effectively reduce the net cost of a game, and often, stores such as Music Magpie CEX or GAME offer incentives for trading in popular pre-owned games.

Discounts & Used Games: Retail stores may offer discounts or promotions, and players can purchase pre-owned games, often at a significantly lower price point. Multibuy offers are widespread, so that you can pick up a bunch of pre-owned games for the price of one new one. Physical copies also allow players to sell to each other on marketplaces such as eBay

Tangible Collection: Many gamers appreciate having a physical collection and will pay a premium for hard copies, especially special or collector editions, which come with various extras and collectable goodies such as maps and statues you cannot get with a digital version. You can add many physical copies to your Steam account for free to get the best of both worlds. 

Cons

Production Costs: Producing discs, cases and packaging costs can sometimes lead to higher retail prices. The price of maintaining a brick-and-mortar store and running a physical business may also pass onto the overall cost of the copy. 

Availability: Physical copies might run out of stock, or specific editions may be harder to get or completely sold out. Also, pre-ordering a physical copy could mean you are subject to delays, leading you to receive your much-anticipated game late. Also, physical copies of games still need to be installed on your console or PC despite having the disc. A digital copy can be pre-installed without a disc several days before a game release. Therefore, you can enjoy a brand new game from the first minute of release, saving precious gaming time. 

Wear and Tear: Physical copies can get damaged, lost or deteriorate over time. They also occupy considerable storage space over time as new games, new consoles, and large collector editions are released. 

Digital Games

Pros

Frequent Sales: Digital platforms such as Steam, PSN and Xbox Live frequently offer big sales, allowing gamers to grab titles at a fraction of the price.  Steam even has massive seasonal sales and black friday deals with up to 90% off. There are also services such as Xbox GamePass, which gives access to hundreds of games for a monthly fee, like Netflix for gaming. If that sounds good, we have an article about affordable gaming subscriptions. Also, companies such as CDKeys and Kinguin are legitimate companies that trade game license keys for a fraction of the cost of buying new ones. I often buy DLCs for Guild Wars 2 and save around 20% on average compared to buying through ArenaNet themselves.  

No Production Costs: Without materials like packaging, discs, and the associated manufacturing and distribution costs, the overhead for producing and delivering digital games is significantly reduced. As a result, online platforms like Steam, GOG, and Epic Games can offer their products at more competitive prices, often passing on the savings to consumers through frequent sales and discounts. 

Immediate Access: Once purchased and downloaded, games are instantly available and accessible without waiting for shipping or visiting a store. The convenience of not having to drive and use fuel to get to a physical store and wait in line or pay extra for shipping and then wait 3-5 days is a saving. In addition, with digital games, you get the added benefit of not having to shuffle through a pile of game cases or get up, go to the shelf and change the disc. Instead, digital games are stored neatly and alphabetically on your console, available at the click of a button.  

Cons

No Resale Value: Digital games, once purchased, are typically bound to a user’s account and cannot be resold or traded to another person. Meanwhile, a physical copy of a game offers the flexibility of being traded, sold or passed on to someone else once you’ve completed it or no longer wish to play it. 

Account Dependency: Your digital games are tied to your account. If the account is compromised or banned, access to all your purchased games and content may be lost. When you buy a physical game, the licence owner is the one who holds the copy. With digital games, the license is a one-time, non-transferable thing attached to your account, so loaning games is practically impossible outside of account sharing. 

No Collectable Extras: Physical collectables such as cool maps, statues of characters, keyrings and more are almost exclusively sold with physical collector editions. If you are the kind of gamer who loves to collect memorabilia of their favourite titles, digital games may not be worth the saving. 

The Verdict

The answer to whether physical video games are cheaper than digital ones isn’t black and white. The physical format might prove economical for gamers who frequently sell, trade or buy used games. However, the digital format can be equally cost-effective for those who take advantage of digital sales and don’t mind building a digital library instead of a physical ‘collection’. However, companies such as Xbox Live offer the Game Pass subscription service where, even though you don’t own them, you can access hundreds of digital games for just £12.99, an offer that doesn’t extend to physical copies.

Are you a huge gamer and want to upgrade your set-up and not break the bank? Why not look at our article about buying a gaming monitor on a budget?  

Nathan Walters
Editor

I joined MyVoucherCodes as a Deal Expert, searching the web and sourcing the best deals, discount codes and sales to benefit our readers. I decided to combine these money-saving skills with my love of writing and become an Editor, sharing what I have learned to help you get the most out of your money. Having been a student for four years, I understand the need to budget and get more for less.

In my spare time, I love playing video games and later writing reviews at GameReport. I also enjoy anything to do with technology and cool gadgets, and I'm constantly adding extras and components to my home gaming computer. Additionally, I love DIY, having worked in a tool store as a student, I have grown to enjoy fixing things, whether it’s my car or home.