Available Space: why physical formats are still relevant

In a conversation I had with my girlfriend’s mother and her friend I was asked about how games were distributed.  They didn’t have people in their lives who were up to date with video gaming thus their question, in earnest, was about whether or not they were still cartridges, or CDs, or within the console themselves, or just in internet browsers, or streamed, etc.


(World of Warcraft digital download)

In an attempt to save face my girlfriend’s mother laughed at her friend’s sincere disconnect with the way games had developed since she last knew anything about them, and answered that they still came in a physical form.  However, that is not entirely true.  Although any gamer would laugh at that question and quickly answer yes, physical copies were still a major part of gaming, it made me consider the evolution of games and their distribution methods.


(Steam storefront)

The PC and Mobile gaming cultures have long since left physical copies as a relic of the past, via widespread use of Steam and app stores as platforms for video game distribution.  Despite being large titles, MOBAs and MMOs such as League of Legends and World of Warcraft, have also made digital downloads their preferred distribution method due to the cost benefit.


(Cartridge size comparisons as tech has evolved. source: http://www.mathpirate.net/log/2009/09/26/electric-curiosities-the-lost-art-of-cartridge-design/ )

As for physical copies; Nintendo’s next console the NX, is doubling down on advanced cartridge technology.  Alongside them, the hardcore home consoles Xbox and PlayStation currently lack the memory to hold an expansive library of games, screenshots, and gameplay footage that players want to have on their consoles.  Thus it appears that physical copies, at least on console platforms, will still be relevant for a long time.


Andrew Mantilla is a ludologist and video game journalist for Play Professor.  You can check out more of his content on Facebook, and Instagram.

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