Microsoft has been pushing their Games on Demand service recently, releasing such great titles as Mass Effect and Batman: Arkham Asylum to download straight to Hard Drive. These are not arcade titles, but full-fledged games that were already released to disc, and are re-released for download. At the same time, the Xbox 360 keeps coming with larger and larger Hard Drives to store the games. The trend isn’t only with Microsoft, either; Steam makes its business completely from selling downloadable copies of games.

It’s obvious to see why selling a digital copy of a game is appealing to publishers: they can charge almost the same price as a new copy of the game, without any of the costs of actually producing and shipping a disc. Consumers are more likely to buy the digital copy as an impulse, because it’s there almost instantly to play, and can be bought without having to leave home. Finally the copy can’t be resold, so every digital copy sold puts money straight into the publisher’s pocket.

But is this what’s best for consumers? I have to admit, I like the convenience of having games stored on the hard drive.  Being lazy, I like that I don’t have to get up off the couch to change out games. Or leave the house to purchase a new game. It’s there, on Games On Demand, and I just hit ‘purchase’ and start playing. However, I think this might be a dangerous mindset to get into. For instance, all the game copies are DRM protected. If there were suddenly a bug in the way Microsoft handles DRM, I could be locked out of the game a purchased legitimately pretty easily. With a hard copy of a game, I can still play my old SNES collection. I can still go to a used games shop and buy SNES titles. When the 360 is 18 years old, will I still have no problems playing the downloaded copies of games? I can only hope that Microsoft doesn’t discontinue support of them; and they almost certainly will not be available to purchase anywhere.

There is a lot to be said for having a physical collection of games. First, it’s a great way to collect games. Looking at the DVD rack with my games collection in it is satisfying, and an experience that’s not matched by digital downloads. I like the feeling of actually holding a game box in my hands. I can let my friends borrow my physical games, but there’s really no way to do that with a digital copy. I like to know that my collection still has value, and that I could sell those games, even though I probably won’t.

In the end, then, digital downloads are not a bad thing. They provide convenience to purchase and play titles, and help support the developer by selling new copies after new discs aren’t being made anymore. But I sincerely hope that they aren’t the future of gaming. I still want to have physical copies of my games for a long time. What do you think? Let us know in the comments.