Game

What Would Make You Happy To Give Up Physical Games And Go 100% Digital?

We’ve looked at the idea of a digital-only Switch before — we’re not big fans of the idea, personally — but today we’re exploring a slightly different question: In a world where digital-only is inevitable at some point, what consumer assurances would you need to be happy with that scenario? Could you ever be convinced to go 100% digital while the physical option remained?

Let’s get into it with Team NL…

Switch sitrep – How digital are you right now?

Nintendo Switch micro SD card slot
Image: Nintendo Life

Gavin Lane, Editor: Okay okay. So, starting off, what’s your current situation with the current Switch, currently? How digital are you already?

Ollie Reynolds, Staff Writer: Like, 90%+ digital, easily. I have about ten physical games, I think.

Alana Hagues, Deputy Editor: I think I’m closer to around 75% digital, but that used to be a lot lower. The last time I bought a brand new physical video game was over a year ago at this point.

Jim Norman, Staff Writer: [Clicks knuckles] I am still very much a physical boi. Don’t get me wrong, some tasty eShop sales have meant that I am building up a decent digital library, but I’m still primarily bonkers for the boxed.

Gavin: Ratio-wise, what would you say, Jim? 50/50?

Jim: Without actually counting them up, I reckon it’s in the favour of physical. Just. Maybe 60/40? Or 70/30 on a good day?

Gavin: Interesting. I’m 99%+ digital on Switch, I’ve only got a handful of carts.

e(phemeral)Shop?

Nintendo Switch OLED
Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

Gavin: So bearing in mind we’re all deep in the digital pit already to varying degrees, does anyone have serious worries about the future of their digital-only Switch library?

I worry about game licenses and sudden removals, and the panic rush…

Ollie: At the moment, no. I obviously can’t say for certain, but I’d be very shocked if Nintendo went into the next generation without backward compatibility with digital libraries. Considering just how digital everything has become in recent years, it would be unheard of. I’m under no illusion that I might be able to access my digital copy of, say, Disco Elysium in 40 years or something (I’ll be 74 – gulp!), but I think it’s all relatively safe for the foreseeable future.

Jim: I don’t know that I am quite so confident that everything digital will be making the leap over to the next console — if only for the opportunity for Nintendo to repackage them down the line. But the Switch is such a convenient little bit of kit that I can see myself going back to it for the odd digital sesh in the future without any worries should my downloads not transfer over.

Alana: I think I agree, and I doubt I’m going to get rid of my Switch immediately when the future console launches, so I’ll have access to the games that way. I worry about game licenses and sudden removals, and the panic rush that people get into simply to “own” a game digitally. But that’s across all consoles and not just Switch.

Gavin: I think most of us here were guilty of hitting the 3DS eShop hard before it closed. Have I actually got ’round to playing that copy of Aero Porter I panic bought? Will I ever? Let’s pretend I’ll have the time one day.

Assurances and reasonable time scales

Nintendo Switch carts
Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

Gavin: As things stand, it seems nobody here has any horror stories about losing games from any digital libraries just yet, on Switch or elsewhere. Moving on, let’s talk about what assurances we’d like to see put in place before we’re happy — or at least willing to consider — living in the ‘inevitable’ digital-only future.

Let’s imagine that a digital-only ‘Switch 2’ or ‘Switch 3’ is a reality. We’ve discussed it before, and I think we’re all in agreement that all the time there’s a console variant with a physical cart slot, that’s the one we’d get, personally. If physical weren’t an option, though, what concrete consumer rights would you like to have in place to ensure prolonged access to your games?

Ollie: Two things, really. The first is that the option to actually purchase games à la carte remains — so, in other words, don’t go solely down the subscription/streaming path. And the second is that the purchases remain redownloadable for at least… I don’t know… A decade? Two?

Gavin: “I’ve got 40-year-old NES games I can still play!” is something I could and very likely would say – a decade doesn’t seem very long! It brings up an interesting point: Just how long is a reasonable time frame to expect access to redownload stuff you own? (Or stuff you own a licence to?)

Nintendo Switch Lite Forager cart
Image: Zion Grassl / Nintendo Life

Ollie: A decade is the absolute minimum, and I’ve already seen Xbox achieve this with digital purchases from the 360 era working perfectly fine on the Series X. Ideally, you’d want redownloads to be accessible indefinitely, right? But I don’t know if that strays into being unreasonable… I don’t think so.

Jim: I can’t put a precise time limit on it because it all still seems rather new for the entertainment industry. It’s the way that all things are definitely moving, and I can see us going through a few decades of way-too-short offerings before hitting the right balance. Like Ollie says, though, the ideal scenario is letting us keep hold of them forever, but I’m not technical enough to know just how tricky that would be.

Alana: I think my lack of input means I’m a bit blissfully ignorant – I just try and convince myself that yes, because I have paid money for the digital thing, I will have this thing forever. But that’s not the case, and I don’t really have an answer as to how to fix or guarantee that.

Gavin: It is a tough thing to put a number on. I’d hope that most relatively informed gamers understand the challenges and costs of hosting something, maintaining servers, account systems, etc, in perpetuity isn’t zero, but any number less than infinity sounds too short for something that’s notionally ‘yours’. Not even physical games last forever, though. It’s a poser. Is there a world where if a publisher wants to protect work with copyright, they’re obliged to host it for redownloads? That gets into wider questions of preservation, but it seems a fair compromise to protect something until it ceases to be profitable, and then release it into the wild. I’m still a little dumbfounded that Steamboat Willie, as it should be, is public domain now.

Resale away

Nintendo Switch game boxes
Image: Gemma Smith / Nintendo Life

Gavin: What about the ability to resell or gift your digital library? Would that make a digital-only Switch more attractive to you?

Alana: It’s baffling that the way to gift someone a game on the eShop, and a lot of other storefronts, is to buy a gift card/eShop card, when you know what they want. Being able to gift games would help. Refund policies, too – the eShop doesn’t have a great track record with refunds from what I know, which is why I’m picky with games that I buy on there. The idea that I might pay £50 for a digital-only game that I might not like puts me off buying it, even if it has great reviews. That’s the risk, I suppose.

Jim: Until a few years ago, I was a fiend for the trade-in market. It’s a cycle that was only broken by desire to collect and my love of seeing those little plastic boxes lined up on the shelf. I can see myself falling back into it if the whole thing went digital and you could resell. Sure, there would be certain titles that I would want to keep forever (your Zeldas, Smash Bros., Mario Karts… Vampire Survivors), but there are a lot of games that I wouldn’t have a problem with reselling after wrapping them up — especially for some of the money back to go towards the next one. Though that would come with problems of its own, I’d imagine.

Gavin: I think large-scale returns specifically are a consumer-friendly scenario that publishers want to avoid at all costs – uncertainty around whether a purchase could be refunded on a customer’s whim. Can you imagine a scenario where, instead of review-bombing, loads of players just refund their games within the set period? When profits could go down after being reported?

Alana: There would need to be measures on it for sure – Steam does a pretty good job, I think. And that’s a digital-only storefront. And the Steam Deck is a ‘digital-only’ console.

Ollie: I think that’s a given — you can’t simply refund any ol’ physical game, so it would have to be the same with digital titles. It would be a nightmare otherwise.

Official backups?

Could you ever be convinced to go 100% digital?
Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

Gavin: Steam is definitely the model that seems most relevant. What about the ability to back your games up yourself, officially? I’d imagine that idea would ring all sorts of alarm bells at Nintendo, but would some brand of official, personal backup solution put your mind at rest about building a digital library that you’d eventually lose access to redownload?

Jim: I think if there was a simple, official way to do it, I might feel a bit better about the whole thing. I can imagine a team like Nintendo offering a Google Drive-style subscription service where you can store all of your own digital games for the reasonable price of £13 a day (gulp).

Ollie: Crikey. Well, I’ve not even considered something like that. I think for me, personally, with there being so much new content being churned out in the industry at the moment (great games, mind), my mind has never really lingered on the idea of preserving my digital library or backing it up in any way. It’s always “Right, onto the next thing!” I know I’m in an extremely privileged position to think that, by the way. Not everyone can buy the next big thing right away.

Gavin: Yeah, given our specific profession, the idea of trading in games isn’t something that’s entered my head for a while, personally. So the idea that I could return or sell on a digital copy of something feels strange; an unusual concept. I’m such a hoarder these days.

Could Switch 2 be Nintendo’s final ‘physical-friendly’ console?

Nintendo Switch OLED
Image: Zion Grassl / Nintendo Life

Gavin: Okay, finally, looking to the future – do you think there’s a chance ‘Switch 2’ could be Nintendo’s last hurrah with physical media? Is Nintendo’s all-ages demographic too reliant on having something physical to wrap up for Christmas and birthdays to consider binning physical carts completely in the next, say, decade?

Ideally, you’d want redownloads to be accessible indefinitely, right? But I don’t know if that strays into being unreasonable

Alana: I think so. I think there’s a good chance that, like with the PS5 and Xbox Series, the Switch 2 could have a physical-only and digital-only model.

Ollie: I’m not sure. I think it’ll be a case of keeping an eye on the physical/digital sales ratio in the coming years. Yes, digital sales on the Switch have increased exponentially, but we always see the likes of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Minecraft hitting the top ten in the physical charts. Consistently. So I don’t know… It could be the last generation to support physical, though, certainly.

Gavin: Nintendo does have form – in Japan, at least – of kiosks you could go to and use to load the latest Nintendo release onto your official ‘flashcart’, or broadcasting games, even, with the Satellaview. Who knows, perhaps we’ll all be taking our Switch 3s into town and waving it over a contactless pad to load up 300 gigs’ worth of Mario Kart X.

Jim: Gosh, I am going to need to find something else to fill my shelves. I’m not going to have to turn to books, am I?

Gavin: Funko Pops, mate.

Thanks, everyone.

Nintendo Switch game shelf
Image: Gemma Smith / Nintendo Life

Thanks to WoomyNNYes for suggesting the topic. Let us know in the poll below which factors might make you amenable to a digital-only console, and feel free to elucidate in the comments.




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