What Would Convince You to Switch to 100% Digital Gaming and Give Up Physical Games?

We’ve explored the concept of a digital-exclusive Switch in the past — personally, we are not enthusiastic about it. Today, however, we are considering a slightly different question: In a future where going all-digital is unavoidable, what guarantees would you require to feel content with that situation? Would you ever be swayed to fully embrace digital content while retaining the option for physical media?

Let’s delve into this topic with Team NL…

Switch update – How immersed are you in digital content right now?

Nintendo Switch micro SD card slot
Image: Nintendo Life

Gavin Lane, Editor: To kick things off, what is your current digital usage with the existing Switch? How digital have you been?

Ollie Reynolds, Staff Writer: I’d say easily over 90% digital. I probably have around ten physical games.

Alana Hagues, Deputy Editor: I believe I’m closer to 75% digital, which is a significant increase from before. It has been over a year since I last purchased a brand-new physical video game.

Jim Norman, Staff Writer: [Cracks knuckles] I still predominantly prefer physical copies. While I’ve accumulated a decent digital collection thanks to some enticing eShop sales, my primary attachment remains with boxed games.

Gavin: In terms of ratio, Jim, what would you estimate? 50/50?

Jim: Without doing a precise count, I would guess that physical copies slightly outnumber digital ones. Maybe a 60/40 split? Or even 70/30 on a good day?

Gavin: Interesting. Personally, I am over 99% digital on the Switch, with only a few cartridges in my possession.

e(mphatic)Shop?

Nintendo Switch OLED
Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

Gavin: Considering that we are all deeply immersed in digital content to varying degrees, do any of you have significant concerns about the future of your digital-only Switch library?

I am apprehensive about game licenses and abrupt removals, and the ensuing panic…

Ollie: At the moment, not really. I highly doubt that Nintendo would move on to the next generation without ensuring backward compatibility with digital libraries. Given the increasing shift towards digital consumption in recent years, such a move would be unprecedented. While I may not have access to my digital copy of a game like Disco Elysium 40 years down the line (when I’ll be 74 – yikes!), I believe it is relatively safe for the foreseeable future.

Jim: I am not as confident that all digital content will seamlessly transition to the next console, as it provides Nintendo with the opportunity to repackage games down the line. However, with the Switch being a versatile little device, I can envision myself returning to it in the future for some digital gaming sessions without concerns about my previous downloads being unavailable on the new system.

Alana: I share a similar sentiment. I do not plan to discard my Switch immediately upon the launch of the next console, so I will still have access to my games in that manner. I harbor concerns about game licenses and sudden removals, prompting people to rush in a panic to “own” a game digitally. However, this issue extends beyond the Switch to all consoles.

Gavin: Many of us here indulged heavily in the 3DS eShop before its closure. Have I gotten around to playing that impulse-bought copy of Aero Porter? Will I ever? Let’s pretend that I will find the time someday.

Guarantees and reasonable timelines

Nintendo Switch carts
Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

Gavin: Currently, it appears that none of us have encountered horror stories concerning the loss of games from our digital libraries, whether on the Switch or other platforms. Moving forward, let’s discuss the assurances we would like to see implemented before we are content — or at least open to the idea — of living in an ‘inevitable’ digital-only future.

Let’s envision a scenario where a digital-only ‘Switch 2’ or ‘Switch 3’ becomes a reality. We have previously touched on this topic, and it seems unanimous among us that as long as a console variant with a physical cartridge slot exists, that would be our personal choice. However, if the physical option were unavailable, what specific consumer rights would you wish to have in place to ensure continued access to your games?

Ollie: Two things come to mind. Firstly, the ability to buy games individually should be retained — in other words, not solely transitioning to a subscription/streaming model. Secondly, the purchases should be available for redownload for a period of… let’s say… a decade? Two decades?

Gavin: Saying “I still play 40-year-old NES games!” is something I might say, and a decade doesn’t seem like a long time! This raises an interesting question: What is a reasonable timeframe to expect ongoing access to redownloading your owned content? (Or content for which you own a license?)

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

Ollie: A decade should be the bare minimum, considering that Xbox has already achieved this with digital purchases from the Xbox 360 era functioning seamlessly on the Series X. Ideally, you would want the option to redownload indefinitely, right? However, I don’t believe that would be unreasonable… at least, I hope not.

Jim: I find it difficult to set a precise time limit because the concept still feels relatively new in the entertainment industry. This appears to be the direction in which everything is heading, and I can foresee several decades of insufficient redownload periods before we strike the right balance. Similar to Ollie’s perspective, the optimal scenario would involve perpetual access, but I lack the technical expertise to determine the feasibility of such a system.

Alana: My lack of input suggests that I am somewhat oblivious to this issue — I try to convince myself that because I have paid for something digitally, I will possess it indefinitely. However, that is not the reality, and I do not have a solution on how to address or ensure that issue.

Gavin: It is challenging to decide on a specific timeframe. I assume that most well-informed gamers recognize the complexities and expenses associated with maintaining servers, account systems, etc., to provide perpetual access. While no form of media lasts forever, even physical games, determining the lifespan of something that is notionally ‘yours’ is perplexing. I am still astounded by the fact that Steamboat Willie, as it should be, is now in the public domain.

Resale options

Nintendo Switch game boxes
Image: Gemma Smith / Nintendo Life

Gavin: How about the ability to resell or gift your digital collection? Would this feature make a digital-only Switch more appealing to you?

Alana: It is puzzling that the current method for gifting a game on the eShop, and many other digital storefronts, involves purchasing a gift card/Eshop card instead of directly gifting a chosen title. Enabling game gifting would be beneficial. Additionally, having clear refund policies is crucial — the eShop’s reputation for refunds is not stellar, which is why I exercise caution when making purchases. The fear of spending £50 on a digital-only game that I may not enjoy deters me from buying it, even if it receives rave reviews. That risk factor, I suppose.

Jim: Up until a few years ago, I was heavily engaged in the trade-in market. The cycle was disrupted by my inclination to collect and my fondness for displaying physical game boxes on my shelf. If all games were digital and resale was a possibility, I can envision myself reverting to that practice. While there are titles I would want to retain indefinitely (such as Zelda, Smash Bros., Mario Kart… Vampire Survivors), there are many games that I would not mind reselling after completing them — especially if I could recoup some funds to put towards the next purchase. However, this approach may introduce its own set of challenges.

Gavin: Large-scale returns, specifically, pose a consumer-friendly scenario that publishers are keen to avoid at all costs — the uncertainty surrounding refund requests that could lead to a decline in profits. Can you imagine a situation where numerous players decide to refund their games within the allotted timeframe? This could potentially result in reduced profits being reported after initial sales.

Alana: Proper measures would need to be in place for sure — Steam has a relatively effective system in this regard, I believe. Notably, Steam operates as a digital-only storefront. The Steam Deck, for instance, is a ‘digital-only’ console.

Ollie: It is a foregone conclusion that publishers are loath to entertain the idea of unlimited returns, similar to physical copies. The same approach should be adopted for digital titles, otherwise chaos could ensue.

Official data backups?

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

Gavin: Steam stands out as a relevant model to emulate. What are your thoughts on the option to officially back up your games? While this idea may raise concerns at Nintendo, could an official personal backup solution provide peace of mind when building a digital library that might eventually lose access for redownloads?

Jim: Having a straightforward official backup option could potentially alleviate some of my apprehensions. Perhaps a service akin to Google Drive, offered by Nintendo, where users can store all their digital games for a reasonable fee of £13 per day (gulp).

Ollie: Gosh. I had not considered that possibility. Personally, with the industry churning out abundant new content (albeit exceptional games), the notion of preserving or backing up my digital library has not crossed my mind. It has always been about moving on to the next big thing for me. I acknowledge that I am very fortunate to have this perspective. Not everyone can afford to immediately purchase the latest release.

Gavin: Likewise, as professionals in this field, the concept of trading in games has not been on my radar for quite some time. Thus, the idea of returning or selling a digital copy feels unfamiliar and unconventional. I find myself increasingly becoming a collector these days.

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

Nintendo Switch OLED
Image: Zion Grassl / Nintendo Life

Gavin: Looking ahead, do you believe there is a possibility that ‘Switch 2’ could be Nintendo’s ultimate embrace of physical media? Is Nintendo’s broad demographic, which includes all age groups reliant on physical items as gifts for occasions like Christmas and birthdays, resistant to completely discarding physical cartridges within the next ten years?

The ideal scenario would involve perpetual access to redownloads, but I don’t believe that to be unreasonable

Alana: I think so. It is conceivable that, similar to the PS5 and Xbox Series, the Switch 2 could feature both physical-only and digital-only models.

Ollie: I am uncertain. It will depend on observing the ratio of physical-to-digital sales in the coming years. While digital sales on the Switch have skyrocketed, perennial titles like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Minecraft consistently rank among the top ten in physical sales charts. Based on this trend, it is conceivable that this could be the final generation to support physical media, at least definitively.

Gavin: Historically, Nintendo has experimented with concepts like kiosks where users could load the latest Nintendo releases onto official ‘flashcarts,’ and even broadcasting games with the Satellaview system in Japan. Who knows, maybe in the future we will be taking our Switch 3s into town and waving them over contactless pads to download 300 gigs of Mario Kart X.

Jim: Oh dear, I will need to find an alternative way to fill my shelves. Am I transitioning to books?

Gavin: Funko Pops, my friend.

Thank you, everyone.

Nintendo Switch game shelf
Image: Gemma Smith / Nintendo Life

Special thanks to WoomyNNYes for proposing this topic. Share your thoughts in the poll below on the factors that might persuade you to embrace a fully digital console, and feel free to elaborate in the comments.

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