Digital vs Physical: 6 arguments for each

For a game like Animal Crossing that you might very well invest thousands of hours into, it’s important to make the right choice between getting a digital download or a physical copy. Below are the pros of each.

Unlike the Nintendo 3DS and its predecessors, the Nintendo Switch does not write save data to the game card. Instead, save data is kept on the internal memory. Your save data is no longer kept seperate between game copies, be it digital or physical, so this is no longer a deciding factor.

Digital pros

More Gold Points

The Simpsons. Mr Burns is telling Zutroy: "Each gold point is worth a shiny penny!"

If you’re a big Nintendo spender, you may find it advantageous to save up some Gold Points. These allow you to save money on future purchases from the eShop.

Digital copies of games grant you 5% of their value in Gold Points, whereas physical copies only grant you 1%. So, in the US, buying Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the eShop for $60 will allow you to save $3 on a future purchase, or $0.60 if you redeemed your points for the physical version.

You will always be able to receive Gold Points when purchasing the digital version of games, whereas physical copies have a time limit on them. For physical copies, the Gold Points can no longer be redeemed after one year has elapsed since the game’s release date, or two years in Europe and South Africa.

Note that Gold Points expire after 12 months. If you don’t buy very much on the eShop, they’re not worth worrying about.

Greater profit margins for Nintendo

Mario holding loadsamoney.

Due to the relatively high costs of producing Nintendo Switch game cards, and the usual costs of retailers taking a cut, a greater percentage of your payment for a digital download will line Nintendo’s pockets. The costs involved in you downloading the game from their servers are negligible on an individual basis.

This might seem like an odd thing to bring up as a reason to go for the digital version. After all, you’d never think “poor EA only has a net income of a billion dollars – I’d better buy some lootboxes”, so why should you help Nintendo make more money?

The answer is quite simple:
At least in theory, Nintendo will be more inclined to release more updates for the game if they’re rolling in the Bells.

With this game in the series containing more than ever, spending an extra fiver on it still keeps the price surprisingly fair. So, if you’re not strapped for cash, consider using your wallet to show your appreciation for New Horizons!

Environmentally friendly

Plastic waste.

These days, we’re often hearing about how much plastic the population churns through.

Despite being nothing in the grand scheme of things, it would be helpful for our planet to, you know, not produce millions of copies of this game. Not only because of the process of turning non-renewable resources into all these game cases and cards, but because of the pollution involved in transporting them all about the place.

Marginally faster load times?

While this hasn’t been tested with Animal Crossing: New Horizons and the latest firmware available for the Nintendo Switch, Digital Foundry concluded that Nintendo Switch games load fastest from internal memory, followed by the microSD card, and finally the game card slot.

The difference it makes to loading times isn’t night and day, but it’s most certainly measurable and can add up to 5 seconds in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild between the internal storage and a game card.

If you play Animal Crossing: New Horizons a lot, the loading times might add up. This point is more significant if you would consider installing the game on the internal storage, rather than a microSD card. To do so, ensure a microSD card is not inserted into your Nintendo Switch when you download the game.

Can be purchased with Nintendo Switch Game Vouchers

Nintendo Switch Game Vouchers.

Exclusive to the eShop is the option for Nintendo Switch Online subscribers to purchase a pair of Nintendo Switch Game Vouchers. The price of these works out so that you have the potential to save money when purchasing two Nintendo Switch games digitally. They might be worth considering!

Note that buying some games with these vouchers will work out more expensive than not using the vouchers to begin with. They also expire after 12 months.

No card-swapping nonsense

Graphic showing a Nintendo Switch game card being inserted into the Nintendo Switch game card slot.

If you play any other games you own physically, having to swap game cards all the time could get annoying, and may even result in your precious game getting misplaced! A digital copy solves this issue.

Physical pros

You are in control

Digital game purchases are very restrictive, at the end of the day. With a physical copy, you can do the following hassle-free:

  • Play on any system without restrictions.
  • Lend your game to someone else.
  • Sell your game. First-party games tend to keep their value well, so if you don’t plan to keep your game until the end of time, this can make it much cheaper in the end.
  • Get a full refund if it’s still sealed. This may vary depending on your country’s law and where you purchased it.

Usually cheaper

Pennies tumbling out of a jar.
This photo reminds me… you can pay with cash if you waltz into a store on your nearest high street, unlike online!

Nintendo doesn’t want to undercut shops with its digital downloads, but shops want to undercut each other. In the end, buying a physical copy often works out a bit cheaper than going digital, and that’s ignoring the second-hand market!

Not a ticking time bomb

Screenshot of the Wii Shop Channel after its closure. The "Popular Titles" section reads "No software matching your criteria was found."

Okay, that sounds more dramatic than the reality is, but still. Digital games expire! Sort of. We have already seen this with the DSi Shop and Wii Shop. For those systems, you can no longer redownload your games. You may think you’ll never need to download your games again, but the cards are stacked against the Nintendo Switch for long-term digital game storage.

The first reason is that SD cards aren’t all that reliable. Due to the Switch’s limited internal storage, odds are your games will be on a microSD card if you’re at all a digital collector. The typical lifespan limitation for SD cards is write cycles, which shouldn’t be an issue for normal use in a Nintendo Switch. Even so, these cards have been known to fail out of the blue. I’ve had both SanDisk and Samsung cards go bad.

Even if your card doesn’t fail out of the blue, data can corrupt itself if you don’t rewrite it every five years. You can do this simply by copying everything off onto a different storage device, formatting the card and copying it back.

The second reason is that your Nintendo Switch will probably fail at some point. Its internal storage uses the same technology as SD cards, so I wouldn’t put too much faith into it.

The battery is most likely to go wrong. Even if you only use your Switch docked, you can’t ignore this, as dead lithium-ion batteries have a habit of swelling up. The good news is that even if Nintendo stops manufacturing and selling the batteries, third parties are bound to pick up the slack.

Less storage used

A microSD card, featuring a Triforce design.
These Nintendo Switch microSD cards look cool, but SanDisk Ultra is the same thing but a lot cheaper, and SanDisk Extreme is faster and a little cheaper.

Especially if you don’t have a microSD card for your Switch, the storage situation isn’t ideal. While the game’s download size of 6.2GB (excluding updates) isn’t the heaviest the system has seen, every byte counts!

While they’re unlikely to use a huge amount of storage, it’s worth remembering that this is a game which will be receiving content updates. This means you’ll still need to reserve some space on your Switch’s internal storage or microSD card if you want to stay on the latest version of the game and access online features. So don’t go overboard with taking screenshots!

No internet? No problem!

Wi-FI symbol crossed out.

This ties into the last point, and probably isn’t applicable to many of you. But for some, 6.2GB can be a lot to download and is best avoided. Those who use 4G or satellite internet, in particular, may have data caps to watch out for. Anyone with a broadband package from the past might, too.

Buying a physical copy avoids this issue, as all the important data is on the game card. This won’t avoid the problem of having to download updates for the latest content, but it helps. Seasonal events are not included on the game card.

You get a physical product

Sometimes it’s nice to have something you can hold in your hands, you know? A physical copy of Animal Crossing: New Horizons is exactly that. You can examine the front of the case, the back of the case and even lick the game card. Depending where you buy it from, you may get a bonus item with it!


What do you think? Do any points convince you one way or the other? Are there deciding factors I haven’t thought of? I’m open to all and any comments!

9 thoughts on “Digital vs Physical: 6 arguments for each”

  1. Hi,
    What do you mean by « Seasonal events are not included on the game card »? Does this mean if we buy the physical copy of the game we won’t experience the seasonal events? Or is it just that you need an internet connection, therefore Nintendo’s membership, to download the seasonal events?
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Yes. Once it’s downloaded, you can play it offline. The exception to this is if you have multiple Switches on the same Nintendo account, in which case it may need to verify with the server that you’re able to play.

      Reply

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