The big three game companies, Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft, have been offering the ability to purchase most major releases as digital downloads for a while now. How convenient! How cutting edge! Right? Well, not exactly.
So what's the problem?
There are currently a lot of problems with buying digitally on home consoles and handhelds.
1. You cannot resell the game if you want to.
2. If your console breaks, it's a pain to get your games back. This is particularly the case on Nintendo platforms*, though this may change in the future.
3. You can't bring your games to a friend's house or let someone borrow them.
4. The price is usually more expensive than buying a retail copy (look for sales and used games at stores besides GameStop. Duh.).
5. Each of the big three companies has shown that they are not dedicated to backward compatibility in digital gaming (or otherwise)**. Chances are that when current gen systems are "classic", or even before then, you won't be able to redownload your digital purchases, and, once again, if your console breaks all your games will go with it.
6. You don't get a nice box to display on your shelf as a badge of honor that sets you apart from pirates.
*As of now, Nintendo platforms currently tie your digital purchases to an account (that's good), but they tie your account to the console and have no system in place for transferring your account, and thus, your purchases, to a new or different console without calling customer service (that's bad). Also, virtual console games available on 3DS, Wii U, and Wii, are only playable on the console you made the purchase with.
**PS4 and XBox One are not backward compatible with PSN games from PS3 or XBox Live Arcade games from 360. Wii U is compatible with Wii virtual console games, but only inconveniently through virtual Wii and an entirely separate eShop. Upgrading your digital purchases to versions compatible with the new consoles will likely have limited availability and will cost you extra, even if you already own the game on a previous console.
But it works so well on PC! What's the difference?
PC games are primarily distributed digitally nowadays and have been for quite some time. The difference here is that their prices are typically far lower than what they would be for the console version of the same game. This makes up for the inability to resell the games somewhat. Also, most digital distributors of PC games allow you to easily install your games on multiple computers as long as you log into your account (or maybe even without logging into your account if you bought a DRM-free version). Furthermore, computers are relatively open compared with video game consoles, which means that, for the most part, you won't have to worry about your games becoming unplayable due to new hardware.
Well, holy crap, why would anyone be foolish enough to buy games digitally on a home console?
Most people are foolish, if you haven't noticed, but there are a few understandable reasons to buy digitally:
1. Socially inept gamers can buy their games safely from their house without the need to interact with store clerks. (Also, if you live far away from a game retailer, it can be convenient.)
2. Some people would prefer to deal with managing space on their hard drive or SD card and the hassle of redownloading games once their storage gets full, rather than deal with managing shelf space for the boxes of physical copies.
3. You don't have to swap out games (except when you run out of space and have to delete and redownload things).
4. If you're a shareholder of the game company in question, you can give more of your money to the greedy game company instead of supporting those greedy middle-man retailers.
5. You have so much money that you can't be troubled to look for better deals and don't mind if your games become inaccessible at some point down the line. (Or, by some stroke of luck, the digital version actually is cheaper by a large enough amount to make it worth it.)
6. There are no physical copies available and digital is the only option.
Still not sure? Here's a helpful flowchart to help you decide.
For more life lessons you can learn from gaming check out my post, aptly titled 5 Life Lessons I Learned From Gaming.