A hot potato: In 2020, digital downloads overtook physical game sales for the first ever. The distribution medium has grown steadily over the last decade, making its prevalence inevitable. Both media forms have advantages and disadvantages, and users support either vehemently. But when does a physical game stop being a physical game?

Highly anticipated Star Wars Jedi: Survivor launches in just a few days, so retailers are beginning to receive allotments. Images of the physical version leaked over the weekend reveal that EA has not included the entire game on the disc. Jedi: Survivor box art says, "Download required" in fine print (below). In other words, that physical copy likely only contains an installer that retrieves the digital version from the internet.

Considering that Survivor weighs in at a whopping 155GB, which can't fit on a single disc, it might not be surprising that EA chose to do it this way. Putting all that data into physical media would require six dual-layer DVDs or four Blu-rays. So committing 155GB to physical media would cost EA much more than just selling a disc that downloads the game. To which old-schoolers might exclaim, "Remember Everquest 2 coming on 10 CDs?"

From a purely practical stance, why offer a faux physical disc if players can download the digital version more easily? Sure, there is a contingent of physical media collectors out there, but what about those wanting a hard copy because of poor or no internet access? Either way, EA will likely see many refunds going out to people who unknowingly bought or pre-ordered the physical copy, thinking it contained the whole game. The practice is becoming more common as game sizes explode. Still, something like this would have never happened years ago.

Back in the golden age of gaming, purchasing a video game meant getting a complete and finished product that was bug-free. Thanks to the internet, today's developers don't even need to release clean code since they can patch it via an internet download. In fact, it seems that development today is swinging to just getting the product out, even if it's unfinished, and fixing it later – Cyberpunk 2077, anyone? Even if a game maker manages to release an error-free title, many (if not most) games still receive expansions, cosmetics, and even new characters after launch. So one might argue that there are very few true physical releases games anymore.

Even still, many publishers continue selling physical copies, and one of the primary benefits of having a game disc is that nobody can take it away. With digital releases, the consumer only owns the title so long as the distributor doesn't go out of business or arbitrarily decide to stop hosting the download. We have yet to see this happen, but it's not outside the realm of possibility, and the consequences would be substantial. If Steam disappeared tomorrow, most people would lose their entire game libraries since very few people keep digital backups of every title they buy. But it would also include any physical media that rely on the digital version to run. It would be a hustle of epic proportions, despite the lawsuits that would inevitably ensue.

Image credit: Mighty Ape

Do you prefer digital downloads or physical copies of games?