Why do some older games (actual physical disc version) not play on newer operating systems, but if you purchase digital download version, say from Steam, it plays fine?

For example, F.E.A.R. will not load on my Windows 7 Ultimate from the disc but will play from Steam when I purchased it as a download.

  • Do you have a specific problem or error message as to why F.E.A.R doesn't work for you?
    – SimonL
    Jun 1, 2013 at 4:49
  • A window pops up during installation that says "file or data transfer error" and it will not continue to load at all.This happens on windows 7 and 8 and on 2 different computers. Jun 1, 2013 at 5:21
  • If you look on the back of your disc, do you see a lot of scratches or any deep scratches? It you see a lot of scratches on the disc, some of the data may be lost. Other than that I am not sure.
    – SimonL
    Jun 1, 2013 at 5:26
  • Oh well,it was worth a shot.Thanks for the info anyhow.Very much appreciated. Jun 1, 2013 at 5:27
  • I think with older games I'll just have to stick to the downloadable version. Jun 1, 2013 at 5:28

3 Answers 3


Most of the games available for Steam have been modified to install or work on the newer OS. When they haven't, such as with Railroad Tycoon 3 notes it is not compatible with Windows Vista nor Windows 7. If you view Railroad Tycoon 2 Platinum, it doesn't have a disclaimer because it works with Windows 7, Windows Vista, and older OSes. This is because it has been updated. For whatever reason, Railroad Tycoon 3 hasn't.

The games you have a physical copy cannot have their code updated (the disc doesn't magically change with newer code, after all). So if the game code or its installer needs changes to work on the newer OSes, then the physical copy simply will not work.

If you have an older game that you want to play but won't work on your computer's current OS, you might be able to get it to install and play using an emulator (such as DosBox for MS-DOS games) or by installing virtual machine software and building a virtual machine that runs that older OS.

  • Good answer, but unless the publisher/developer went out of their way to make a steam version of an older game they usually just have done what others can do with their physical copies as well: use compatibility modes to run the installer/game, apply necessary patches or in case of DOS games, use DosBox. The thing is, it can be a real hassle to find all necessary settings, patches and configurations yourself so the service Steam and GOG do with selling old games already prepared to run on new machines is very convenient. But rarely it is impossible to this on your own, just a hassle :)
    – Crovaxon
    Aug 15, 2017 at 7:15

The difference between the disc version vs. the digital download version is probably the patch version. The digital download is probably on the latest patch.

Thus, perhaps in the original version of F.E.A.R. the game's architecture is not compatible with the new OS, and in a patch issued since the creation of the disc, the game was patched to be compatible with newer OS and other sorts of software.

I've found a compilation of F.E.A.R. patch notes. I haven't found a definitive answer. Here are possibilities:

Version 1.02

  • Fixed a crash that could occur when a client tried to rejoin or exit after a failed content download.

This assumes that you managed to get it working at all to achieve a failed content download, which may happen if the game tries to update itself. Although, this doesn't necessarily state that it's a consistent inability to play, but rather only after each "successful" failed content download.

Version 1.06

This latest update corrects the loading issue with games saved before the 1.05 patch and several other various fixes.

This may affect you if you're trying to continue older games saved.

Version 1.08

This latest update fixes several issues.

Vague, so possibly making the gaming compatible with newer OSes, but one would figure that such a change would be worth mentioning.


Some really old dos games come with dosbox with a .conf file (for dosbox setup) that performs well on most modern PC's. If you want to install older games from disc or floppy i sugest using dosbox, it is a dos emulator. At first it might look challanging but most of the time all you have to do is drop the .exe on dosbox.exe and it will run fine.

You can also manually open dosbox and read/follow the instructions. What you want to do when you have a disc to install is dropping the install file on dosbox and handle the installation from there. Then drop the game.exe in the folder you installed to on dropbox.exe and your ready to go 90% of the time.

A bit more advanced is diving into the dosbox.conf, you can set a lot of options in there like how fast the game should run (cycles), if it should skip frames, play in full screen, the resolution, video filters (to make it look better), etc. Here you can find more about how to edit the dosbox.conf http://www.dosbox.com/wiki/Dosbox.conf if you just copy the dosbox.conf to the game directory and drag the game into dropbox.exe it automatically picks this config file and that is exactly how steam does this too. For each game you can have a different config this way.

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