There are currently two options for getting new games:

  1. Buy a physical copy
  2. Buy a digital one

It seems that the pricing is the the same, so to me it seems that the digital one is better; you don't have to bother with a physical copy, needing to swap cartridges, and risking losing the game.

I am probably forgetting some key elements here, so is there something I overlooked?

  • 46
    Digital means you miss out on the experience of tasting the cartridges :)
    – Philipp
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 10:06
  • 2
    for what it's worth, I've noticed on the xbox one that @ release, physical copies and digital copies are the same price but once retailers need the space, they'll discount the physical copies quite heavily while the price of the digital copies stays pretty consistent.
    – sous2817
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 17:06
  • Its rather hard to wrap up a digital copy as a gift! Also (My last nintendo was a snes, so this is just speculation) there may not be any way to purchase a specific game for a 3rd party without knowing their account details.
    – Steve
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 10:05
  • I'm surprised at the lack of emphasis on the simple fact that physical media lasts for a long time. True, you can load the files to SD cards and then you have a physical copy. Regardless, there are still two good reasons to buy the Nintendo media rather than use SD cards. As others have stated it's resalable. Nintendo collectors today and tomorrow want that original media. Last, I can't vouch for the durability of SD cards but since they are made to be written/rewritten to, they will not last as long as a write-once chip used by Nintendo. Nintendo has never made junk. These chips will last.
    – RLH
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 12:44
  • @Steve 3rd parties like GameStop sell DLC codes. Buy one there, throw the receipt with the code in a card.
    – user8763
    Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 16:27

7 Answers 7


If you have poor internet, then you may prefer physical cartridges, to avoid needing to download large files.

If you are like my parents, you might not trust the internet for purchases and only buy things in physical stores - so the physical copy is better.

If you are paranoid, you might not trust Nintendo to protect your account from hackers, who might mess with your digital purchase history. And one day will Nintendo closes it's digital store, and downloads will not be possible (has happened for DS). For both these reasons you might get the physical copy as a guarantee that you will always have access to the game you paid for.

You may have friends. In this case, a physical cartridge will let you lend games you've finished to your friends. Hopefully they'll let you borrow some that they've finished.

Otherwise, yes, the convenience of digital makes that purchase method better for most people.

(edited to include suggestions from comments below)

  • 64
    Physical also allows you to sell the games or share them among your friends after you are done with them. Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 7:21
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    And to go along with 'trust' in point 2, if someday in the future you need to re-download a game (for whatever reason) but the Switch's storefront is no longer available (Nintendo is currently planning to close the DSi E-Shop by the end of March 2017) you won't be able to download, but you can still play all your physical cartridges. (Nintendo will likely give plenty of warning to download everything you need to before the cut-off date, but it is still a thing to consider) Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 7:39
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    Also of note; when you buy a physical game you get the box, which is a collectable, and the digital game requires storage space, which isn't free itself.
    – CAD97
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 8:05
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    Additionally, games downloaded to the local storage and SD card's load faster than with the cartridge. But its likely not that big of a deal.
    – Hoi_A
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 10:19
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    Additionally, the principle behind DRM is that with digital purchases the vendor may change the conditions at any time preventing you in the future to play an older game. This was recently done by Amazon with purchased digital copies of Orwell books. It is still unlikely to occur with digital purchases in general, but worth to note. Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 15:07

Two factors why sometimes physical is better:

  • As Trent already said, you can easily share it between friends or resell them if you don't like it. Nintendo doesn't currently have any way to refund your purchase (source)

  • The limited space on the Switch: If you only buy the online versions you might run into space problems. The Switch currently has only 32GB of internal storage, so you might need an additional SD-Card.

  • 1
    It might be worth mentioning that there are cases on other platforms where game publishers used online activation to bind physical media to the first hardware they were installed on. I am not sure if Nintendo does that. When they don't, it might be worth investigating if they theoretically allow publishers to do that.
    – Philipp
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 9:56
  • There are various resellers which sell Nintendo Switch Games. And from my experience could play Zelda without any internet access or binding to the local account.
    – Vulcano
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 10:03
  • Does the Switch handle update files as badly as the PS4? I bought a physical version of Dragon Age: Inquisition, and the day one update (or install file, or whatever - point is it's required to play) takes up like 40 gigs on my hard drive.
    – Tin Wizard
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 18:44
  • @Philipp Nintendo Switch games are bound to your Nintendo Account. You can log onto any number of Switches with that account to download and play your game, but only one may be considered "active" at a time. Before you can download a game on a new Switch you have to "deactivate" the account on the precious, which makes the games you bought with that Account unplayable.
    – CAD97
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 2:32

Nintendo offer a loyalty points reward scheme called My Nintendo for both digital and physical game purchases. Currently the points can be used for discounts on titles from the Nintendo eshop. Buying digital can earn up to 5x more points then a physical purchase.

For example if you bought Zelda: BOTW

  • Physical = 16 gold My Nintendo coins
  • Digital = 80 gold My Nintendo coins
  • This is insane. I don't know why they did it - it's a terrible idea. Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 19:52
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    @TamHartman They likely have agreements with retailers where they can't sell the digital copies for cheaper than the physical counterparts. They potentially are still able to give additional in-game content for the same price (or essentially a rebate in the form of a giftcard/coupon). Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 22:09

One thing that I haven't seen mentioned yet is that for someone who wants to proudly display their game collection, physical copies are easier to display, and may additionally come with a special display item like a statue if buying a more expensive edition.

  • You can display a framed screenshot of your library! Or make your own cases (I have DIY cases for some digital software I own, with a dummy disc inside)! Chances are endless when the motivation is high. And showing off is always a great motivator! :D
    – xDaizu
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 11:19

Physical games are better if you don't want to have to deal with Micro SD cards and USB flash drives. However, they can be lost or damaged. Physical games can be used on multiple consoles and can be sold.

Digital games on the Switch can be redownloaded as they are linked to your account and are more portable in the sense you don't have to carry a bunch of cartridges around. However, you will have to wait around for long and large downloads and if you have lower internet speeds it could take hours to download.

Both types of games store the save data on the console (as opposed to the 3DS writing to cartridges), and there is currently no way to transfer it so there still is a risk if something happens to your console.


Besides factors already mentioned, like protecting yourself from the situation when official shop servers are not maintained anymore, there is also a theory that Internal storage is a bit faster than SD, which is a bit faster than cartrige.

See this video for reference. They tested a game on various media, and although the test might not be extensive and conclusive, the fact that they constantly have a similar results might suggest that internal memory is indeed slightly faster.


First off i should make clear i don't have a Switch myself to test this with but i read an interesting article which may influence the choice between physical purchases or digital because it may have an effect on loadtimes. From polygon

In case physical games are read from "disc" like Nintendo used to do traditionally rather than being installed to the system's internal memory (NOT SD) and read from there you might experience longer loadtimes.

  • A good addition to this point is that the disc drive is loud. Sometimes, especially in cut scenes, the disc drive makes very loud noises. Digital game copies would circumvent this.
    – Ian
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 13:58
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    The problem is that the Switch uses SD-like cards, not optical discs. Here is some more information on this fact. Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 15:19
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    @ian_itor What disc drive?
    – Steve Ives
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 9:36
  • Oh damn me for not reading properly. I got BotW for the Wii U.
    – Ian
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 10:14

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