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Digital vs. Physical Games on Switch: Pros and Cons

There are pros and cons to opting for both physical and digital games on Nintendo Switch and Switch Lite. We've lined out what you should consider here.


If you're looking to build a Nintendo Switch game collection of your own or for your family, you might have been faced with an important decision in the past: should you buy digital or physical games? Maybe you're looking to buy a few games right now and you just aren't sure which way to go. There isn't one correct answer when it comes to amassing a Nintendo Switch game collection. In the end, you have to decide what's best for you or your friends and loved ones based on a variety of factors.

Trying to decide between both options right now? We've got you covered. Here are a few things you should consider regarding whether you should pick up physical Nintendo Switch games or whether it's a good idea to go digital.

Should you choose physical or digital Nintendo Switch games?

A glimpse of the Nintendo Switch menu, which features several games loaded onto the system.Source: Nintendo

When purchasing game on the Nintendo Switch, you have two options: digital or physical games. You can mix and match between game types, but both have their own unique sets of pros and cons you should keep in mind when making each purchase. Here's a quick rundown of the important factors you should consider.

Physical games on Switch

An image of a Nintendo Switch cartridge, front and back. Source: Nintendo

Physical games can be purchased just about anywhere electronics are sold, like Walmart, Best Buy, Target, or GameStop. They come on physical cartridges that you can place in your Switch in cases that are smaller than those traditionally used for discs.

Here are some pros and cons dealing with your potential choice to purchase physical versions of Switch games.

Pros of physical games on Switch

1. The game is yours whether it's delisted or removed from the Nintendo Switch eShop
When you purchase a physical game, you can no longer have access to it revoked, even if the game is removed from the Nintendo eShop servers. That isn't the case with digital copies. That means you can hold on to games, well, forever, in theory -- until you sell them or otherwise get rid of them.

2. You don't need to wait to download the game
Unless there's an update you need to download, just pop the cartridge in and you can play right now, without having to wait for a game to download.

3. It doesn't take up storage space
You don't need to install games other than their save and update data, so you don't take up precious space on your system.

4. Easily shared with others
You can let friends and family play the games you buy without having to go through any frustrating sharing procedures on your Switch. Just lend cartridges back and forth.

5. Buy, sell, or trade cartridges
Your game is yours to sell. You can buy, sell, and trade Nintendo Switch physical cartridges to your heart's content.

6. Comes with cool physical goodies
Many physical Switch games come with cool additions, like soundtracks, posters, booklets, and more. You also get a storage case to keep your game in for a nice, neat collection on your shelf.

Cons of physical games on Switch

1. Cartridges can be lost
The Switch's cartridges are very small, slightly larger than a quarter. They can be easily lost, and if you lose them, you'll have to buy replacements.

2. Multiple games need to be carried with you
If you want to swap out games on the go, you need to carry them with you at all times, unlike when they're installed on the Nintendo Switch.

3. Games take up physical space in your home
The more games you have, the more space you'll need in your home to store them. This isn't great news for anyone with small spaces who wants to own plenty of Switch titles.

4. Not every game is available with a physical copy
Some Switch games only get digital releases on the Nintendo eShop, so you won't get to buy a physical version.

Digital games on Switch

A look at the Nintendo Switch eShop.Source: Nintendo

Digital games are a great choice for any Switch players who don't mind buying plenty of storage for their system or giving up physical versions of their games. They're quick, convenient, and put your favorite titles at your fingertips. Plus, you can't lose them like tiny cartridges.

Here are some pros and cons regarding whether you might want to pick up digital versions of Switch games instead of physical.

Pros of digital games on Switch

1. Available as soon as they finish downloading
You don't have to wait for a game you purchased to arrive at your home or go to pick it up. You can play a digital Switch game as soon as it's finished downloading and updating without leaving your couch.

Can take multiple games anywhere with you
Depending on how much space you have on your Switch, you can download and store multiple titles to play on the go, which means you can swap out the game you're playing as you see fit.

Easily redownloaded again and again
All games you buy digitally are stored via your Nintendo Account ID, so you can just redownload them as many times as you want when you delete games to free up space, no problem.

Can't be lost
You can't lose a digital game since it's right there on your system. Barring store removal or licenses being revoked, it's there for the foreseeable future.

Some Switch games are only available digitally
Many Switch titles only receive digital releases and aren't available physically. If you opt for digital, you won't miss out on any of the games that release for the Switch, and you'll be sitting pretty.

Cons of digital games on Switch

You can run out of space easily
Unless you buy massive storage cards, you'll likely continue to run out of space on your Switch. This can be a bit frustrating but that's how you store all your games, so you'll have to keep buying more memory.

Downloads can take a while
Depending on your internet connection, it can take some time to download your games. If you have a slow connection, it's an exceedingly bad idea to try and download all your games on Switch, so you'll have to find a place where you've got the speed and bandwidth.

Games can be removed from the eShop
Occasionally, games can be delisted from the eShop, and you'll no longer be able to download them. You essentially won't "own" the game anymore if you can't download it, and you won't receive a refund for your time.

Games can't be shared, traded, or sold
You can't simply share, trade, or sell the games you purchase on Nintendo Switch when you buy them digitally. They are tied to your system, for better or worse.

You must have an internet connection to play digital games
The Switch must occasionally "call home" to verify that you are indeed the owner of the game you're playing. Additionally, if you aren't on your primary system, your Switch will need to verify that you can play a game and it's yours before starting. That means unless you have portable internet, you can't take it on the go.

The Verdict

A Nintendo Switch showing Animal Crossing on its screen. Source: Unsplash

When it comes to deciding which version of a game is right for you, whether it's physical or digital, it really depends on your lifestyle. If you don't mind having a large physical space set aside for games and cartridges or using cartridges to swap in and out your games, you should go physical. If you're enamored with how you can carry multiple games at a time on your Switch or how you can download and play right away with digital, then choose the eShop for your needs.

Many will find that a good mixture of both purchasing options will work best for them, according to their situation. You can always borrow a little from one column and a little from another to customize your Switch experience. That's the beauty of choice, after all.


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