For the Love of the Game: Going All Digital on Xbox 360

Posted on December 30, 2015 by Paul Thurrott in Xbox 360 with 0

For the Love of the Game: Going All Digital on Xbox 360

One of the many things I really like about Xbox One is that I have the option of going digital-only for games and foregoing disc-based titles all-together. But since I keep an Xbox 360 around solely for the Call of Duty games that aren’t available on Xbox One, I decided to start over and go all-digital on the older console as well.

As you may know, once a month I head up the street and play various Call of Duty games online with a bunch of friends: We team up in person and take on the world. Or, at least that part of the world that is still playing Call of Duty on Xbox 360.

I purchased at least two copies of every Call of Duty game for Xbox 360, one for me, and one for my son. And most of them are disc-based, as Microsoft didn’t offer digital first-run games until the release of Call of Duty: Ghosts. So we have at least two discs, each of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, World at War, Modern Warfare 2, Black Ops, Modern Warfare 3, and Black Ops 2.

Why “at least”? Because Xbox 360 games are curiously fragile, and the console would often chew up game discs and spit them back in unplayable form.

Despite this, we’ve had a curious issue for the past few meetings. The invite goes out, specifying which two games we’re going to play that month. And I show up, often with my son in tow, with our complete (and shrinking) collection of Xbox 360 games, which includes mostly our COD titles. And for some reason, we’re always missing a game disc each month. Or one simply doesn’t work because it’s scratched.

I’d been looking at re-buying the COD games online in digital (non-disc) format over the years, and vaguely planned to gradually replace older disc-based games with digital copies. But for whatever reason—popularity, I bet—the COD games have historically been pretty expensive, especially for games that were hardly new. I wasn’t going to drop $30 a shot to rebuy games I already owned.

But with sales such as the recent Countdown promotions, lower prices could be had. And over time, I purchased some number of these Xbox 360 games in digital format. (I later found out that, as of this week, I have them all, actually.)

So I decided I was going to uninstall the disc-based versions of the games from my console, one-by-one, and replace them with the digital-only versions. The reason for this is simple: With a disc-based game, you always need to insert the disc when you play, even if you had installed the game to the hard drive. (Which I always did.) And so, over the Christmas holiday, I set out to do just that. And boy was it a slog. Here’s the basic process I went through with each game:

1. Uninstall the disc-based game. Using the Storage interface in Settings, you have to manually find the game you wish to swap out and then delete it from the HDD.

2. Install the digital copy. Using the Game Store, search for that game and install it. (This assumes you already own it, which I did in each case.)

3. Wait for half a day. This is the kicker. Most of the COD games weigh in at around 6-8 GB, but Microsoft is clearly throttling the downloads, and each of these games took the better part of a full day to install to the HDD.

4. Find and install the DLC. Each of the Call of Duty games provided some number of maps and map packs (what we called downloadable content, or DLC), and these are typically accessed from within the game. I own all of it of course, and the download sizes range from a few to several gigabytes depending on the game. This process also took several hours for each game. Yes, really. (I discovered late in the process that you could just delete the game and leave the DLC on the HDD and it would work, saving some time.)

5. Repeat for each game. And do the math here: I installed seven COD games, and each one literally took all of a day, often finishing up over night. My Xbox 360 was up and running, and downloading and installing, for a full week.

6. Find and play the games. The Xbox 360’s Dashboard is not as efficient or configurable as what I’m used to on the Xbox One. But that’s OK, I am all about shortcuts: To get to My Games in the Dashboard, you just press RIGHT BUMPER, RIGHT BUMPER, (A). And you’re good to go.

My conclusion? Totally worth it because I can play these games without hunting around for a non-scratched disc. Though I see no reason why the bandwidth was throttled like that.

I do understand that digital-only games aren’t for everyone. But the biggest complaint about these games—that you can’t resell them—doesn’t apply to me, at least not in this case. And if these COD titles ever make their way over to the Xbox One through its new backwards compatibility, I’ll happily install—and play—them on the newer console.

Even if it takes all week.