AAA Game Download Sizes Are Getting Out Of Hand

Two years ago I did a blog post worrying about the expanding file sizes of games as we move into an increasingly digital age. Looks like I was right. AAA games have gotten absolutely massive with the generational transition, and it’s outpacing some people’s internet connections. On the one hand this is inevitable, but on the other hand I feel there are a few things developers could do differently.

When or if I buy Wolfenstein: The New Order this year, it will probably be the physical PC version because I don’t want to have to download 50GB on my internet connection and monthly data cap. When I download a game on Steam my maximum download speed is around 1.5 Megabytes per second. Installing a 20GB game usually takes me six hours. If Call of Duty Ghosts — somewhere north of 40GB, shows up on a Steam free weekend, I have to spend 12 of those free hours downloading the game. Maybe EA’s Origin Game Time is a better take on the free trial idea since it doesn’t start your clock until you’ve actually installed the game. I elected to buy games like Max Payne 3RAGE, and Bioshock Infinite on discs mainly to avoid downloading them. We say physical retail is dead for PC gaming, but in my experience installing a game off a disc is still much faster than downloading it. This is probably why most PS4 and Xbox One owners are buying games at retail despite every console game being available digitally now.

The other problem is hard drive space. For most people it’s not much of a problem — the consoles each have 500GB hard drives and games can simply be uninstalled and re-installed. On PC, terabyte hard drives aren’t expensive at all. My problem is I decided to go with a Solid State Drive for my new PC. I love how fast it is — my system boots up and reads files at mind-blowing speeds now. I don’t think I’ll ever install another OS on a hard disc drive if I can help it. The problem is the price per gigabyte on SSDs is still insane, and I had to settle for a 128GB drive. As my system currently is, installing a game like Call of Duty Ghosts or New Order would consume basically all the remaining space on my drive. I’m having to put one of my old HDDs back into the PC as a secondary drive.

People hail the file size expansion as a sign video game graphics are moving forward. A lot of that space comes from higher-quality textures, especially for the PC versions of games, which is great. There are other things that might hog data however that I think developers could cut back on.

Developers should use less pre-rendered FMVs for one thing. The PC version of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is something like 25GB, but as I understand it around 22 of those gigs are consumed by FMVs. The actual game is somewhere around 3GB. FMVs made sense back in the 90’s when real time video game graphics couldn’t display events in storylines as convincingly. Pre-rendered CG graphics are always a generation ahead of video game graphics, but I’d say real time graphics have gotten good enough to display proper cut scenes. Plus, they mesh better with the actual gameplay. FMVs have also only accelerated their file size increases with the move to encoding them in 1080p.

What’s really messed up is that many games today use FMVs that are pre-rendered with the same graphics as gameplay (including Rising). Maybe things are rendered in those cut scenes that the gameplay engine can’t handle or doesn’t need, but I think developers should still try if it can make the difference in file sizes. Can some developers do a better job of compressing the video files if FMVs are unavoidable? Maybe some games should do a better job of storytelling that conveys more through gameplay and less through cut scenes and FMVs.

Do developers really have to include multiple audio languages with the download? With the move to uncompressed audio, which actually started with the PS3, some games are ballooning in size because they include eight audio languages and force digital customers to download all of them, even though they’ll probably only listen to one. I hear one game that has this problem is Max Payne 3, which is over 30GB. If you buy the Witcher games on Good Old Games, the initial download is just one language with the others available for download separately. What if digital distribution platforms simply let customers choose audio languages when they initially download games?

Then you have asset qualityTitanfall is 48GB on PC because it uses decompressed audio which is easier on dual core processors. In addition to choice of languages, why don’t they give players a choice on whether they want that decompressed audio. The same goes for textures. In my 2012 post I stated some pirate versions of Max Payne 3 came with only one audio language or with compressed textures to cut down on the download size. I wonder how many customers would be receptive to official distributors doing the same thing.

Is download compression an option? An interesting thing Titanfall actually does is compress its files during the initial download. That initial download is only about 20GB, decompressing to 48GB during the installation process. Is there some reason other 50GB games can’t do this?

Overall I think the main issue here is that right now, digital distribution basically means straight-up downloading the files that are on the disc. When developers know they can fit 50GB of data on a Blu-Ray, they aren’t really thinking about the guy who has to download those 50 gigs. If they did I think they would be giving people more options concerning what to download when they get a game.

I know the ultimate problem is ISPs in many countries. 50GB games probably aren’t much of a problem if you have unlimited data or gigabit internet. Unfortunately, many ISPs are only clamping down more on speed and data, and probably aren’t accounting for services like Steam or game consoles. Ideally the onus would be on ISPs to solve this problem by not being so stingy on the service they give people, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. In the meantime I think platform holders and developers should try to mitigate the problem.

BULLETS:

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