Further Observations on AAA Game Download Sizes

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If you haven’t seen it, my new feature article finally went up on PC Gamer. I’ve talked about rising file sizes once here before, but this article seems to have gone up at a good time with some new games coming out to raise the issue again.

The main new thing I did for that article was go and actually look up how much bigger games have gotten since the last console generation, specifically trying to track down download sizes distinct from hard drive requirements. I eventually found the lack of this information to be a huge failing of developers in general. I think developers need to start listing some kind of “download requirement” in the system requirements right next to the hard drive requirements.

With games on Steam, you really don’t know what the actual download size is until you click “install” and see the progress bar. The hard drive requirement isn’t even a good indicator a lot of the time. Sometimes the actual download size could be half that if the developer used a lot of compression. On top of that Steam’s new install process actually inflates the initial hard drive requirement, sometimes doubling it compared to the download size.

When Alien: Isolation went on sale recently I was hesitant because the game says it needs 30 gigs of your hard drive and I wasn’t going to callously take that kind of bite out of my monthly data cap. I had to search through Steam’s forums to eventually find out the actual download is only around 16GB. People had to wait until the Grand Theft Auto V pre-load went up to finally confirm the download is indeed 60GB, and some people are having to re-download it due to installation issues. The Witcher 3 is gonna want 35GB of your hard drive but I want to know if that’s how much I’ll actually download before I commit to a physical or digital pre-order.

As I said in the article, the only platform that uniformly tells you the download size before you start downloading is EA’s Origin client. Even there you still have to actually have clicked “install,” after buying the game. I (and probably some other people) have actually reached a point where a game’s data requirements have a real effect on whether I buy it from Steam or Origin or somewhere.

A story that’s developed this past week is how Mortal Kombat X tries to mitigate this problem with a piecemeal download scheme equivalent to the download-while-playing scheme on consoles and Blizzard’s stream-while-playing. Unfortunately NetherRealm and Warner Bros. don’t seem to have communicated this well enough to customers and worst of all only let people pre-load the initial three gigs. Still, it’s nice they figured out a way of getting such a system to work within Steam’s existing structure. Hopefully Valve will facilitate this kind of thing as a standard Steam feature for developers, as Valve has a tendency of creating new tools to help people.

One thing that really surprised me when researching that article is how pirates are already making considerations for low-bandwidth people. You’ve got “repacks” that heavily compress games (or rip out extra language audio), sometimes to less than half the size of the official digital version. I speculate it’s partly because a lot of pirates live in countries with really slow internet. Valve’s Gabe Newel is often quoted as saying piracy is a service problem. I think this counts as a service problem.

It would be nice if developers started doing things like letting users download only one the audio language they need, and maybe even only the one texture setting they intend to use. If they’re only gonna play the game with English voices and only use the medium or high textures, why make them download gigabytes of audio and texture data they won’t use at all. Maybe game assets aren’t coded that way. In any case, the only real solution is for people’s internet connections to get faster, which is probably going to require movements in how the internet industry is run today.

This whole story is currently only a problem for people who have a data cap and/or download speeds slower than 100Mbps. That’s the speed at which you can get a 50GB game in roughly an hour. If you’re above that, you probably don’t even need to be reading all this. Just don’t brag about that crap by posting your speedtest.net results in the comments. This is for people who could drive to the store, buy GTA V in a box, drive home, and install all 7 discs, twice, in the time it takes to download that game from Steam.

The thing is, I don’t know if video games alone will put that much pressure on ISPs to more widely adopt fiber or stop using data caps. Streaming seems to be putting on the most pressure, as it’s the most popular data-heavy thing people do right now. Most console players are still buying games on discs, and only a certain chunk of PC gamers are buying the 50-60GB games. Are we ever going to reach a point where Comcast or somebody takes notice of how much of its bandwidth PlayStation Network, Xbox Live, and Steam are hogging?

BULLETS:

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