Physical disc-based games and media are still the king for most users. For those of us without fast internet access, there’s simply no alternative. In many industrialized countries internet speeds just aren’t fast enough—or they’re not affordable—to be able to download large files. The broadband access that is there is painfully slow, averaging below 20 Mbps in many rural areas. A 100 GB game could take literal days to download.
Digital downloads of all kinds have been dominating media distribution for years, and video games have been feeling the sting. And with the problems of access and cost, many users prefer physical. And it would seem that’s just becoming more maligned by publishers as time goes on. Video game consoles also have to deal with storage woes, making this even more annoying. So when a game forces a day one update that’s dozens of gigabytes in size, there’s a major problem.
The recent release of Far Cry 6 illustrated one annoying aspect of this trend. Though it is possible to play the game offline, if you try to install from the disc, you have to download the vast majority of the game’s files. If you insert the game into an internet-connected console, you will be forced to download a 68GB patch before you can play. Other games often push out huge patches that take up insane amounts of space, like The Division 2.
The post drew a lot of affirmations from other frustrated gamers. This has been a problem brewing for a long time. And it seems like this problem will only grow as time goes on. It seems like more and more game discs are effectively useless. Gamers are spending $60+ for the privilege of having to wait three days while the game downloads, when they supposedly bought a copy of the game on disc.
I get it, game developers have to roll post-launch bug fixes into big patches for various reasons. And oftentimes it’s just better to overwrite all the game’s files than try to selectively replace certain bits and pieces. There are so many technical hurdles to making games, and the download times are a minor hurdle for most users. But for the users that genuinely cannot access fast internet, it feels like they don’t matter.
These scenarios present a worrying sign for game preservation as well. As more and more games move into entirely digital distribution, they will eventually be lost. Servers fail, hard drives stop working. Eventually, the data that was these games will be lost forever. And sure physical media can fail, but cartridge and disc-based games can last for decades. I’m loathe to trust that a game can even remain on Steam for that long, let alone remain purchasable.
With the ever-present exploitation and crunch within the games industry, it feels like many AAA releases are getting worse over time. The amount of bugs that have to be patched post-launch just seems to expand in every game. Maybe it’s time to end crunch culture and give games a few more months in the oven. So maybe, the “gold” version of a game that goes out on discs can avoid this problem.