The Xbox One and PS4 Generation Isn’t Ready For Digital Distribution


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22 comments, 859 points

I feel like when it comes to the Xbox One over the past few weeks, the horse has just about been beaten to death with pointing out flaws in Microsoft’s logic and reasoning, so I’m going to hop onto a different topic that points out a fatal flaw in the reasoning of both Microsoft with the Xbox One and Sony with the PlayStation 4. We’ve heard a lot of talk about digital distribution as well as doing away with retail discs once and for all in regards to both consoles. In fact, Xbox One defenders have pointed out that Microsoft was going to do their best to provide a diskless console before those pesky complainers ruined it for everyone.

The stark reality of the situation is that even if things had gone according to plan, the plan was flawed from day one for one simple reason; 500gb hard drives. Both Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One have been reported to contain a 500gb hard drive in each console, at least at the price points that we’ve already heard of the PlayStation 4 at $399 and the Xbox One at $499. Technology has indeed advanced since both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were announced, but one thing really hasn’t changed and that is the included hard drives not being able to meet the demands of an industry moving more towards digital distribution.

Both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 gave consumers choices when it came to hard drive sizes when it came to purchasing a new console, often times a bigger hard drive being bundled into a much more expensive system in an attempt to justify the higher price tag. There were ways to work around these restrictions, like installing a third party hard drive, but it wasn’t always an easy task (although Sony did make it a lot easier with the PS3). I’m expecting to see more of the same with both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 when they are released, but my main concern is that the base systems are going to be shipping with 500gb hard drives.

To the uninitiated, 500gb might sound like a whole ton of storage for video games. For games on the current generation of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, it is a large hard drive, probably able to contain everything that you’ll need it to contain and more. But you have to understand that these games were losing lower resolution textures, compressed audio and video in some cases and more ways to make the files smaller. That worked just fine for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 the games are going to be bigger, a lot bigger.

I’m going to use an example of a game that was released for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 as well as for the PC with some cold, hard numbers, and that game is Battlefield 3. Battlefield 3 came on a BluRay disc on PS3 and on two DVDs on the Xbox 360, one for single player, one for multiplayer. Battlefield 3 on consoles was kind of muddy, lower framerate and so forth, even with the higher resolution textures from the disc installed, so it is easy to see that it was smaller in file size than on the PC. Battlefield 3 on the PC takes up just around 35 gigs of space, including updates and expansion packs. You could argue that without the expansions it would take up less space, so we’ll look just at the game itself (11gb) and the required updates (6gb), which adds up to 17gb required to house Battlefield 3. To get the full Battlefield 3 experience, though, you need to have over 35gb of free space. The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are going to be running on specs that will be equal to, or better than, what most PC gamers have today.

That is going to quickly become the norm for newer games that take advantage of higher resolution textures, audio and video. Games are not going to get any smaller, just a lot bigger. Batman: Arkham City GOTY Edition, which isn’t that huge of a game, takes up over 19gb on my PC’s hard drive. Some games, like Metro: Last Light only clock in at about 9gb, but that is for a game that was specifically designed for console releases that was also available on the PC. A game like Sony and Naughty Dog’s recent The Last of Us is said to have only 900kb of free space left on a single layer BluRay disc, which means just under 25gb of game. That is on a current gen console, too, for a 15 hour game.

While math might be my weakest area, let’s do some simple math here. If we predict that the average next generation game will clock in at around 30gb, give or take, and that consoles will ship with 500gb hard drives, which after formatting and system data will leave around 440gb of free space, how many games can you store? The answer is 14.7 games. The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 will be shipping with hard drives that will carry just 14 games. If you are like me, you’ve owned a lot more than 14 games on your PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, in fact, over the lifespan of the console, probably about 3 times that, if not more.

There will be games that will be a whole lot smaller than 30gb, of course, just like there will be games that will go well over 30gb during the lifespan of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, so keep in mind that these numbers are all rough and just to give you an idea of what to expect. The Xbox One is going to by default install games from the disc onto the hard drive and there is a good chance that we’ll see something similar on the PlayStation 4, which is why I truly believe that even if both companies had intended to push digital distribution or a diskless future, neither company is adequately prepared to offer that experience to gamers just yet.


22 Comments

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  1. Both console are backed by cloud storage. Also the ps4 hard drive is removable and the Xbox allows for external hard drive saves.

      1. Sony’s cloud storage is not only for saved games. Plans are to stream PS1, PS2 and PS3 games from it. And who knows they may even use cloud boosting technology just as MS, they just don’t boast about it because their system is clearly more powerful than the Xbox One and anything they add later on will just be another benefit.

        MS is acting like they rule the cloud when it is nothing special. Hell Netflix is a cloud, the way MS is using the idea like it is groundbreaking is nothing more than a sales gimmick to get those on the fence to jump over because they think the cloud is coming to save them, “one day”.

        The thing is node latency, overall bandwidth, data caps, as well as in network traffic can all create issues with the performance of cloud boosting capabilities. All I am saying is those expecting the cloud to boost their Xbox One system to another level is purely wishful thinking until the Internet infrastructures we utilize are able to meet more reliable standards.

        1. The name of the optional cloud gaming service on the PS4 is called Gaikai. It is a reputable cloud gaming service that Sony purchased. MS has been treating cloud gaming like it would be exclusive to their console, that has been distasteful to me.

          I am an ATT customer. ATT customers are a large portion of potential customers. ATT imposes caps that conflict with cloud gaming on the next gen level. A lot of those customers can not go anywhere else and those that can are capped by some other ISP. Most ISP’s have policies that are bad for the cloud model.

          Cloud gaming for me means fighting with my ISP. That’s not why I play games. I have to have an alternative to always being connected, especially if being connected means I reach an artificial cap that prevents me from being able to connect. MS reversed those requirements, but made me think about what they were wanting for and from me and how I don’t really control my ability to use their services. My ISP is against the clouds they don’t control. My ISP is my only available choice.

          1. Right, this is the kind of stuff that I’m talking about.

            I have Comcast and while Comcast offers some fast speeds, I’ve had my data throttled by them numerous times now after downloading too much.

            Cloud gaming is going to be a weird disaster under those circumstances and having to delete games off of my Xbox One to make room for other games, then when I want to play them having to re-download or re-install them is a pain in the ass.

            Those are literally the points I’m talking about here, but some people make it into other things?

      1. I haven’t seen anything on external hard drive use on the ps4. Not saying you’re lying doesn’t really matter but can you please link a source so i can check it out.

  2. Wish they wouldve made the XB1 hard drive user replaceable. Ive already been looking at external hard drives. If anyone whos more tech headed with hard drives can suggest one to me id be extremely grateful. Looking for at least 2TB.

  3. The PS4 has a replaceable HD while the Xbox does not. The minimal 500GB of space issue is not a problem for the PS4. BTW digital distribution is not always great idea, especially when distribution methods like the cloud are related.

    Ask yourself this, what happens when a gaming franchise dies out and a gamer who actually enjoyed the game still wants to play, but the cloud has deleted its existence due to lack of real monetary value? I’ve seen both Microsoft and Sony remove franchises from their digital listings, and this is a true problem when it comes to a gamer who might enjoy a little taste of nostalgia 15 years from now.

    If the cloud and digital game sales were a reality when I began gaming I am sure it would be somewhat difficult for me to actually enjoy my NES, N64, PS1, or Sega Dreamcast the way I want to; playing any game that suits my interest at that time and not the agreed upon interest of the seemingly clueless masses.

    1. Yeah, most people don’t have the know-how to replace a hard drive no matter what, though. Sony made it VERY easy on the PS3 to replace the hard drive, so I expect the same on the PS4. Most people just can’t be bothered.

      I know at least on the Xbox 360, even if a game isn’t listed for sale online anymore, as long as you’ve bought it, you can go and redownload it again. I only know this as I’ve had to do this a few times with my Xbox 360’s paltry 250gb hard drive.

      Cloud storage and cloud streaming of games is still such a new thing that we just aren’t sure about its functionality. For older games I don’t think that streaming them will be much of a hassle, but newer games will be a giant pain.

    2. Microsoft opted for external hard drive use. Imo I think that leads to more of a variety. You can get a 1tb hard drive for under a hundred.

  4. Heck, theres no problem at all with still using disk! Hardrives still arent all that reliable or guaranteed! in my mind i trust them about 70 to 80%! I cant wait till SSD’s Start rolling out with a more trustful standing point that todays Hard drives! Heck less power and heat!

    1. SSDs are amazing, but still extremely expensive right now. They are the step in the right direction, but still a few years away from being a standard, sadly.

  5. So basically the two of the largest corporations in video game hardware just screwed up? Xbox and Playstation has stated a number of time that ALL of their games will be stored in the cloud. The digital copies of the games are tied to your account and you simply download it to your local hard drive to play it. Your idea that every game we ever own is going to be stored on our console hard drives shows a complete lack of understanding of how both companies digital distribution plans would work.

    Step one: buy game
    Step two: download game
    Step three: play game
    Step four: get tired of game
    Step five: delete game
    Step six: repeat steps one – four
    Step seven: get fuzzy felling about an old game
    Step eight: download the game again

    Is there not an editor on this site?

    1. I think that you kind of missed the point on this.

      How many people are going to want to spend that much time downloading games AGAIN to their local hard drives. The hard drives shipping with these systems are tiny, period. I don’t care where the games come from, be it an online store of this mythical cloud storage, I care about how you play it.

      Games are most likely not going to be streamed from the cloud as internet connections are sometimes spotty, plus if everyone was playing a game from the cloud onto their system the servers would get so overly stressed out that MSFT and Sony would need to spend vast fortunes just to get those games streaming from the cloud.

      Who really wants to spend hours before they can play a game as opposed to just popping in a disk or just playing it off of a hard drive?

      What about this concept is difficult to understand, or are you just blowing off steam as an internet toughguy?

      1. Blowing off steam maybe but only because people seem to enjoy misinforming the masses. Most people are not going to look at the fact that you don’t have to spend hours downloading a game before you can play it. They are just going to take your word for it and hold us all back another gen.

        Both systems have been designed to allow a person to play the game instantly while the full game downloads in the background. Has anyone ever played an MMO?

        500 GB is not tiny in a dedicated gaming system. My main gaming PC has a 500 GB SSD. I have never had a problem where I have been forced to delete a game. I have pictures, movies and music stored on it to. Something that not all people will download for the Xbox One. I guess it’s turned into a bit of a media PC.

        Also, I believe Sony did spend a fortune to stream games. They bought Gaikai for 380 million dollars. We also know Microsoft spent 700 million dollars on a single data center in Iowa. They have stated that they will have 300,000 severs dedicated to Xbox Live.

        Sure I would like to have a bigger hhd but it’s not needed. Am I going to hook up external storage to my Xbone? Of course I am. Will PS4 guy put a bigger hhd in their system. No doubt. Are they needed for digital distribution to work. Not the way Sony and Microsoft have it planned out.

        What size hard drive do you want on a console?

        1. Trust me, I’m 100% an advocate of doing away with disks and going digital, but cloud technology, especially for stuff of this size, is still for the most part untested.

          Microsoft can talk about their network all that they want, but the idea of streaming from the cloud is still untested with millions of people on at a time.

          The same can be said for background downloads. There will still need to be a certain amount of data grabbed to get the game initially set up.

          I think at least 1TB is needed for what they are going for, as not everyone is going to use the cloud storage, nor will they be able to fully grasp it. The Xbox One is going to rip every game to the hard drive, how many consumers are realistically going to keep an eye on their drive space?

          1. Microsoft isn’t talking about streaming from the cloud. That is Sony by way of Gaikai. Gaikai has been around since 2008 and their whole existence is streaming video game. I would hope they would have figured it out in the past four years. Game publishers seem to think they had because they were signing up left an right before Sony purchased them last year.

            Microsoft is looking at more of a Steam model. You download the game to your hard drive and play from there. You do have to download a part of the game to start playing. You can look to current MMOs for an example of how that may work. I have never had a problem with a game downloading in the background. With most games I have found it to take between two and five minutes before you can start playing. That’s not a big deal for most people. We deal with those kinds of downloads now when your games update.

            Microsoft’s network has not been working like this in any meaningful way yet, so it in itself is untested but Steam has been using the same kind cloud technology for years now.

            It seems your problem is actually with your faith in the companies networks then with the size of the consoles hdd. I can understand that because no one outside of Microsoft and Sony has seen exactly what they have.

            Therein lies my issue with the certainty of your post. You make it sound like you know they can’t do it when it’s really that you don’t know how they can do it.

            With the network support 500GB is going to be fine for the vast majority of console users. The rest will plug in supplemental storage or yes have to watch their disk space. That being said, Xbox One is no longer going to rip disk based games to the hdd. All you will have on your either of the consoles drive will be DLC and XBL/PSN titles. Unless of course you plan to download your games.

  6. Data caps and bandwidth throttling are two of my biggest fears. My ISP hates for me to use services provided by other companies that they offer. In fact my ISP has imposed caps on my connection that won’t stand up very well for a next gen cloud game. Microsoft and Sony need to lobby against such artificial caps and throttling and say they’re doing it for consumers.