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

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.

Dave Walsh is a well-known combat sports journalist specializing in Kickboxing and also works as a freelance journalist specializing in gaming and entertainment.