Games are getting big. This generation, we’ve already had Dragon Age: Inquisition clocking in at over 40GB, Wolfenstein: The New Order at over 50GB, and Halo: The Master Chief Collection at over 60GB. Not only do all these GBs take a sizable toll on hard drive space, they make purchasing digitally a potential nightmare. Thanks to the variability of internet speeds across the globe, coupled with the instability of Microsoft and Sony’s network infrastructure, it can often be faster to drive out and pick up a physical copy of game rather than waiting for a download to complete.
This can be incredibly frustrating for the loyal fans who digitally pre-order a game with the hopes of playing it day one, minute one. To combat the issue, Steam, PSN, and Xbox Live have started rolling out pre-loading for certain games, enabling the bulk of content to be downloaded in advance with a small activation file released on launch day. Unfortunately, the practice is still in its infancy, and things don’t always go smoothly. Furthermore, pre-loading is restricted to digital purchases only, and often doesn’t even pack in the ubiquitous day-one patch. Since patch sizes can also be ludicrously large, even pre-loaders can end up twiddling their thumbs for several hours before they can actually play the game they bought.
Not so long ago, buying retail was an easy way to avoid this problem. Last generation, and even at the start of the current one, you simply popped in a disc and you were good to go. Now, though, thanks to the aforementioned patches along with discs that don’t contain full games, even the trusty boxed copy is no longer a sure thing. This state of affairs doesn’t bode well for the industry’s digital future, nor its present, either. If the notion of pre-ordering is to remain relevant, the system needs to recognise and reflect the weaknesses of the world wide web.
Pick-your-own preload. It’s so crazy it just might work!
Surprisingly, of all the industry players, Nintendo is the one taking the first step in this direction. Despite being notoriously slow to respond to technological advancement, the company announced during its recent Nintendo Direct that Xenoblade Chronicles X, launching on the Wii U in December, will support pre-loading even for purchasers of physical copies. 10GB worth of data packs - essentially cached resources from the full game - can be downloaded prior to release in order to speed up install and load times come December 4. It’s a smart move, since a lot of consumers who favour physical copies do so due to unsuitable or unreliable internet connections. Allowing them to tackle the downloads at their own pace without sacrificing play time ensures that no one is left out - a very Nintendo philosophy, and one that its contemporaries would do well to adopt.
Digital is the future. Cutting out physical overhead increases profit margins for both publishers and console manufacturers, enabling lower price points and greater savings for consumers. What better way to ingratiate customers into the digital economy than to show them the benefits first hand? A positive experience with pre-loading will make them more open to other digital ventures. Like in all things, familiarity reduces resistance, and when it comes time to retire physical games, the more people already bought into the digital ecosystem, the smoother the transition will be.
So, Sony? Microsoft? You might want to take a page out of Nintendo’s book here. The PS4’s play-while-installing feature is junk, and the 16GB and 20GB day-one patches for Borderlands: The Handsome Collection and Halo: The Master Chief Collection respectively on Xbox One are simply ludicrous. Since it doesn’t look like the practice of shipping unfinished games will abate any time soon, it is up to the Big Three to respect and protect the interests of their loyal fans. Gamers just want to game; is that really so much to ask?