Cure for massive downloads: Piracy vs Retail

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There are no two ways about it, games have gotten bigger. While many people are celebrating the launch of GTA V on PC today, most fans had to start their download days ago if they hoped to play today; 60GB takes quite a lot of time on any line speed. There are ways around these massive downloads, but are they your best choices?

Over on PC Gamer, they looked at the growing size of games and how internet speeds (and caps) can’t keep up. However, they raise an interesting point when looking at the ways that people work around these massive file sizes. Pirates even care about file sizes, offering “repacks” which are essentially versions of games where they’ve compressed textures, audio and videos that then use special installers to decompress. Some repacks also strip audio support down to one language. This actually makes sense for publishers to look at – I never replay beloved games in a different language, if I could save on downloads by only getting my language of choice from the start, that would make life easy.

However, I cannot possibly condone piracy. It’s a blight on every industry it plagues, taking money away from creators and making it harder for people to feed themselves by creating our favourite form of entertainment. I know many people give a range of justifications for piracy, but in the end it’s stealing from the very people we need to support.

Of course, some people are going old school instead of digital distribution – retail is often an option for those who want to avoid massive downloads. However, it comes with its own headaches. I will never forget the horror of StarCraft 2; after buying the collector’s edition, it was still days before we could play thanks to the CD only containing the 4kb unlock file to start the digital download. Even when the data is stored on the discs, they aren’t Blu Rays (thanks to a relatively small number of PC Blu-Ray drives in circulation). Prepare for multiple discs and their associated installation issues.

Finally, if you buy at retail, you are most likely facing higher prices due to fewer sales. While locally at launch retail is often cheaper than Steam, games take much longer to get marked down to the extent they are on Steam or GoG. Plus, you may not be able to play through your portal of choice. For example, if you buy GTA V physically to avoid the 60GB download, you can’t install it through Steam, only through Rockstar Social Club. Sure, you can eventually link it to your Steam library, but you won’t get all the usual Steam benefits.

Digital is definitely the way forward – it’s the future and it’s the reason that local game distributors will face some serious struggles in the coming years as retail continues to decline. However, publishers should be careful of writing off retail too soon. Even on a 100Mbps line, a 40-50GB game takes an hour to download. Most of the world doesn’t have 100Mbps lines. The average in the US and Europe is around 30 Mbps with only South Korea and Japan averaging 40-50Mbps. The rest of the world is more likely to average speeds of 5Mbps which means that same game would take about a day assuming the download went full speed the whole time. Of course, very few of us have full speed lines regardless of how much we download, and upon getting throttled or shaped, the downloading experience deteriorates.

So, is there a cure for massive downloads? Probably not. You can buy at retail and pay more for the games, or you can fork out for more expensive internet and hopefully take advantage of sales online. Even pirated versions of games are massive, plus have the associated risks and downsides. Unfortunately, there is no magic cure. I just fear that Gavin was right in his predictions about the impact of digital distribution. Oh, and let’s not even talk about all the HDD upgrades that we’re going to need with games this size…

Last Updated: April 14, 2015

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