Are PS4 gamers really ready to go digital?

  • Posted December 3rd, 2013 at 22:38 EDT by Glenn Gordon

Back in February, PlayStation 4 was revealed to the world, followed shortly by Microsoft’s Xbox One. Gamers were forced to wait and debate for grueling months to get their hands on the devices, and now, finally, the next generation is here.

One big thing that has been heavily promoted for this eighth generation of consoles is digital games. Microsoft in particular has been a big proponent of doing away with the use of discs for gaming, and many gamers around the globe have already committed to nurturing a digital-only library.

Why shouldn’t they? Digital games offer certain conveniences to gamers that discs cannot. They save precious space under the TV. Gamers can start a game with the push of a button without having to worry about losing or caring for a disc. They can also access their game libraries from anywhere. Some developers might also prefer digital games because they further ostracize the used games market and eliminate shipping costs.

In light of recent reports about ISP performance in the U.K., however, it is worth wondering whether or not the world is ready for the all-digital future that Microsoft once intended for its Xbox One. While more convenient in some ways, digital games have certain limitations that physical games do not.

Virgin Media recently commissioned market research company OnePoll for independent research. They found that many console users underestimate the time a download the size of a full video game takes. Virgin Media, in partnership with Sony, will next year offer blistering Internet speeds of 152 megabits per second, and even then a 50 gigabyte download (a size that some games are bound to have) will take almost an hour.

Fast Internet connections don’t come cheap, either; in the United States, and with the exception of the barely available yet ridiculously fast Google Fiber, one of the fastest Internet speeds available comes from power company EPB in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In addition to its gigabit connection, EPB offers speeds of 100 mb/s, 52 mb/s slower than Virgin Media’s will be, for $57.99 monthly. Most other nationwide services, such as Verizon Wireless’ FiOS, do not even offer speeds of 100 mb/s. Punchy Internet speeds can be costly investments, and speeds that match Virgin Media’s plans are not widely available across the nation, meaning that many gamers will not have the rapid access to their games they may expect.

There are workarounds to this, however (for instance, the ability of the PS4 to play parts of a game while it is still downloading), so perhaps the most pressing issue to consider is hard drive space. Both consoles ship with 500 gigabyte hard drives. This may seem like a lot of space, but when considering that AAA games are starting at around 20GB, it is easy to imagine all that space disappearing quickly. Many gamers are already anticipating games such as DriveClub, inFAMOUS: Second Son, Destiny, and Watch_Dogs, all of which are sure to be space hogs. Being extremely optimistic and assuming that each of these games is only 20GB, that’s 80GB gone in addition to launch titles, indies, movies, and apps picked up along the way.

What’s worse, the Xbox One’s hard drive is not replaceable without voiding the warranty. PS4 users can upgrade their drives freely, but if 500GB can be filled so quickly, how long will it be before a 1TB drive will need to be replaced? More dedicated PS4 gamers may want to consider larger hard drives, which can be pretty costly.

Some gamers may not have issues with subscribing to faster Internet connections or investing in larger hard drives. Some have already declared their intentions to buy expensive solid state hard drives to boost their consoles’ performance. Even so, many households in the U.S. and in the U.K. will not have these robust services, and as Virgin’s research determined, some Internet Service Providers will be hard-pressed to provide adequate service to such heavy-use subscribers, especially those that cap a subscriber’s bandwidth on a monthly basis.

Digital gaming makes for an interesting future indeed. The thing about technology is that it tends to start expensive and become less expensive and more mature over time. There are advantages and disadvantages to digital gaming, and the technology for it is there, but internet infrastructure is not yet mature enough to handle it on a worldwide basis. Until it is, and for the benefits that they do offer, perhaps some gamers should still consider hanging onto their discs.

How about you? Are you embracing the push for digital gaming? How has it helped you? We’re interested in what you think, so scroll down and let us know how digital gaming may impact your next-gen experience.


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