It’s a common situation. You come home, super excited to play your newest purchase or your favourite game, only to load it up and discover a patch needs downloading. Not just any patch either, but a few gigs worth of data. So you sit and wait for your internet to complete said download, maybe read that paperweight of a book you’ve been holding back on. Or worse, curse to the high heavens that you don’t have enough data left for the month to download it.
Modern gaming, am I right? Gone are the days of just popping that cartridge in and playing within second, especially given ‘next-gen’ hardware requires an instant installation to the hard drive. The day one patch is a real killer too and though it’s easy to say ‘be patient’, that’s not the point here. The real story behind this issue isn’t downloading patches per se, but the internet itself.
According to a recent international report by Akamai Technologies, Australia ranks as the 44th country in the world in terms of average internet connection speed per user at 6.9Mbps (Megabits per second). That’s in comparison to South Korea, the top country in the world at 25.3Mbps, or our neighbours Singapore at 12.2Mbps. And that’s just an average, with most households in ‘the sticks’ or outside city areas getting at little as 1Mbps.
Running on an old copper network whilst the Federal Government twiddles its thumbs over its higher speed broadband plans doesn’t help the situation. Not only are we one of the slowest data download rates right now, we could remain so for some time, leaving many Aussies in a predicament as online downloads become larger per year, with file sharing and video streaming all the rage (don’t get me started on Netflix).
To put this into perspective, my personal internet speeds pushes a couple of gig, which in many countries would only take a few minutes here or there, to either side of a few hours. Cast your mind back for a moment to the next-gen console launches, where I sat through most of my first two days with my Xbox One unable to play a thing whilst the console downloaded its mandatory update, followed by a lengthy installation and update install of my launch titles (Assassin’s Creed Black Flag, Dead Rising 3 and Forza, for those of you interested).
It may not sound like a big problem, but consider the fact that many video games that require day one patches specifically are either useless or unplayable until the patch is in place. Remember my gripes about Halo last week? That 15GB day one download for the Master Chief Collection contained a bulk of the single player campaigns for Halo 3 and 4, along with almost all the multiplayer maps and modes (and that’s according to the game itself) among other things. To play without the patch would have left you with barely half a game, and attempting to use the Xbox ‘play now’ feature which comes up when a certain percentage of the game has installed doesn’t always improve the situation.
I don’t begrudge a studio that continues to better its titles long after the big fat gold stamp arrives, but shipping something that’s undercooked or not correctly tested is a pure insult to your fan base. It’s one of the reasons why I applaud the likes of Blizzard who, for the most part, release their tiles ‘when they are ready’ instead of placing a release date down too soon. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, I respect the decision to just knuckle down and get it right.
I am concerned, however, that developers are banking too much on their brand name than the actual quality of their products before and during a launch. How often do you see a big name game and think ‘man, if they’d just had a few more months to work on this.’ Yeah, it’s a pain to see the likes of Batman be delayed, but in the back of my mind it’s almost a reassuring point that they want to get it right.
Well … almost *cough* Watch Dogs *cough*
It doesn’t help that almost every day there’s another patch to install, or some awesome DLC that’s almost as big (if not bigger) than the original installation. I stopped playing Dead Rising 3 because of that, with each DLC pack taking up massive amounts of my (at the time) small download limit. I’ve since moved over to a plan where my Xbox downloads don’t go towards my monthly limit, a Godsend for a player such as myself, but there are many gamers out there who can’t afford to or who don’t live in an area where such a connection is available.
Downloading is of prime importance to the gaming industry now, especially for indie developers on Steam or iOS. But as a gamer, as a fan and a tech enthusiast, it’s not a pleasant situation to be a part of. If Australia continues to lag behind in the internet speed race whilst the focus on online downloading or streaming continues to grow at a rapid rate, God only knows how annoying, frustrating … wait, let me get my thesaurus … nettlesome, that’s a good one … vexing … how about just trying? It’s going to be a trying time, at least for the foreseeable future.