One question we’ve raised with the advent of a new console generation is whether US bandwidth will keep pace with game releases. A new analysis suggests the situation has improved markedly over the past seven years. While games are much larger than they were at the beginning of the PS4 / Xbox One era, average bandwidth has increased by a larger proportion than game sizes have grown.
Average US broadband speeds have gone from 19.6Mbps in 2013 to 132.6Mbps in 2020, according to an analysis by Ars Technica using Ookla’s SpeedTest.net data (disclosure: SpeedTest.net is owned by Ziff Davis, as is ExtremeTech).
In 2013, if you divide the average size of a PS4 download game versus average download speeds, it would take you 106 minutes to download the game. Today, that’s down to 44.63 minutes, which is a significant improvement.
The report runs through the data several different ways, illustrating that overall, US broadband speeds have grown faster than game sizes. From 2018-2020, PS4 game size topped out between 40-45GB, while US bandwidth speeds have continued to increase. This obviously doesn’t include Xbox data.
I don’t doubt the findings, but I’m cautious about how to interpret them as far as the future is concerned. First, these are averages. If you live in an area where download speeds are below average, you may have had a very different experience these past seven years. Second, people tend to remember the worst experiences they have where download speeds are concerned. If average games hit 100GB and top-end games are at 300GB, people are going to remember the 300GB whopper more than the other titles.
If games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare are hitting 185GB downloads in 2020, predicting 300GB games by 2025 – 2027 doesn’t seem like much of a stretch. A 185GB on a 500GB HDD is 37.5 percent of the theoretical space, but a PS4 offered ~400GB of storage for user games on a 500GB HDD, which brings the game to 46.25 percent of the total HDD space available. In other words, a 300GB – 400GB game by the end of the next console generation is downright expected, given the capacity increases we’ve seen now. It might even become more common for companies to ship these bunker-busters if they don’t have to distribute as many Blu-ray discs for physical media.
Also, note that increasing US broadband speeds don’t address the risk of slamming into broadband usage caps. Between the pandemic, next-generation cloud services, and products like the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, the monthly caps that may have been justifiable during the last decade aren’t going to make much sense for the current one.
The other problem with relying on average download speeds is that such estimates don’t include the areas where effective service isn’t offered. We know rural service availability is much lower than FCC estimates due to the primitive way the FCC estimates coverage for rural areas. There are broad swathes of the United States where these trends do not hold true. No one has a great explanation for what happens to gamers who live in these areas when physical media finally dies, as seems likely to happen sooner rather than later. Still, if you live in a well-serviced area, you probably don’t need to worry about download times shooting through the roof thanks to the next generation of consoles.
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