Why Monster Hunter: World's Small File Size is a Big Deal

Games are getting bigger, so why does that matter, and what advantage do smaller games have?

The file size of games has been a growing discussion for a few years now, and recent news about Monster Hunter: World’s smaller than expected file size has reignited the conversation about the importance of file size. Two major hurdles gamers face when downloading bigger games are the limitations of their internet and the hardware they have available to them.

Taking AAA games from 2007-2008 like BioShock, Fallout 3, or Call of Duty: World at War, and comparing their file sizes of roughly 4 to 8 GB to similar AAA games today like Prey, Horizon: Zero Dawn, or Call of Duty: WW2with file sizes of around 35 to 45 GB, we see that games are four to ten times bigger than they were a decade ago. Over that same span of time, the rate at which internet speeds have increased is only about half, with speeds today about five times as fast, at best, as they were a decade ago. That means games are taking longer to download now than they did a decade ago. With the game industry’s foray into 4K content, and the added file size that comes with those upgrades, the size of a game and download speeds are going to become more important than ever to gamers. This is why smaller games like Overwatch, Rocket League, and Monster Hunter: World will have a large advantage over bigger games in their ability to remain one of the select few games that don’t get deleted from a console to make room for new games.

According to the Akami’s State of the Internet report, average internet speeds in the U.S. for Q1 Of 2017 were 18.7 Mbps, while average peak speeds were 86.5 Mbps. Using these two numbers as an approximation, a game that is around 40 GB like Horizon: Zero Dawn could take between 1 and 4.5 hours to download before any patches or DLC also need to be downloaded. That’s a long time if you’re waiting for a friend to download that new Call of Duty so you can play together on day one. These downloads could take even longer if bandwidth is being used elsewhere to watch Netflix or play another game while waiting for the download to finish. A lot of these issues apply to mobile gaming too (Speedtest.net estimated mobile speeds averaged about ⅓ the speed of fixed internet), especially when it comes to data caps. If consumers have to decide between two games and are approaching their monthly allowance of data with an Internet Service Provider (ISP), they may opt for the smaller game to not risk overage fees from their provider.

Some of you might even be thinking, "Why not just fork over a little extra cash for better speeds and forget about it?" Well, in many areas, especially rural areas, there may only be one ISP available in the area or limited infrastructure that prevents higher speeds from being reasonably obtainable. These limitations can often be used as an excuse to price gouge consumers living in those areas if they want competitive internet speeds.

Another obstacle people face is making sure they have enough space on their hardware for the games and apps they want to install. Nintendo Switch made the news at launch when The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild took up 13.4 of its 32 GB of internal storage. That’s more than 40% of the space on the console.The first upgrade to consoles that console makers often advertise is an increase in storage size, like Microsoft did by increasing the 500 GB capacity of the Xbox One to 1TB in 2015.

Legend of Zelda: BOTW made news when it was announced it would take up more than 40% of the Nintendo Switch's internal storage.

Without buying external hard drives or microSD cards, consumers are often left with the task of trimming down their digital game collection to make room for new games and DLC. I spent months constantly deleting apps and pictures from my phone to continuously make room for Hearthstone’s latest updates until I ultimately had to delete the game because it was just too big. This is potentially a major problem for developers. If somebody deems a game not worthy of the space to keep around, then that game’s player base could dwindle, and the game could stop earning money. For example, while I enjoyed playing Hearthstone, I don’t play it anymore, which means that I’m not spending more money on card packs.

Why does any of this matter? The era of digital gaming is growing, and as more gamers begin to convert their physical collections to digital ones, storage space will pop up more often as an issue. For developers and publishers, now is the perfect time to promote well made smaller games that can compete with the top dogs.

Going forward, don’t be surprised if you see an advertisement saying something along the lines of “This game coming soon, now only 20 GB!” And remember, bigger doesn’t always mean better. While it’s true that a bigger file size indicates more assets and potentially more to do in a game, there have been several standout games that are smaller. Stardew Valley, Rocket League, PUBG, and Dark Souls III combined come in at less than 40 GB. The Game Awards' GOTY award for the past two years has gone to Overwatch and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild; both games take less than 20 GB of space.

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What are your thoughts about a game's file size? Do you prefer one big game or several smaller ones? How do download speeds affect your gaming? Let us know on twitter and the comments below!

Published Jan. 16th 2018

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