A Digital Future Sounds Appealing, But Will it Work?

If Sony and Microsoft want me to jump in on the digital bandwagon, I'm going to need a little help.
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Sony’s PlayStation 4 has claimed small victories over the Xbox One in almost every category since its announcement back in April. From being announced first, to not requiring a motion device, to now being released to the market in the US first, the PS4 seems to be in the lead in terms of the internet’s favorite console at the moment. But a news story on Wednesday revealed Microsoft could potentially claim one of these little victories, and possibly turn it into a huge advantage.

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One of the biggest hurdles consoles face in the digital age on storage space. With online stores tempting you with easy grab-and-play deals, it’s easy to fill up a hard drive pretty quickly. And as games begin growing larger and demanding more file size, even a large 500 GB hard drive is going to fill up pretty quickly. That’s why the ability to swap in and out hard drives or attached external drives is so crucial. But according to Time, even though the PlayStation 4 will allow external hard drives to be attached, it will not play games from these drives.

So what’s the point? If I can load up my external HDD full of games but can’t actually play any of them from there, why would I need the external drive?

Microsoft has said it will not support this feature at launch either, but insinuated that this functionality would come later. It could very well be true that Sony will support this down the road as well, but if not, this is a major misstep by Sony in what has been an otherwise spotless record for the PS4.

Personally I still love having a physical games collection, and am struggling with “getting with the times” and buying all my games digitally. I still like to have the box, sometimes a map or instruction manual, and some of the other extra goodies you get with special editions. Digital copies provide none of this, yet often charge the exact same price, if not even more. But the convenience that Sony and Microsoft (especially) are promising (the instant switching from one function to another) is such a killer potential feature, I truly hope it works. For example, if it truly is as easy and smooth to instantly switch from playing Killzone: Shadow Fall to inFamous: Second Son, then that is awesome, and I’ll be willing to jump in. But if I’m going to embrace the digital future and no longer use discs, I’m going to need more storage options.

Let’s look at some specifics on the PlayStation 3. Resistance was 17.53 GB. Final Fantasy XIII was 37 GB. Uncharted 3 was over 50 GB. And those are even the newest games. But even so, just imagine those three titles sitting on your PS4 hard drive. That’s over 100 GB – 20% of the PS4 hard drive capacity – with only three games. That’s not good, because games are only going to keep getting bigger, and if this console generation is expected to last 10+ years, that’s a long time to have to do some file micro-management with your game library.

I have no doubt that physical video games are headed the way of CDs, and I suppose in the end I’m ok with that. I’ll get over not having the cases or the special edition goodies. But if I don’t have room on my drive to keep my many digital purchases installed so I can play any one of them at a moment’s notice, then I will feel completely cheated this generation. If Microsoft and Sony can work out a solution so I can plug in a USB 3.0 external HDD and load it up with as any digital games as I can blow my money on, then there won’t be anything to worry about. But if this is a problem they simply can’t fix, then the convenience of a digital world that both companies want us to buy in to will be meaningless.

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Brian Armstrong
Proud gamer parent and freelance journalist (and fundraiser). I cover anything and everything that's interesting about the gaming industry, and even some stuff that isn't so interesting.