As I thought about what to write for our feature on the biggest moments in the industry over the last decade, I started to write about how the rise of super-fast internet, and realised it deserved an article for itself. So here we are.
The biggest, most important thing to hit the games industry over the last decade has been the rise and rise of super-fast internet access. Back in 2008, Ofcom reported that UK customers on a broadband deal advertised as offering “up to 8Mbit/s” were in fact only averaging 3.6Mbit/s.
The latest Ofcom report on home broadband speeds shows that average UK broadband speeds were 46Mbit/s. That’s a massive difference, and the increase in internet speeds can be seen to have had an impact across the board, and can best be witnessed with two titles from Rockstar Games.
Grand Theft Auto IV was one of the biggest games of 2008, which on the PC required a mere 16GB free disk space to install. Compare that with what will be one of the biggest launches of 2018; Red Dead Redemption 2. That weighs in at around 100GB depending on your console of choice.
Would video game installation sizes have increased over the last decade without the spread of super-fast broadband? Certainly, the nature of development in physical media with Blu-ray discs and SSD drives would have led to developers creating ever bigger, more richly detailed game worlds.
The initial installation size of a game though is only half the story as day one patches are now de rigueur. Red Dead 2 requires a 3.3GB patch, largely for quality of life improvements, while something like Forza 7 required a 50GB update to be able to access the singleplayer Driver’s Club campaign.
Back in 2008, that patch alone for Forza would have taken upwards of 32 hours to download on an average UK line. These days, it might take two and half hours. It’s still an incredible time-sink, but one that developers consider much more palatable, and are willing to inflict upon the end user.
The ever-increasing speeds of home broadband, and even 4G, are what allow users to turn to digital distribution. The numbers are hard to quantify, with chart trackers infamously reluctant to reveal how many copies of a game are sold through digital distribution. Steam sales figures are one thing, but for a multiplatform release, we rely on a company like Ubisoft revealing that digital sales of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey made up 45% of total sales. That’s a 10% rise over last year’s figures for Origins.
Without the increase in broadband speeds, would we be seeing 45% of the sales of Odyssey come through digital channels? When prices in the digital sphere (excluding Steam sales) are broadly in line with physical retailers, I have to argue that it is the broadband revolution that has been at the heart of the changing nature of the gaming industry.