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File sizes of triple-A games

Game developers are in a perpetual arms race, competing to release the most technically adept and visually stunning adventures for their fans to devour. Gamers’ desire for more immersive, more epic, more spectacular experiences naturally leads to games that feature…more. But bigger games mean bigger file sizes, and especially for console owners, this presents logistical issues. Internal storage is at a premium, with even the most generous current-gen internal storage drives looking small compared to the size of the triple-A game releases this year.

Did console developers Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo anticipate just how rapidly game file size would explode within their consoles’ lifetimes and the onus this would put on gamers to come up with their own storage solutions? Did computer manufacturers building gaming machines anticipate the extent to which current games would require both superlative storage and speed?

Open-world means open season on storage

Bethesda’s Starfield is one such example. Hotly anticipated by Xbox and PC gamers eager for a new sci-fi open-world (or perhaps open-galaxy) title, it’s estimated to be 75GB in size at release. In comparison, Bethesda’s last single-player open-world RPG, Fallout 4, weighed in at 30GB when it was released in 2015.

Similarly, Baldur’s Gate III, developed by Larian Studios, is a gargantuan 150GB. Larian Studios’ last comparable release was Divinity: Original Sin 2 in 2017, which had a 60GB file size on PC. Also joining the pack of ballooning open-world games is Blizzard’s Diablo 4 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox X/S and PC. While admittedly released over a decade ago, Diablo 3 was a big game for 2012 at 25GB. However, its sequel is larger still at 80GB.

Excited gamer girl in a headset playing on her computer.

The Nintendo Switch is not immune to this phenomenon either. While its technical limitations and tiny internal storage capacity of just 32GB mean that streamlining must occur, even Nintendo themselves struggle to make do. The largest game Nintendo has ever developed, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, will be 18.2GB compared to its 14.4GB predecessor Breath of the Wild in 2017. That’s over half of the Switch’s internal storage!

Games are getting bigger across genres

Two people hold game controllers and compete in a fighting game on a monitor. Both player’s avatars are silhouetted and wield swords or ninja stars. Player 1 has 5 out of 5 hearts to Player 2’s 4.

This rapid expansion is not limited to open-world games. Capcom’s PS4, PS5, Xbox and PC remake of the iconic action/survival horror Resident Evil 4 is a hefty 68GB, while its 2021 instalment of the franchise, Resident Evil Village, was only 35GB. Similarly, Respawn Entertainment’s Star Wars Jedi: Survivor for PS5, Xbox and PC is 130GB in size, beating its previous instalment Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, a slender 43GB, by nearly 100GB.

Even games from genres you wouldn’t expect to need substantial file sizes are getting in on the storage bloat action. Street Fighter 6, the latest in Capcom’s seminal fighting series, is estimated to weigh in at 60GB on PS4, PS5, Xbox and PC, while Street Fighter 5 was just 12.4GB in 2016.

Why are modern games so large?

There are numerous competing opinions as to why games in the PS5 and Xbox S/X era have such gargantuan file sizes. The prevailing opinion is that the electronics industry shift for televisions and monitors from 1080p resolution to 4K resolution has a lot to do with it. Higher resolution screens can display far more detailed textures – four times more detailed, in fact. Game developers want to make use of this greater detail to create more impressive textures for their environmental and character models. Since these textures are more detailed, they take up much more space. Apply this principle to every object in the game, and that adds up to a much bigger game file. While developers do their best to recycle textures, there is a limit to what can be done.

While the amount of work that goes into textures has increased, budgets for games have not increased commensurately. Retail prices for triple-A games have gone up, much to the lamentation of gamers worldwide, but not enough to offset the cost of the additional labour. This has led to what industry insiders identify as another culprit for bloated game files: reduced opportunity for compression. When games were principally distributed by physical media, such as CDs, DVDs and cartridges, there was a clear monetary advantage to reducing the size of the game file, as it meant less expenditure in publishing. These days, barely one in twenty games sold involves physical media, and those that do often still require substantial downloads in order to install data that will support the reading of the disc or game card. While the costs of storing larger game files for hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of downloads are significant, they involve much fewer ancillary costs than those of publishing and distribution. There is less of a financial incentive to compress and optimise file size. This, combined with the reduced window of opportunity caused by greater graphical workload restricting available project time for optimisation, means that a sharp increase in game file sizes is unavoidable.

Lastly, though likely a lesser contributor, it is also worth noting that games are building larger and more complex dialogue systems in the quest for greater immersion and interactivity. With audio files increasing in quantity and sound quality, this also has an impact on the file size. To use Starfield as an example, Bethesda released Skyrim in 2012 with approximately 60,000 voiced lines of dialogue. Fallout 4, in 2015, nearly doubled that total with 110,000. Starfield has surpassed its predecessor with reportedly over 293,000 voiced lines of dialogue. All of this dialogue requires audio files, to say nothing of the system to coordinate it all.

How to handle larger game file sizes

A Kingston FURY Renegade PCIe 4.0 NVMe M.2 drive in a futuristic black motherboard lit by neon blue light.

Where does this leave gamers? The six 2023 releases mentioned above alone are over half a terabyte in size, which is far more than a basic Xbox Series S can handle (since system files take up approximately 30% of its available 512GB internal storage). A PlayStation 5 would struggle to accommodate another triple-A game of this scale on its internal storage, with 667GB of its 825GB drive open to game files. Even the greatly lauded PC platform will struggle to house games of this size. Either gamers get used to shuffling games on and off their console every month as new releases demand that old favourites must be deleted, or they invest in additional storage solutions.

Luckily, there are plenty of storage options out there for gamers. Kingston’s FURY product line is expressly engineered with the technical demands of contemporary gamers in mind. The Kingston FURY Renegade PCIe 4.0 NVMe M.2 SSD offers blazing speeds of up to 7,300MB/s read and 7,000MB/s write, for PS5 and PC gamers who want to run games directly from additional storage. Its graphene-aluminium heat spreader means that it can run at high intensity for longer with superior heat management, making it perfect for prolonged sessions of high usage such as gaming. Also available with a heatsink, the drive stays cool when the game heats up. It offers multiple capacities to fit a gamer’s price point and storage needs, from 500GB to 4TB. Lastly, the drive is the right speed and form factor to serve as an internal drive for a PS5, meaning that you can substantially augment the storage capabilities of your console without requiring peripherals.

For Xbox owners, it is not possible to run current-gen games from external hard drives. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t make use of additional storage. When playing games from previous Xbox generations, storing media, or keeping current games that aren’t in regular usage, external SSDs are perfect. The XS2000 External SSD uses USB 3.2 Gen2x2 speeds, offering impressive read/write speeds of 2,000MB/s and substantial storage even with a small and highly portable form factor. Capacities range from 500GB to 4TB. A note: the Xbox Series S and Series X consoles do not have USB-C ports, so those gamers will need a converter.

Switch gamers have decisions to make as well. The hybrid handheld console has a single SD card slot available to expand the minute amount of storage available in the base console. The engineers behind the Switch clearly anticipated that storage would be a growing interest of console owners: the console is capable of interfacing with SD cards up to 2TB in size, a capacity that only reached the market in 2023, six years after the console hit the market. The Kingston Canvas Go! Plus microSD Card is a strong choice of supplemental storage for Switch users: with a 170MB/s read speed and a 90MB/s write speed for larger capacity cards, and capacities ranging from 64GB to 512GB, it offers options for gamers of all kinds, from those who infrequently use their Switch to those who use it as their primary or only gaming device.

While games continue to expand in size for various reasons, the industry will adapt to the hardware demands they place on the systems that run them. Whether this is in the shape of internal M.2 drives, external SSDs or high-capacity SD cards, Kingston offers solutions to reduce the amount of bookkeeping in your gaming, giving you more time to enjoy the games you own.

#KingstonIsWithYou #KingstonFURY

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