We’ve grumbled a few times about the engorgement of PC games—100GB is the new normal—but these days it’s not even the first install you have to worry about. This year, we saw 30GB and larger updates become commonplace.
We lost the battle against file sizes years ago, and now we’re just being slapped around.
I haven’t defended my SSD space with much conviction, admittedly. When Baldur’s Gate 3 got a 30GB update in November, my first thought was: sweet, more stuff for my fantasy friends to say. I was less impressed when I saw a 40GB Rainbow Six Siege update pending in my Steam library—a whole Dishonored 2’s worth of data for a multiplayer shooter’s new season!
It’s no wonder that some of the most popular deals we wrote about during Black Friday were for 4TB SSDs. For that big Baldur’s Gate 3 patch, a whole 130GB of space was needed to complete the patching process, and Larian recommended that anyone who had trouble with it just delete and redownload the entire game.
I’m one of those people who lives a life of constant drive space anxiety instead of just buying more storage—I’m also like that with regard to the number of coat hangers I own, it’s a problem—but redownloading Baldur’s Gate 3 wouldn’t have been a big deal for me. What I lack in SSD size I make up for in fiber internet from a small ISP that doesn’t charge me extra for downloading as many Baldur’s Gate 3s as I want. Not everyone is so blessed.
Xfinity, for instance, charges some customers for going over 1.2TB a month unless they pay extra for unlimited data. The company points out that a very small percentage of its customers are likely to exceed the cap, but that’s no relief to PC gamers: If it’s anyone, that small percentage is us.
Loading up a new PC with games could easily mean downloading over 500GB. Add another 150GB in updates over the course of a month, plus 4K video streaming, and if you’re not the only gamer in the household, you’re headed for trouble.
“I’m a dad who games. I have two kids who game. We like playing games together,” lamented Reddit poster EvilSchwin last year. “The data cap for Xfinity is 1.2TB which sounds like a lot, and maybe it was plenty 5 years ago, but not anymore.”
If it doesn’t change, that 1.2TB cap will look even more laughable in a few years time. Even the FCC is making some noise about data caps being a problem. Earlier this year it launched the “Data Cap Stories Portal,” which is basically a form you can fill out to say why data caps suck. The FCC cites important issues like access to online education and telehealth, but maybe no one’s told them about how out of hand Call of Duty installs have gotten lately.
I investigated the topic of ballooning file sizes back in 2018, and found that textures, which can only be compressed so much and whose quantity and resolution keep increasing, are the primary culprit—and developers are only going to become more likely to want their games to look great in 4K. But the deeper reason game sizes keep growing is simply that they can, because there are no more constraints imposed by physical media. Why delay a game or update to shave off 10GB when you don’t have to?
Game developers have done some great things with that freedom from size constraints. Larian, for instance, has rapidly improved and expanded Baldur’s Gate 3 this year—that big patch added an epilogue with over 3,500 lines of new dialogue. Worth it. (Or I assume it will be worth it, if I ever finish the game.)
With file size moderation a lost cause at this point, ISPs and SSD makers continue to be the companies we have to negotiate with.
There is at least some good news in those areas. SSD prices aren’t too bad right now—our overall favorite 2TB SSD is $140 at the moment—although they may rise in the near future. And in the US, we heard promising words earlier this year from FCC chairwoman Juliana Rosenworcel, who proposed the return of net neutrality rules, which seek to prevent ISPs from doing stuff like charging extra for certain kinds of data. So next time you run out of bandwidth for the month, fill out the FCC’s data cap form—maybe putting those complaints in the right place will make a difference.