Microsoft Wants to Make Game Files Smaller But Can’t

Unfortunately, large immersive worlds with intense graphics don’t come without compromise

The sheer size of games is starting to get ridiculous with current-gen consoles, and it’s only going to get worse when next-gen games start to gain traction. I’m not talking about the length of games, but the amount of storage space they take. Just think about the size of games like Red Dead Redemption or the recent update for Call of Duty Modern Warfare – the latter pushed the game beyond the 100GB mark. With next-gen games being more intense and graphically pleasing that what we have today, storage space will become an even larger problem. As things stand right now, the 1TB Xbox Series X may only be able to hold 8-10 games on internal storage, and that’s if you’re lucky.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic trick to reduce the file size of games. Huge strides have been made in terms of hiding loading screens and making gameplay more seamless, and that will be even better with next-gen consoles. But, until some kind of new compression technology comes around (or game streaming really grabs the market,) storage requirements of games will continue to grow. In an interview with Eurogamer, the Chief of Xbox Series X Development, Jason Ronald, spoke on this and discussed what Microsoft is doing to address the issue with file size.

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“There is no single silver bullet that just makes games inherently smaller,” Ronald said. “But everything from the compression technologies we leverage, that actually allows the disc footprint and the amount of data you need to download to be smaller – we also give developers a lot of tools so they can be more intelligent about what assets get installed, and when. As an example, if you’re on a console that is set to English, do I need to download the French and the Spanish audio assets or the cutscenes?”

With that in mind, can you imagine how large games like Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty would be if every game asset had to be downloaded? You better buy another storage device. Ronald did mention that Fast Start tech has managed to leverage machine learning what gets installed and when, but it’s little more than a drop in the pond.

“Also, two years ago now we also introduced a technology called Fast Start where we can use machine learning to understand what assets are being used and how often they’re being used, so we on the platform side can be more intelligent about what bits we install and when.”

This is, in part, how you can start playing some games before they are completely downloaded. It’s a nice touch, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’ve probably been forced to delete one game just to download another. Ronald insists that reducing file size is at the top of mind for Microsoft, and that the company is actively working with studios to tackle the problem.

“It is top of mind for us. It’s something we work closely with all the industry middleware companies, as well as developers on, and then we provide a whole series of tools to help them drive the size of those games down not only to minimize the amount of content you need to download, but also the overall size on the actual footprint on disc.”

At the same time, he also had to admit that there’s no trick or secret formula to magically make a file smaller than it needs to be.

“It’s definitely a challenge. It’s definitely something we work hard on. But there’s no easy button that just magically makes everything smaller. What we don’t want to do is limit these amazing worlds and universes the game developers create. We just need to give them the tools to be able to make the right tradeoffs.”

So, for now, it looks like massive downloads and game installs will continue to be necessary. And, to be honest, there’s probably a good chance that game streaming will be the only thing that really puts an end to large downloads. When all files are hosted on an external server and streamed to you, there’s no need to download anything. Perhaps a compromise would be to keep some files on local systems and transition to partially streaming what gamers need when they need it. It would make sense, but only if you assume that everyone has an awesome internet connection.


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Robert Moore
Robert is an automotive expert and gaming fanatic that somehow manages to split his time between doing both and blending in some family time as well. His gaming history goes all the way back to Atari, the Commodore 64, and the original Nintendo, and he can proudly say that he’s owned every single mainstream console since, including duds like the Sega Dreamcast and Nintendo Wii. He currently owns a Nintendo Switch, Xbox One X, PlayStation 4 Pro, and a custom-built gaming PC. His all-time favorite games include Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (zombies, specifically), League of Legends, Diablo 3, and even a little World of Warcraft. Robert has been working as a journalist for nearly 15 years, primarily in the automotive segment and now in the gaming segment.

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