Listening to some voices in the tech industry, you’d think going fully-digital was the best thing to happen to multimedia.
Yet for many, it’s a nightmare. Download-only music services, games, and video all are inaccessible or difficult to obtain for those without blazing-fast internet. AOL earnings reports have indicated that some 2.1 million people still use dial-up in the united states. For those too young to remember dial-up, that’s 56 KB per second tied to a phone line. Downloading a few videos on a connection like that is going to take quite a while.
Even ignoring the extreme cases like that, many people simply don’t have fast internet or are limited by data caps. For them, multimedia going fully digital means having a hard limit on how much media you can consume in a month. For those who have particularly strict data caps, a single game might eat up a month’s worth of data on its own.
While movies and music are becoming more digital as time goes on, games are the worst offender by far. Games on PC are often distributed exclusively through steam these days, with the occasional disc release. Even those disc releases aren’t a guarantee that you’ll get a physical copy of the game, however. The disc for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain contained a steam installer and nothing else, which is a bit of a bummer if you were hoping to avoid downloading all that data.
Even consoles are getting bad about this. Halo: The Master Chief Collection, a collection of Halo 1-4, launched with a 20 GB day one patch to unlock multiplayer. Even more egregious is Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 launching with a 7.7 GB patch, containing most of the game’s content. For those who don’t download the patch, you are only able to play the tutorial and use the park editor. This is not okay.
I like digital media. It’s convenient and useful, when it works. But until fast and uncapped data is widely available and affordable, developers and distributors need to acknowledge that some people simply are not able to access their content. This means offering proper physical releases, not requiring constant internet connections, and not putting the majority of their game in a day-one patch. Because the all-digital future is leaving people behind.