Full Hard Drives Mean An Uncomfortable Digital Age For PS4 And Xbox One

Posted: March 23, 2015 in Opinion Piece

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by Paul Tassi

It finally happened. As I went to install my Bloodborne review copy on PS4 this weekend, I got a message. “This action cannot be completed, you need 5.72 GB of free space to install this file.” After less than a year and a half of ownership, my PS4 was already full. The Xbox One hit that mark a few weeks ago when I installed Evolve, and now it was official. It’s time to start deleting.

Sixteen games and fifteen months, that’s how long it took to fill up my PS4. That’s including tiny games like 500 MB of Resogun, and also behemoths like 50 GB of Wolfenstein: The New Order. It’s not as if first generation consoles weren’t going to fill up at some point, we all know they will, but in this new age, it’s happening more quickly than ever, and the solutions are awkward for early adopters of these new systems.

I had a 16 GB Xbox 360, which was one of the earliest models of the system sold. And yet, I only started running up against the full hard drive wall near the very end of its lifespan. To download one new piece of DLC, I’d have to delete one or two others. But by that point, the sun was setting on its lifecycle, and the Xbox One was already on the horizon.

Today, however, the industry is different. Both Sony and Microsoft MSFT +0.22% have made a huge push to make digital downloads easily accessible and the preferred option for many players, saving them a trip to the store and allowing them to start playing before the game is even finished downloading. But of course, with 20-50 GB games, 500 GB hard drives with between 360 and 400 GB of actual, usable space, that means your systems can get clogged up very quickly indeed.

But what many may not realize is that it’s not only downloaded games that take up space. Most games run full installs from the disc itself, or have massive DLC-supporting patches that bloat the size of the file. For example, I had a disc copy of Xbox One’s Dead Rising at launch, but after a series of patches, the game ended up taking 24 GB of hard drive space with no actual DLC purchased. And this weekend, despite having a disc copy of Bloodborne, the game takes up 30 GB of space. Dragon Age: Inquisition takes up a mammoth 44 GB, even though I’m using a disc copy there as well.

While I just hit this full hard drive mark now, I expect many avid players will have run into it earlier. I have both a PS4 and Xbox One, which means I’ve divided up third party games between them. If a player is using only one system, chances are if they’ve picked up many of the big multiplatform games just for that system, they could easily max out either console in under a year.

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So, what to do? Deletion, mass deletion. I cleared out about a 100 GB of old games on my PS4 this weekend, from Watch Dogs to Infamous: Second Son to Need for Speed: Rivals, and gave Bloodborne a comfortable home. Now, to play any of them, if they were digital downloads I’ll have to start that whole process over again, or if I have the disc, I’ll have to reinstall them from there.

It’s not the end of the world, but it does show the limitations of this ideal digital age full of graphically intense games that have the ability to completely fill up your system in a little over a year if you’re even picking up just one game a month. Even if you still own these games, it does make you cringe just a little bit when you have to delete them from your system, just as it was irritating when I was deleting old DLC to make room for new expansions on my 360, but it’s starting much, much earlier, and is clearly going to have to be a repeated occurrence over the life of both systems.

Obviously newer models of the One and PS4 will have larger hard drives. A special Call of Duty Xbox One bundle already offers a 1 TB hard drive, but costs $585. Eventually, that hard drive size will be standard, and hopefully more terabytes come after that. But for the tens of millions who have a launch-era system, options are inelegant at best.

While you can’t replace the Xbox One’s internal hard drive, you can buy an external drive that you can hook in via a USB 3.0 port. You can replace PS4’s internal drive, but they will start offering external support as well through items like the upcoming Nyko Data Bank which attaches itself to the top of your system like an angular tumor, and allows for more storage space that way.

These solutions are a bit cumbersome, will probably cost at least $80, and are not from Sony or Microsoft directly. But they are going to be almost necessary unless you want to spend the next five to seven years of this console generation deleting and reinstalling games in order to maintain a growing collection. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a digital downloader or a disc-purchaser, as the disk space will be eaten away regardless.

Everyone guessed that the PS4 and One’s hard drive would prove undersized, but we’re now entering a point in time where that’s going to start happening to many, many early adopters. I think both companies would be wise to offer their own official versions of these aftermarket hard drive expansions to compliment the current line-up, and educate more casual players on the proper way to migrate over to a bigger drive. Otherwise they’re going to be forcing their players to erase their own collections in order to keep playing games, and that just isn’t a good feeling this early in the console generation.

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