snail internet

If you’re reading this, you have access to the internet.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story, does it? Maybe you’re on a cellphone, killing time at work or sitting in a University library.

Maybe you live with your parents and have a 5GB capped connection on a 1mb ADSL line. Maybe you’re out on a farm in the furthest reaches of Limpopo, handcranking a satellite receiver which you use to score a bit of bootleg wireless that you can only catch when the weather’s right.

Point is, a lot of us, in this country and elsewhere, survive on crappy internet. And it seems the gaming world is poised to forget about us.

The harbinger of doom

News recently broke that the retail PC version of the long, long awaited Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain uses slightly less DVD storage than might otherwise be expected.

This wasn’t a feat of mad compression skills though, quite the opposite – inside the colourful box you’ll find a single DVD, on which is a single file – an 8mb Steam installer.

Yup, that means if you’re on a middling 2mb ADSL line, your PC pre-release will arrive just in time for you to spend a week downloading the game. You have to wonder, really, why they bothered with the Steam installer at all. Did they think it was going to be far too much hassle to expect somebody to download the 8mb Steam files before loading up their 28GB game download?

Perhaps they thought a single Notepad file with instructions on what to do was just a little bit too pathetic – 8KB is a waste of a disc, but 8mb? Come on, that’s like 6 floppy disks!

One only needs to read a few reddit threads to realise that this isn’t a problem unique to South Africa. Australians are well known for having crappy, expensive internet, and all over the world folks from more rural areas of their first-world countries are either complaining about the download time, or outright stating that they cannot afford the bandwidth cap required to install the game.

Unfortunately, this is a vocal minority. For most of the modern world a 28GB download is a breeze, and those living on farmsteads or whatever can pick up the PS4 version if they want to play right away (or, more likely, after downloading an 8gb patch).

It'll hold out longer than the PC, but consoles may go digital sooner than you think.

It’ll hold out longer than the PC, but consoles may go digital sooner than you think.

Caveman gaming

“Insert disc 2 of 6” is apparently a relic of the past now; an anachronism in today’s world of fibre connections and digital distribution platforms.

Konami no doubt weighted the cost of pressing out 5 DVDs vs actual lost sales to those unable to download the game for themselves and decided that the copper crowd can suck a fat one.

SA internet gets a lot of flak, but I wouldn’t even call it “bad”. I currently have a 4mb connection with more data than I can use in a month, and it seldom bothers me. I can stream in HD, I can game without issue and browsing is smooth. Downloads are generally an acceptable speed.

Of course, all that goes out the window when faced with a 20GB+ download. That’s a lot of hours, and if you happen to share your connection with other people, you’re not going to be running that 24/7 unless you want to be unceremoniously unplugged from the router.

Hell, you can’t even compete with yourself – when you’re maxing a Steam download, you can forget about online gaming, YouTube or just about anything that uses more bandwidth than Google.

Why bother with a retail release?

This is the question most people ask, and the answer isn’t an easy one.

What is the point, you might rightfully ask, of having a disc at all? The answer, most likely, is marketing. You want your game up on the shelf there with everybody else’s, you need the box art and the display space to compete with the rest of the pack – even if your box is the gaming equivalent of a flaming bag of turd.

Still, it doesn’t seem like quite enough, does it? It feels like a bullshit rationalisation, and really, at the end of the day, it comes down to corner cutting at the expense of the consumer. There is nobody who feels that boxing up a CD-Key is somehow more convenient.

If you prefer to do things digitally, well there are plenty of digital platforms that allow you to do just that. And therein lies the breaks – boxed retail releases may be going the way of the dinosaur, but as long as they exist, they need to exist in their proper form. Buying the boxed game means getting the damned game on disc, otherwise it really needn’t exist at all. Even if you are sitting at home with a fibre connection, unlimited bandwidth and a backup satellite to the UN if you’re getting too much latency in your online Peggle tournament, buying a boxed game only to find a Steam code inside of it is lunacy.

This poor unicorn bastard has been trapped in a Peggle nightmare-realm for years.

This poor unicorn bastard has been trapped in a Peggle nightmare-realm for years.

The digital revolution

It’s so absurd, in fact, that really we may not be getting boxed games much longer at all – particularly on PC.

I remember thinking when I saw the news that it was a real insult from Konami for The Phantom Pain in particular, considering it’s a single-player only game. Then I realised that honestly, “single-player only” just doesn’t cut it anymore.

We live in a world of Day One patches, of online authentications, of Facebook integrations and online achievements. The content of the game doesn’t matter all that much anymore, it’s a pre-requisite now that you have access to a stable and consistent internet connection.

When you’re being asked to download an 8GB patch on the first day and another few GBs every so often for bugfixes, DLC, whatever, asking you to download the game in the first place is really a small step for most.

Some bug fixes are more, um, urgent, than others.

Some bug fixes are more, um, urgent, than others.

And for those it does bother? Well, that small minority of the demographic can easily be written off – any lost sales there (of which there will be few) can be made up for by the money saved on producing physical media.

Gamers are as predictable as they are insatiable. If everybody decided to go full digital, those living out on farms with 3G connections will drive three hours into the city to download the game on their friend’s connection.

Plans will be made, things will be done. The outcry will be immense, the loss in sales will not be. Soon those cries will be no more relevant than the muffled tears of the cash-strapped gamers who realise their aging video card no longer meets the minimum requirements for the latest Call of Duty.

It’s the price of progress, and we’ll be paying it.

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