Analysis, Gaming

The Problem With Digital Downloads on the Xbox One And PS4

Sony (NYSE: SNE) and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) have a very big problem with digital downloading on their next-gen consoles.

Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One suffer from some of the most ill-designed handling of digital content in any generation of gaming, making what was once a convenient feature into a troublesome waiting game.

Instead of being straightforward and streamlined, downloading a full game on next-gen systems is awkward, clunky and utilizes some very nasty underhanded tactics. Often gamers are surprised mid-game by having their session interrupted because their download hasn’t finished, or spend hours upon hours staring at a barely moving progress bar on a home screen.

First let’s take a look at how the PlayStation 4 handles digital downloads.


Play as you download: Crutch or convenience?

Usually PS4 games will be bigger than Xbox One games — Dragon Age: Inquisition clocks in at 44.28 GB on PS4 and 41GB on Xbox One — and as we all know, a bigger game means more waiting. The sheer size of next-gen games like Wolfenstein: The New Order‘s 51GB’s is the main reason to stay away from digital, as you’ll be spending a lot of time waiting for the downloads to complete.

There’s nothing more frustrating than spending the same amount of money and then having to wait half a day to play your game.

It’s also important to remember that having an ultra-fast internet connection doesn’t always translate to super-fast downloads.

Digital games are hosted on Sony’s PlayStation Network servers, which control the maximum bandwidth — that is the transfer rates of the downloads themselves — capping your download speeds by default. So in essence your speed does come into play, but it can’t top the designated cap set by Sony’s servers.

In my experience the PlayStation Network is quite bad. The downloads have taken needlessly long –– Wolfenstein, for example, took most of a day and a night to complete — and it’s something that will vary from person-to-person, but all-in-all Sony doesn’t have a very optimized network environment.


The main problem with the PS4’s digital downloads isn’t the speeds, however: it’s the play-as-you-download feature.

Play-as-you-download was meant to be a huge innovation for digital gamers. But as we’ve seen in the past, Sony’s big ideas are often handled badly in terms of actual execution, and this is certain the case here. The big frustration is that the PS4 only shows you the minimum required download to play as soon as possible–in other words, it shows you how little you need to download in order to jump right in the game.

But it doesn’t tell you the actual full download size.

Instead of being upfront and just informing gamers that there’s about 40GB left to go, it lets you jump right in and start playing. Little do you know that you only have about 10% or so of the game on your console; it tricks you into thinking the full game is ready to go.

Shortly enough you’ll be met with an error prompt that interrupts your game by informing you that the game isn’t done downloading. Huh. So you check the Notifications–> Downloads section, but there’s nothing there.


This is where things get really underhanded. You actually have to navigate to the main PS4 menu and check Settings –> Application Saved Data Management –> and then check the game in the listing. Only then will you see what you’ve actually downloaded.

So not only does the PS4 make you believe you’ve got the full game by letting you play, but it doesn’t even tell you how much you’ve downloaded. You have to prod through menus and search in tedious trial-and-error methods just to get the information you want.

Why can’t the PS4 just tell you both the play-as-you-download install as well as the full game install? Why do gamers have to jump through hoops? Oddly enough the new system update patches haven’t addressed this at all, and it still is a sort of “hidden” feature that irks gamers.

The physical install speeds are incredibly fast. You only need to stick the disc in and you’ll be playing in no less than 3 minutes or so — sometimes it takes as little as one minute — with the full game zipped right onto your hard-drive. No hassle, no mess, just gaming.