Halo 5, the latest game in Microsoft’s incredibly popular video game series, launched last week to great fanfare. The critical reaction was mostly glowing – there were a few complaints about a weak narrative and dull characters in the campaign (which, having finished it, I think are entirely valid), but overall people seemed to agree that it’s jolly good shooty fun.
Those that could actually play it anyway. Many gamers, particularly those who elected to download it rather than buy a physical copy, found themselves waiting. And waiting. And then waiting some more.
See, Halo 5 is a big game to download: a hefty 55GB, and then a 9GB patch on top of that - mandatory if you want to play the game online. Even with a fibre optic broadband connection, that could take a while. The BBC reported that, as a result, many Xbox One owners were left twiddling their thumbs waiting for the download to finish.
Halo, is it me you're waiting for
There were ways around it, of course - pre-load the game a few days early for example, if you were willing to take a punt on a pre-order. Though that's a risky proposition in recent years, considering that some high-profile releases, including the previous Halo Master Chief Collection, don't work properly on day one. Even then, 9GB is still a hefty download for many people.
All of which raises a serious question: has gaming started to demand more than the UK's broadband infrastructure can deliver?
Because Halo 5 is far from the only case where the download demands of a game seem excessive. Increasingly, games are relying on updates on day one to patch various bugs - the game as it is on a disc typically won't give you the best experience these days.
Case in point: the Borderlands Handsome Jack Collection had a 16GB patch on Xbox. So if you wanted to play online - and that's by far the best way to play it - you had to wait a fair amount of time before you even got to press start.
Another example is last year's Assassin's Creed Unity. One patch for that particular game saw a few Xbox owners forced to download a whopping 40GB! Even on a superfast connection that's gonna take a while.
The inevitability of fibre
It seems clear that gaming is increasingly targeted at people who have a superfast internet connection. That means fibre optic broadband is no longer a luxury for gamers - it's pretty much compulsory. And for many people, that's a major problem. Largely because a lot of people don't have it.
According to the broadband industry regulator Ofcom, the average broadband speed in the UK is around 22Mb (although that's likely to have gone up in the last year). That's not superfast - Ofcom and the EU define superfast as 30Mb and above.
Considering how nippy fibre broadband is, it's also likely those who do have it are bumping the average up - a huge number of people don't get anything near that. Some can't get it at all. Fibre availability is improving, but huge parts of the country - particularly rural areas - are still left without a decent connection. For those unfortunate people, it must feel like the games industry has run off ahead and left them behind.
Fortunately, for those who can get it, fibre isn't as expensive as it used to be. In fact, thanks to the competition in the market, it can often work out cheaper than some standard broadband packages. Even so, it'll never be the cheapest option there is, and it forces the already high price of admission for gaming up even more.
Let me throw some maths at you.
- Xbox One: £299.99
- Halo 5 Guardians: £49.99
- Virgin Media SuperFibre 50 + Talk Weekends package (first year cost, including line rental): £251.88
- Total years' cost: £601.86
(NOTE: I've used the broadbandchoices postcode checker to pull the best value fibre deal at the time of writing. Prices / offers may have changed by the time you read this. The point still stands though.)
Ultimately, games have always been a luxury item, but surely a healthy industry should be trying to attract new audiences, not restrict them. It would be a crying shame if people find they can't play titles like Halo 5 just because the UK's broadband infrastructure can't match its demands.