On the list of life's many stressors—money, health, social injustice, wanting to buy eggs at the grocery store but being unsure if there are still some in the fridge—the free space in my SSD ranks surprisingly high. A new massive game install hits like a jab to the gut. Every week is another dozen gigabytes closer to having to make some deep cuts. Am I really gonna get back to playing Ready or Not with my friend? That's 92GB that could be going toward Diablo 4 next month.
It's remarkable how often the size of a download influences whether or not I'll play a game at all. I've had the intention of trying Atomic Heart on Game Pass since February. Three times I've started the 90GB download, and three times I've cancelled it and done something else instead. I can't remember ever doing that just 10 years ago. Even though my internet connection was probably half as fast at the time, the average high-profile game was 5-10 times smaller.
So of course we want to keep a game installed for as long as possible. Deleting a massive game is tantamount to throwing the box in a bigger box, taping it shut eight different ways, and sealing it in the attic—sure, it's there if you want to play it again, but will you? Ballooning file sizes, the prevalence of ever-expanding free-to-play games, and stagnating download speeds are making this annoyance more noticeable. And if the first half of 2023 has been any indication, downloads aren't shrinking anytime soon.
2023 is already straining our SSDs
- Star Wars Jedi: Survivor - 130GB
- Forspoken - 120GB
- Redfall - 100GB
- The Last of Us Part 1 - 100GB
- Atomic Heart - 90GB
- Diablo 4 - 90GB
- Wild Hearts - 80GB
- Hogwarts Legacy - 73GB
- RE4 Remake - 56GB
- Dead Island 2 - 45GB
Wowza. It's safe to say we're firmly in an era of 100GB games, right? It used to be headline news when a game reached triple digits, but in 2023, six of the ten biggest PC games of the year so far clock in at 90-130GB. It's probably no coincidence that of those six, all but one are huge sandbox games. With those numbers, the days of just firing up a game "on a whim" are basically over. According to Steam, the average American downloads games at around 12MB per second. That's over a 3-hour download for current 2023 size champ Star Wars Jedi: Survivor (opens in new tab), a definite "whim" killer, and the folks on the lower end of that average have it much worse.
That's not to mention the folks out there with data caps. My Windows data usage report says I've used 255GB on Steam alone this month. If you also stream hours of TV and movies every week or, even worse, watch friends stream their games on Discord (opens in new tab), the gigs can add up real fast.
Games are big, but we've gotten used to storage management
I'm one of the lucky ones. My SSD is luxuriously spacious at 2TB, of which Star Wars takes up a measly 6%. The most recent Steam hardware survey (opens in new tab) reveals that a little over half of Steam users have 1TB of storage or less.
Put in context: if you're an average PC gamer who maybe picked up Jedi: Survivor at launch, gave Redfall a shot on Game Pass the next week, and want to play this weekend's Diablo 4 Server Slam beta, that's one-third of your entire computer (or more if you count all the gigabytes your boot drive doesn't let you use).
The numbers are stacked against us, but we've also gotten pretty good at managing our gargantuan gaming future. That same Steam survey also indicated that around 30% of users had between 250-750GB of free space on their computer at the time. It helps, too, that Steam has made it easier than ever to mass-delete stuff with 2021's addition of the storage manager (opens in new tab).
The good news: Multiplayer games aren't growing (right now)
Fine, Jedi: Survivor. Consume 130GB of my computer and see if I care—you're getting deleted eventually. The growing size of games that I've finished are way less concerning than the footprint of multiplayer games I almost never delete.
For a while it seemed like multiplayer game sizes were exploding out of control, too. I raised the alarm (opens in new tab) back in 2020 when Call of Duty, which had recently also become Warzone, grew into an ungodly 200GB beast. But Activision acted: later that year, it introduced the option to uninstall individual chunks of Call of Duty you're not playing anymore.
There are still a few popular shooters that are uncomfortably big, like Destiny 2, CoD, and Rainbow Six, but it's encouraging that they've actually all been bigger in the past and shrunk:
- Destiny 2 - 105GB
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 + Warzone 2 - 98GB
- Final Fantasy 14 - 80GB
- Rainbow Six Siege - 80GB
- Battlefield 2042 - 75GB
- Apex Legends - 60GB
- Dota 2 - 46GB
- Hunt: Showdown - 45GB
- Halo Infinite - 45GB
- PUBG - 32.5GB
- Valorant - 32GB
- Fortnite - 32GB
- CS:GO - 30GB
- League of Legends - 22GB
I can live with these numbers. Add up the bottom four games on that list if you haven't even downloaded one Forspoken. It's nice to see developers taking game size seriously, probably because they've noticed the impact an annoyingly huge download can have on attracting new players.
Do keep an eye out for the potential data hogs for the rest of 2023. Assassin's Creed Mirage will probably be big, though the word is it's aiming for a smaller world than Valhalla and Odyssey. Stalker 2 could be an unexpected triple digit-er with all those nice-looking trailers, though we might be waiting longer for that one. I'm curious how big Starfield will be. Bethesda Game Studios hasn't put out anything since 2015's Fallout 4, which is actually a respectably slim 27GB download today (without expansions), so maybe it'll surprise us.
I'm keeping a close watch of Baldur's Gate 3—the current early access build already eats up 103GB, but the official system requirements suggest the final game will be 150GB. Yikes.