The PlayStation 4's internal hard drive is 500GB, and if you buy and start playing just two of its launch day first-person shooters this month, you may already be using more than a 10th of the drive. Welcome to a somewhat different era of console gaming.
Above you'll the see part of the back of the box for Call of Duty Ghosts on PS4. It requires 49GB of space on the PS4's 500 GB hard drive. Killzone: Shadow Fall requires 45GB.
All PS4 Blu-ray Disc games must be cached to the hard drive to ensure a smooth gaming experience. However, certain titles may not require you to wait for the game data to be fully cached before starting gameplay. In order to start playing disc-based games, users will need to insert the game disc into PS4 just like on the PS3 system.
Sony, notably, alternates between calling this a "mandatory install" and "caching", the latter term allowing for the possibility that the data may not have to stay on your hard drive. That could mean that games won't hog as much space and will delete themselves if/when the system clears its cache. We'll see.
This isn't just a PS4 thing. As we reported back in February before the console was even officially announced, the Xbox One also requires that all games be stored on its hard drive and run from there.
Like the PS4, the Xbox One will launch with a 500GB hard drive. And also like the PS4, some games on Xbox One can be played while they're installing. We don't know which games, and we don't know how long players will have to wait to play CoD, Killzone or any other launch game on the two consoles.
The hard drive installation/caching requirement on these new machines is likely in place for performance. The consoles can pull data more quickly off a hard drive than they can off the Blu-Ray discs that PS4 and Xbox One games will be sold on. Running games off the hard drive should also keep the Blu-Ray drive from needing to spin much and make a lot of noise.
The need to store games on the systems will force PS4 and Xbox One gamers to adopt a PC gamers' sense for balancing what's installed and what isn't and therefore what is or isn't available to play immediately. If a console can only fit 10 or so major releases, which ones will you keep on there—especially if installation times prove to be even just a few minutes longer than is ideal?
The PS4 hard drive will be swappable, so users will be able to give themselves more storage. The machine won't support external drives.
The Xbox One hard drive will not be swappable, but it will support external drives, just not at launch.
Even once you install a game to a PS4 or Xbox One hard drive, you'll still need to put the game's disc in the console to run it. Microsoft famously and notoriously had been planning to not require that with a now-tabled plan to treat all disc and download Xbox One games as purely digital, non-physical entities. Under that old plan, after installing an Xbox One game from a disc, users would never have to insert the disc again. Each disc game, once installed, would be verified by a once-a-day online check to ensure you had the right to play the game sans disc (one wonders if/when some gamers will get tired of discs and ask for that program back at least as an option).
Gamers won't really have a full 500GB of drive space on the Sony and Microsoft consoles. Both machines will use some storage for system software. We don't know how much space the PS4 software will use. Microsoft has warned that its system software "uses a significant amount of storage."
Over in Wii U land, game installations are not required. The system comes with a scant 32GB of storage (of which about 25GB is available for games) but supports external drives.
All three new-generation consoles are or are expected to offer all major first-party games for download if all of this disc stuff sounds too annoying. Then again, if you download your games and run out of room, you'll have a storage headache of your own. Hey, PC gamers have had to deal with this for years and they seem like a happy enough bunch. Console folks will survive.
We'll have plenty more about the experience of gaming on the PS4 and Xbox One throughout the month. The PS4 will be out in less than two weeks (Nov 15) and the Xbox One a week after that.
NOTE: There's another eyebrow-raiser on the back of that Call of Duty box. "Offline play enabled." Gee, Call of Duty people, why'd you need to tell us that? Since when can't you play part of a CoD offline? Was anyone expecting the game to be online-only?