If you play video games today, you’re no stranger to massive downloads. Red Dead Redemption 2 is 90 GB, before updates and add-ons. Halo: The Master Chief Collection currently clocks in at 115 GB. Sure, the base game of Destiny 2 may be just 31 GB, but if you want all of the expansions—essential for playing the game to its fullest—you’ll need to make room for 105 GB of shooting and looting goodness.
Not unlike the incessant growth of wealth inequality, games are getting bigger every year, but hard drives aren’t keeping up. No one can yet say how large upcoming blockbusters like Ghost of Tsushima, Outriders, or Cyberpunk 2077 will be, but it’s a safe bet they’ll land somewhere between 40 GB and Sorry, Time To Wipe Everything From Your Hard Drive.
Massive downloads are a tough pill to swallow, but they’re an essential part of playing video games in 2020. Here are a few tips and tricks you can use to make the process a bit easier.
It’s fairly common knowledge that an ethernet cable gives a faster download than a wifi connection. But just how much faster, really? Let’s put some numbers to it.
At Kotaku HQ, we tested the difference between wired and wifi connection speeds by downloading Warzone, the new Call of Duty battle royale—a 99.1 GB file if you don’t already own 2019’s Modern Warfare—on PlayStation 4. On wifi, we experienced download speeds that bounced between 9 mbps and 64 mbps, but appeared to hover around 14 mbps. The estimated download time? Four hours. Once we switched to an ethernet cable, though, download speeds reached as high as 67 mbps, and the forecasted download time dropped to three hours.
Of course, you may experience vastly different numbers. Wifi speed is dependent on a plethora of factors, including the device you’re using, the internet plan you’re on, and the status of your internet service. Then there’s the issue of external interference. According to the folks at Google, wifi speed can be affected by everything from walls and microwaves to baby monitors and nearby networks. A wired connection, on the other hand, gives you internet straight from the source.
Put simply: Wifi is fickle. A wired connection is less so. Whenever possible, keep your console hooked up with a wired connection.
Not all ethernet cables are created equal. You might get generous download speeds from your internet service provider, but that doesn’t mean a thing if you’re hobbled by a subpar ethernet cable. Let’s say you’re on Verizon’s 400 mbps plan, or something similar. If your ethernet cable caps you at 100 mbps, you’re automatically limiting yourself to a quarter, tops, of what you’re paying for.
Ethernet cables are indexed by category (Category 5, Category 6, and so on), but are generally referred to in shorthand (Cat 5, Cat 6). Category variations (Cat5e, Cat6a) further complicate things. To be frank, you don’t really need to know about all this stuff. You just need to make sure your cable is rated for 1 gbps download speeds—the max for most modern internet plans and gaming consoles.
You can check any cables you already have fairly easily. If they’re not the right kind, and you need to get new ones, you can usually identify a cable’s download speeds from language on the package. Sometimes, companies will even put it right in the product name! The right cables won’t run you more than a few bucks at most online retailers, so it’s not too bad to pick up some new ones if you need.
Over the past few years, PS4 downloads have been plagued by a truly vexing issue. You go to download a game or an update, have plenty of extra space for it, but are told to clear some space. So you delete some files, and are informed that you still need to make more room. By the time you’re done wiping stuff off your hard drive, you’ve eliminated way more than the initial amount.
Maybe you’ve run into it. Plenty of folks from across the web sure have. I recently ran into this issue myself while trying to download The Division 2. Ultimately, I had to delete three games collectively totaling more than 100 GB to make space for The Division 2, a 110 GB file. After the download, my PS4 currently has 60.5 GB of free storage space. How’s that for math?
One Reddit user recommends clearing out 100 GB of extra space before trying to download anything. That way, you’ll have enough room for pretty much every game that isn’t The Division 2. Personally, I keep 50 GB free. It’s tough to put an exact number to it, but keeping a large chunk of free space should ensure games can download without a hitch.
Before you rush out and pick up a snazzy 10TB external drive, you should know that there are a few prerequisites for external PS4 storage devices. First, you’ll need to make sure your console is running system software 4.50 or higher. (The most recent update is 7.02, so you’re probably fine.) You’ll also need to make sure your external storage device has a USB 3.0 and a storage capacity between 250 GB and 8 TB. Once you’re good on all that, you’ll then need to format the external device to store PS4 games.
Start by opening up the console’s settings. Select the Devices submenu, and click on “USB Storage Devices.” Choose your device and click “Format as Extended Storage.” Then go back to the settings and open up the Storage submenu. Press the Options button, click on “Application Install Location,” and choose “Extended Storage.” Make sure to do this step before you start downloading anything. Once a download has begun, you can’t switch storage destinations.
Things are a bit simpler on Xbox One. Yes, you’ll still need an external device with a USB 3.0. But the minimum storage requirement is lower (128 GB) and there’s no ceiling. Plus, when you first connect your external storage, your Xbox should automatically prompt you about formatting it.
Happy owners of PS4 Pro or Xbox One X consoles—both of which come equipped with beastly 1 TB hard drives—likely needn’t worry about external storage solutions.
If you’re playing on an original Xbox One or an Xbox One S, you can “shrink” game files, essentially peeling away any massive 4K assets from the base game. Sure, these high-definition textures make games prettier, but they’re also only relevant to Xbox One X consoles.
Open up the System settings and go to the Storage submenu. Under the Make More Space section, you’ll see two options. One is “Shrinkable games.” There, you’ll find a full list of any games you can minimize. (For reference, here’s a list of all Xbox One games with 4K features.) Doing so won’t suddenly free up hundreds of gigabytes of space, but hey, every bit counts!
The other option, “Leftover add-ons,” is also helpful, and works on all Xbox consoles. If you’ve deleted a game but perhaps forgot to delete any extra content, you’ll find that extra data-hogging stuff there.
Let’s say you read an article on your favorite gaming website (hint, hint) about a really cool game. It just launched, and all you want to do is go home and play. Thing is, you’re stuck at work and won’t be able to start downloading—let alone actually playing—until you get home.
This is where remote downloads come in. Remote downloads are just about the best hack you can use to make downloading massive games an easier process. Both consoles have effective, easy means for doing so.
On PlayStation 4: If you have Automatic Updates turned on, you can easily download games from the discomfort of your office chair. Open up the PlayStation Store in your browser and purchase any game like you normally would. After you check out, you should see a “Download List” button. Click on that. From there, you’ll see a comprehensive rundown of every game you’ve purchased on that account. Just hit the “Download to your PS4” button on the one you want and it will start downloading.
You can also make use of PS4 Remote Play. With the app, a PS4 controller, a compatible device, and a stable internet connection (both where your PS4 is and where you’re accessing it from), you can access your PlayStation from afar. From there, just operate the on-console version of the PlayStation Store as you usually would.
On Xbox One: To download games remotely on an Xbox One, you first have to set the thing as your “home Xbox.” Press the Xbox button and open up the system settings. Go to General, and then Personalization, and select “My home Xbox.” (Heads up: You can only do this five times annually per account.)
Once that’s all set, you’ll have to enable Instant-On mode—which you can do in the General submenu, under the “Power mode & startup” section—and also have remote installs turned on. You can do that by opening up the console’s settings, going to the System submenu, and heading to the “Updates & downloads” section. While you’re there, turn on mobile management, too. This will allow you to manage things from Microsoft-approved mobile apps, including the popular Game Pass one.
When all that’s said and done, you’ll be ready to download games to your Xbox One wherever you are. From a browser, open up the Microsoft Store. After you’ve purchased a game, you’ll see a button: “Install on my devices.” Hitting that will bring up a list of devices you’ve signed into. Your home Xbox should be designated in parentheticals. Select that one and hit “Install now.” If you’ve followed the steps above, your game should automatically start downloading.
Xbox Game Pass members can do all this from the Game Pass mobile app. On the bottom of a game’s landing page, you’ll see a green bar giving you the option to “Install on Xbox.” Clicking on that will pull up a list of your devices. You’ll be prompted to select a default console. However, unlike the Microsoft Store’s in-browser list, nothing straight-up identifies your home Xbox, so be careful which you choose. (Renaming your console can help clarify things.) Any games you download through the app will start downloading on your default console. You’ll get a push notification when the download is complete.
Yeah, yeah, we know… Good one!