Call of Duty is the Digital Download Nemesis

Posted on February 25, 2021 by Brad Sams in Games, PlayStation, Project xCloud, Xbox with 22 Comments

Earlier today, Activision released the second major update for Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War and Warzone, its annual cash-printing title that brings in billions of dollars for the company. This update clocks in around 17 GB, depending on the platform, for Warzone and up to 26.5GB for Cold War. But for the first time, Activision is warning PlayStation 4 users that this update may be too large for their hardware.

Keep in mind that these updates are for two different games that can be installed independently but many gamers likely refer to them in the same breath. Cold War is the more traditional online multiplayer title that has been around for many years whereas Warzone is a separate game but this is the Battle Royal iteration for the brand.

It’s not that complicated but the way the game presents these titles is that they are more like ‘modes’ than separate titles. The point I am trying to make here is that many gamers likely have both titles installed at the same time – if you like Call of Duty, there is a good chance you will like both versions of the game.

And having both games installed is a problem for some devices. Specifically, in this release, Activision says that PlayStation 4 users with the 500GB drive will not be able to install all features of the game as they will run out of storage space. There are workarounds but running out of storage is going to be a problem going forward for many, including those who have purchased an Xbox Series S.

While Microsoft does offer expandable storage for the series S, the included drive is only 500GB but the free space is 364GB. On my Series X, I have both titles installed and it comes out to about 373GB, granted that is with all textures installed but it proves the point that Call of Duty can own your entire internal drive, even on higher-end consoles.

This narrative isn’t new but the reality is that this problem is only getting worse and unless you are willing to fork out another couple hundred dollars for an expandable drive (especially with the series S), your options are limited – you can currently uninstall features of Cold War to also free up space if you do not play them.

But what is really missing here, at least for Xbox users, is Cloud Streaming. Because the next-gen Xbox consoles do not currently support this feature, which works well on Android (and soon iOS/desktop), Microsoft could offer another option to let you stream games to your console and let you free up more storage space.

As an example, I have Ori installed, you can stream this game using Cloud Gaming on mobile devices without any issue, why wouldn’t that work on my console? Streaming Call of Duty games may not be as easy, typically FPS titles are more latency-sensitive, but at least you would have the option to do this and put off buying the expensive external storage drive for games that can benefit from this functionality.

I do think Microsoft will bring this functionality to the console at some point but for today, storage on both the S and X and PlayStation consoles will remain an evergreen challenge.

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Comments (22)

22 responses to “Call of Duty is the Digital Download Nemesis”

  1. Cdorf

    not to mention Comcast and other ISPs with their stupid data caps. When I got my Xbox One X I easily hit 1.25 TB that month

    • bleeman

      In reply to Cdorf:

      Yeah, I switched to Xfinity's unlimited plan as we've been hitting the 1.25TB on a regular basis. We do a lot of video streaming, music streaming, and now that I'm regularly running Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, I've been chewing through a lot of data. In our case it was only an additional $15 over our existing plan to go unlimited and well worth it.

  2. dftf

    As for the game sizes themselves: I'm sure modern-games do not need to be the size they are.

    My guesses would be (1) for each level/map/stage/area, they include all the same assets, so there is a lot of duplication (which made-sense in the reading-from-optical-media era, but with instant-access SSDs, where seek-times aren't a thing, why not use a central-store of assets?); (2) the install/console image contains the data for all supported languages (so lots of unnecessary dialogue audio-files, subtitles, different splash-screens, etc) and (3) they include random junk-data files simply to make the game bigger in the hope a large download-size will dissuade some piraters from downloading it illegally (as was common in the PS1/Saturn/PS2/GC/OGXbox eras), and if so, should look for other ways, like activation or encryption, rather-than bloat.

  3. chaad_losan

    These games are pushing PCMR harder than ever. Cloud gaming for competitive games is still a ways off. Even current "next-gen" consoles are being left in the dust with the newest mega titles. With considerably less than 1TB of storage for either console without costly upgrades. Which the PS5 is still waiting on to actually work. You cannot install more than a handful of game on these systems, or on a PC you can upgrade the storage, and you can store games externally without having to copy them back internally to run.

    • Pic889

      In reply to chaad_losan:

      PCMR has its own set of issues. There is a reason console gamers typically play every game that falls on their hands, while PC gamer dudes always have a huge backlog of games they never get around to playing. On consoles, every new game is a new fun experience you can immediately jump into and enjoy, on the PC it's yet another pain in the butt that you must make it work with your system (including tuning graphics).

      I miss my original Xbox. A scaled-down PC with games that didn't need any installation. And it had 3GB of cache on the harddrive, so loading times were good too. Why can't we have more of this?

  4. ndragonawa

    Should the Xbox Series consoles be able to stream games? Yes.

    Should developers be discouraged from including assets that are irrelevant to the system they are on? More yes.

    Even on PC, a $300 laptop and a $3000 status symbol get the same 200GB install. At least on Xbox, Smart Delivery is supposed to prevent this, key word being supposed.

  5. ragingthunder

    Cloud gaming still has someway to go simply down to the fact that fast, low-latency broadband is still not as universally ubiquitous as many would believe. So companies are still hesitant to put massive investments into an unknown model.

  6. b6gd

    And now there is a "Major Outage" on the status page and I can't login to my Xbox Series X. Azure is built using Jenga pieces.

  7. b6gd

    The whole install process is broken on the Xbox. At least for the last version MW. You install it then pieces are missing, so you go to the store and get that piece, then it needs another and so on? This after you told it to install all...but that only gets 5 of the 9 pieces or whatever.

    Garbage code and Black Ops uses the old engine which pales in comparison to the MW engine.

  8. vladimir

    In reply to lvthunder:

    well, it’s not exactly the same thing. For other utilities you do consume a product that has a unit cost. For connectivity there is a cost for the infrastructure but not per unit. I really hope the US don’t pull the rest of the world in this kind of consumer strangling behavior. Data caps on fixed broadband connections don’t exist in Europe

  9. IanYates82

    Streaming does seem like a smart approach. There are games I'd run locally for the FPS sensitivity, or just to have the visuals. But others I'd happily run from the cloud - eg the Medium, it's good and I'll play through it but I don't need it locally.

    More games are offering the bit-by-not installation now too. Episodic ones obviously, and then Halo MCC comes to mind where you can choose to ignore certain single player campaigns but keep all multiplayer, etc

    It's the small HDD of the S that pushed me to a Series X in the first place - I don't have a 4k TV but valued the 1TB in my OG Xbox One.

  10. darkgrayknight

    I did purchase an M2 external drive of 2TB for my Xbox Series X, which is a little more than the official 1TB expansion drive. While I'm not sure if it would actually play full XS capable games, it is still significantly fast. However, that isn't much space when you start adding the games. The costs of these drives is too high and still not enough space.

  11. remc86007

    Also, this is just pure laziness on Activision's part. Watch Dogs Legion is 65GB and it has most of the city of London...

  12. dftf

    I did watch Brad's YouTube video, where he mentions that streaming games is a feature missing on Xbox Series and PS5, and was a bit bemused. Why would you buy a powerful console, where the parts inside are clearly designed to be powerful-enough to render the game locally to then want to use that power to just render a video-stream of a game running remotely?

    If you want to stream games, just get a cheap Android tablet or phone, pair with a Bluetooth controller, and then subscribe to a streaming-service and use their app. Why pay for a powerful console just to render the games remotely?

  13. martinusv2

    It's more Activision being lazy in optimizing Call of Duty.

  14. codymesh

    there's no reason for this game to be so huge. Lots of other games have found ways to compress their assets and dynamically exclude high-res texture packs/language localizations/uncompressed audio/whatnot. With fast storage and fast decompression, game developers have *more* headroom, not less.

    Activision can absolutely cut the game size, they just choose not to.

    The game is not going to run at 4k on the Xbox Series S. There's no need for 4k textures.

  15. crunchyfrog

    Suddenly, game streaming makes more sense.

  16. crunchyfrog

    Offering a paltry 500GB drive on a modern console should be a federal crime.

  17. christianwilson

    I am not a Call of Duty player so I have no experience with how much content they pack into these games. Why are they always so gigantic?

  18. remc86007

    Actually, I think Call of Duty multiplayer is better suited to cloud streaming than Ori. With cloud streaming, the datacenter handling the processing can have a significantly lower ping to the game server, decreasing that latency significantly versus an individual's Xbox. Ori on the other hand requires extremely precise timing of inputs. There is no spray and pray with Ori, you have to press the button at exactly the right time. That's why people find it significantly better to play at 120fps vs 60.

    Having said that, although streaming is better than nothing I guess, no internet connection is going to be able to get close to the experience of a direct connection from console to tv anytime soon. The LAN streaming that was possible from the Xbox to PCs on a local network is evidence of this. Even with both the console and PC hardwired, there is still too much latency for fast paced games to be enjoyable.