This console generation we have seen a major push for couch gaming to go the route of PC by opting for consumers to go for digital media rather than physical. Obviously both forms of media have their benefits and their issues, especially within the console market. I’m not here to debate about which is better, especially seeing as that’s an argument that will never end so long as people are able to type and talk. Initially, I decided to stay with physical media as it allowed me set up my PlayStation 4 and just start playing instead of waiting for a massive download to finish. It wasn’t until about halfway through last year that I began to choose digital more and more, especially with the Internet finally being upgraded at my house. But leave it to Australia to swiftly put me in my place and remind me that opting for digital media which relies on large file downloads is nothing but a pipedream.
If you live in Australia, you’d probably know about how the Internet isn’t one of our strong suits. To put it bluntly, we are pretty much the laughing stock of the entire world when it comes to internet speeds. We aren’t exactly the worst, but for a developed country it really should be better. It wasn’t until relatively recently that our internet situation looked to be improving with the prospect of the NBN (a high-speed internet network on a national scale), only for it to somehow become worse for a large amount of people.
The National Broadband Network (NBN for short) was initially proposed back in 2006 by the Australian Labor Party as a scheme that would be implemented if said party was elected to government. One year later, the Labor Party would win the election and Kevin Rudd would become our Prime Minister. It wasn’t long after Rudd was officially sworn in that Senator Stephen Conroy announced the Labor Party’s commitment to building a national high-speed broadband FTTN (Fibre to the Node) network. Even though the promise was for FTTN, the NBN was actually aiming to deliver its service of high-speed internet through FTTP (Fibre to the Premises). Personally, I would have much preferred to receive FTTP as it means much higher speeds than I currently receive with the NBN, but that’s a point to come later. The FTTP rollout was planned to reach 93% of Australian homes by the year 2021. The point of the FTTP rollout was to completely replace the existing copper network that was already in place. Doing so would also remove the monopoly that telecommunications giant (in Australia) Telstra once had over the network. The remaining 7% would either be connected via fixed wireless or satellite. People or communities that weren’t a part of that 93% would still be able to receive FTTP, provided they paid for it. Fast forward to July 2010 when things were already in progress, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Shadow Minister of Communications Malcolm Turnbull said they would ‘demolish’ the NBN. They claimed that demand for such a product was not high enough to justify the costs, time and resources required for such a plan. It was in this very same month that NBNco (the company behind the NBN’s installation) had finished installing the network to its first customers (Editor: Armidale represent!) – I envy them. Fast forward again to 2017 where it seems like Abbott and *now* Prime Minister Turnbull’s claim to demolish the NBN was one they actually followed through with.
Unfortunately, my area was not a part of the rollout that received FTTP, instead we were given FTTN with copper lines that were already shoddily installed and aging by the day. What makes matters worse is the fibre optics lines that were routed to the nodes in my area were very cheap. As a result, pretty much all of my suburb has internet that is as inconsistent as the framerate on a Bethesda Softworks game. I can’t even upgrade my plan to anything with a speed higher than 25mbps download and 5mbps upload because the lines simply cannot handle it and let me tell you, I barely even receive those speeds. The times that I’m able to receive speeds that are even remotely close to this are around 1am to 4pm. Now this sounds like a wide window and normally you’d be right, but note that these are also times where traffic and usage is at its lowest as most residents are out at work and/or school – away from their homes and their individual NBN connections. However, once it hits that time where a lot of school kids come home and even some people get home from work, those speeds are thrown out the window. I go from averaging 15/5 (download/upload) to 5/3, and that’s if I’m lucky. Some nights I go down to 1/3 which is just ridiculous. At first, I thought this was my ISP being a bunch of tools and just botching my speeds, but after many conversations with them, I realised it was actually the lines that were failing me. Ideally, I’d just go down to the local pond and tell the Prime Minister who is floating in the middle of said pond on an inner tube. Sadly, this isn’t the Simpsons and Tobias didn’t pick up a call from Bart which costed $900.
Now what does this have to do with gaming? Well… it actually has a lot to do with gaming. The previous console generation was one where we saw online multiplayer truly become a normality instead of something that only a handful of games came with. Now it’s not exactly a secret that online play doesn’t require much of a connection to be playable, however even then, the inconsistencies that a lot of people have to live with when it comes to Australia’s internet infrastructure do mean that some games become nigh unplayable. I remember when Destiny: The Taken King released, and due to the sporadic and inconsistent nature of my internet connection I often had to play using my mobile data through tethering (hotspot). This went on all the way from my review until I stopped playing a few months afterwards because I just couldn’t handle it anymore. Unfortunately for me and my bank account, Destiny is one of those games that requires a surprising amount of data to play. I was chewing through about 100MB to 300MB per hour, depending on the activity that I was engaging in. The Crucible seemed to be using the most data, while raids sat right in between both ends of the spectrum. Only issue is some raids would take hours, especially when they first came out. The most notable one would be when King’s Fall Hard Mode came out and my raid crew spent around five hours completing the whole raid. Let’s say that it only used 150MB per hour. Multiply that by five and you’ve got 750MB for the whole raid and my data plan at the time only allowed for 3GB per month. That’s almost a third of my data gone because Australia can’t seem to get decent internet.
But I digress, we’re not here to talk about how our internet situation, which is in a state of atrophy, can stop people from enjoying major parts of their games. We are here to talk about how digital media has become an inconvenience for people who weren’t blessed enough to live in the small amount of areas that received the NBN’s FTTP connection before the government swooped in and messed everything up.
Games have only been increasing in size and will continue to do so while AAA publishers ludicrously pump money into studios to create new engines that look 1% better than the last one that the studio used. I’m fine with games getting bigger, even if the majority of them are of a larger size for silly reasons, but it does make going completely digital and dropping physical that much harder with speeds and bandwidth as terrible as ours. As of the writing of this, I am downloading Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice for review on my PC. It’s currently downloading at the breakneck speed of 237.9kbps. It’s going to stay that slow until the around the aforementioned times where traffic is substantially lower and the speed picks back up. But that’s just the beginning. I have still opted for a lot of digital media on the PlayStation 4 and I stand by that decision. It allows me to share my content easily with the shared PS4 and my personal one. However, when the speeds are as low as they are, my personal PS4 often cannot reach the servers fast enough to remain connected, and as a result I become locked out of my own content. Now I’m aware this also comes down to the ridiculous DRM that both Microsoft and Sony impose on their respective services, but this also would not be an issue if the internet could just stay connected.
I really want to just outright drop physical media. While I do enjoy collecting games and putting them in my shelf alongside my various statues, it really is becoming more and more redundant, or you’d think so at least. I do feel I have to reiterate that I’m not here to spark a debate as to which form of media is better – you are free to choose. I’m also not here to say that everyone in Australia has bad internet. I’m sure there’ll be people that will tell me how great their NBN connection is and chances are it’s because they weren’t shafted with the runaround that the Liberal Party did with the network. But unfortunately there are a lot of people in Australia that suffer from the same debilitating circumstances as myself and as a result, digital media can quite easily become more of an inconvenience rather than an easier alternative.
Also, Malcom Turnbull is a todger.