Call it the Mass Storage Effect. When comparing the PlayStation 3 vs. the Xbox, one thing developers talk about is the difference in space with the consoles’ disc formats. The DVD format’s a bit long in the tooth, and the usable space on the average Xbox 360 dual-layer disc usually tops out at around 6.8 GB out of 7.95 GB.
According to DigitalFoundry, that may be about to change. Microsoft’s releasing a dashboard upgrade that will free up one gigabyte of remaining space. (That chunk of storage supposedly held anti-piracy measures and a video partition.) And while the extra space is nice, it’ll likely be on the innermost part of the disc, which tends to be the slowest part when it comes to loading. (Should Customers Have The Right To “Hack” Their Consoles?)
Considering how the Xbox 360’s struggled with piracy issues on big releases like Call of Duty: Black Ops and Halo: Reach, that disc space may have been squirreled away for naught anyway. And the 360’s going to need all the help it can get in finding disc space for developers to use, as game-makers get more ambitious and games get bigger. Take Mass Effect 2, for example. It hit the 360 first but had to be pressed onto two discs to accommodate the size of the game. Nothing was worse than having to open that tray over and over during the course of BioWare’s award-winning space opera. But, when the same game arrived on PS3, not only did all of the main missions fit confortbaly on the Blu-ray, the one disc also held three of the DLC packs that came out for ME2. This, of course, owes to the fact that most PS3 Blu-ray discs make up to 50 GB of usable space available. (Angst in the Machine: Mass Effect 2 Overlord DLC review)
Another way to look at this issue is to watch where game engine technology might be heading. If that Epic Games’ Samaritan demo is any indication, the lighting, textures and other graphical considerations alone will take up massive amounts of space, never mind the AI, player input and network coding that it takes to make a game work. That demo video itself was around a whopping 4 GB, so imagine a whole game built in that Unreal Engine technology. If they’re going to stay competitive, Microsoft’s going to have to figure out how to make more storage available for both gamers and developers. After all, does anybody want to do the disc-swapping dance again for Mass Effect 3?