Opinion: Real Racing 3's console quality F2P comes at a price
Bloated file size highlights problems
While there's no doubt that the free-to-play model opens the doors to a far bigger audience than RR3 ever would have enjoyed otherwise, many gamers are going to experience all the negative side-effects that come with delivering a 'console quality' title on smart devices.
While many game apps are designed to sneak in under the 50mb App Store limit for downloading over 3G, RR3 weighs in at 716MB, with a further mandatory download necessary pushing it above 1GB once you fire the game up.
While this might not sound too bad, in practice it can be an arduous process.
If, like me, you've been downloading apps for nearly five years, adding photos, podcasts, music, books and goodness knows what else, space is almost always at a premium on iOS devices.
Make way for the big boys
In order to make room, around 40 apps had to make way for Firemonkeys' latest.
Fair enough, plenty of these haven't been played with much for a while, but I do slightly resent not having access to some of my catalogue for the sake of one new game.
You might well argue that big file sizes are hardly a new thing, and you'd be right. I've also got the likes of Infinity Blade II (1.03GB), Clash Of Heroes (1.80GB), Bastion (1.18GB), and plenty more besides jostling for space.
But the difference with almost all of these is that they're paid for premium titles that I already knew were brilliant, and so the psychology is subtly different.
Real Racing 3 has undeniable beauty, but is it too big?
If I paid for a game with a large file size, the chances are I'm more at ease with the bloat in advance. Perversely, the bigger file size makes me feel like I've got something valuable. Something console-esque, with no compromises.
Free to micro manage your storage limitations
When it comes to a free-to-play offering, though, the jury's still out on whether I'll even be able to tolerate the paywall from the get-go. F2P says to me 'instant gratification', not 'mess around making room for it, then wait for a lengthy download, then find whether the pay mechanics are tolerable.'
One recent innovation that Sony has proposed for the PS4 is smaller initial downloads, so that you can get going with a game quicker. The idea is that you'll be able to snag the initial game files for the early part of the game, and then download more as and when you need it.
If Apple and Google could figure out a similar initiative, it would do the smart gaming business the power of good, and free gamers from the tyranny of bloat.
The other option, of course, is for smart devices to ship with greater storage capacity, so that we can rack up vast collections of digital media without having to juggle the content quite so much.
Filling the space
Recently, Apple finally (and very quietly) upped the iPad capacity to 128GB, but even that's going to be inadequate for a lot of users.
Given that a lot of its customers have been merrily buying content from iTunes and, later, the App Store for more than a decade, filling that space isn't going to be difficult.
If we accept that Apple isn't going to change its ways any time soon regarding storage, and we also accept that large file sizes for free to play 'console quality' games are going to increasingly become the norm, then going down Sony's route of staggered downloads makes a lot of sense.
On the other hand, staggered downloads might not completely solve the problem of reducing bloated file sizes.
Imagine you've pre-loaded the first batch of content, and then reach the point where you need to download more, but you don't have a connection. At that stage, you're left frustrated that you can't continue the game, and have to play something else.
To make it work, there's an obvious necessity for an 'always-on' internet connection, which the PS4 will benefit from. With smart devices, it's not something you can rely on.
As a compromise, perhaps the solution is to offer users the option of doing a full install off the bat, or a quicker initial install, on the understanding that you'll need to grab more content later. In that respect, it'll be no different from downloading, say, a few episodes of a box set of a TV show.
But what developers and publishers have to realise right now is that it's all very well dangling the free-to-play carrot with the promise of 'console quality' gameplay.
That alone will get a lot more punters through the door, and will undoubtedly help boost monetisation.
Releasing games with massive file sizes, though, introduces its own frustrations, and the industry would do well to figure out an elegant solution to those headaches if it really wants to push console quality free-to-play at the mass market.