How many millions of man-hours have we wasted in the last 20 years waiting for games to load?
It might not seem like loading time in a game is a big deal, but once that game is on a handheld with a limited battery, things are a bit different. If you’re playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on your system like so many other Switch owners, you’re probably seeing about 2.5 to 3 hours of battery life. If you’re having to boot up the game from scratch and then entering shrines, fast traveling, and otherwise bringing up loading screens, you could spend 15 or 20 minutes of your playtime loading.
Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry wanted to see how Zelda loaded off of different media to help ensure we get the most game time.
It’s a clear winner
After the testing, there’s not even a contest. The internal storage included with the Switch wins hands down. It’s not exactly a surprise, but it is kind of a problem. Of all the options for installing games, the internal storage is the most limited. You can run a game off of a game cart, off a microSD card, or off the internal storage. The game cart, the slowest of the three options, requires no installation to play, unlike games on the Switch’s more stationary competitors. External cards can be expanded up to 2TB. There aren’t even memory cards that big yet. MicroSD cards are widely available and usually relatively inexpensive, but they’re also slower than the internal memory.
The internal memory is a scant 32GB of space. When you compare that to the 500GB or 1TB in the Xbox and PlayStation consoles, it barely even registers. The operating system takes up about 6 or 7GB of space, leaving you with 25 to play around in. Zelda takes up another 13 of that. If you want to play two games at once, chances are you’ll only be able to keep one on the internal storage at a time at that rate, and hoarding games is certainly out of the option unless you want to install them to the memory card.
Teardowns of the system have shown that the internal storage isn’t hard-wired into the board, so it’s almost a certainty that Nintendo will release a version with a more substantial chip, but it’s anyone’s guess when that’ll happen and how much it will cost. Until then, some fiddling is going to be required to get the best performance out of the games we’re playing on the system.