Data caps are a serious threat to the way game companies do business, but especially to game pass.

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bigsocrates

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Comcast recently announced that it was going to add data caps to home customers in over a dozen states next year. On the basic tier it's a 1.2 terabyte cap, which isn't too low, but a charge of $10 for every 50 gigabytes over that cap. This is, of course, a massive issue for all kinds of things during the pandemic, from streaming video to Zoom, but it's an even bigger issue for games right now, which have exploded in size recently. Mortal Kombat 11, for example, is 100 gigabytes for the Xbox Series X version. If you've hit your cap that means it would cost $20 to download it.

Of course you might think that almost nobody downloads a full terabyte of games in one month, and that's mostly true. I've probably done that this month because I downloaded a bunch of stuff for my new Xbox, but it's rare. However it's obviously not just game downloading that sucks up bandwidth. Pretty much everything you do, does, so your actual budget for games is likely much smaller. Even worse, a lot of the downloading that takes place comes in the form of massive patches, which often clearly replace huge chunks of games and are not at all designed to minimize patch size. That means that, especially if you play games online (which also eats up bandwidth) and are required to have the current version up to date, you might be hit with mammoth downloads not just because you bought something new but because some game you play decided to update and the developers thought it was easier just to replace everything than to patch whatever they're fixing or adding.

This is already a big issue and the fact that companies are continuing to expand datacaps even as games continue to balloon in file size is eventually going to cause these business models to clash with one another. You often can't even get around it by buying physical games because they also often have massive day one patches, which frequently are basically required to make the things run even remotely well. Good luck with that unpatched version of Cyberpunk this December! Both Sony and Microsoft are putting out digital only boxes, and Nintendo is frequently shipping games on Switch cartridges where big chunks of the game have to be downloaded and aren't on the cart at all, patched or not. Obviously PC gaming is almost entirely download-based at this time, with physical PC games often being more of a novelty than a serious business model for big budget releases.

But as bad as the situation is in general, it's even more threatening for Gamepass and to a lesser extent game streaming. Gamepass's whole model is built on offering people a wide selection of stuff they can download and try out with no commitment. While some of the games are small indie titles of only a few gigs, many titles on the service are huge games that may still be getting patches. If you want to play Quantum Break and download the high quality video files that's going to be another 100 gig behemoth. Forza Horizon 4 comes in at a relatively svelte 63 gigs, but that's still a full 5% of your data, and over $10 to download if you've hit your cap. These games are big and especially with small hard drives on the new systems it's going to be hard to get people to sample a bunch of stuff if they're up against an expensive data cap.

Obviously data caps are bad and totally unjustified for a host of reasons, but I think that the fact that they're not only not going away but expanding is pretty dangerous for the games industry's current model and for Gamepass in particular. The game industry is all in on massive downloads, often more than once over the course of a game's life, and while that might be manageable for people who only buy one or two games a month, it's going to be a much harder situation for heavy users, people who get new consoles and want to download a bunch of stuff for them, and especially people who are paying for Gamepass's all you can eat service.

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csl316

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#2  Edited By csl316

I got my Series X and proceeded to download a bunch of stuff. Today I got a message that I went over my data cap. I didn't even know I had a data cap!

So needless to say, I'm gonna keep buying physical games and being extra careful about downloading games to play later.

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Justin258

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Data caps are a threat to the way the internet has been used for the past few years in general, and they are especially damaging to the way it has been used in 2020.

I spend most of my time using the internet in some way, whether it's at work or letting Youtube play while doing chores at home or talking to people on Discord or streaming videos or playing online video games and, yes, downloading multi-gigabyte patches. If you use the internet to download books for your Kindle and play 90's video games and check email and nothing else, you probably have nothing to fear from a 1.2 TB data cap. If you frequently watch Youtube and Netflix, work remotely, attend Zoom meetings, and play modern video games, then you are almost guaranteed to cross that cap at least a few times a year. Remember that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare's current install size is roughly a fifth of your 1.2TB data cap.

I currently have Spectrum and no data cap because there was some clause somewhere that said Spectrum can't have a data cap for some number of years, but they're trying to wriggle out of that. If they do, my other option is AT&T's top-end phone/cable/internet package for a ridiculous price tag that I'm not paying.

It's bullshit, but it's bullshit that gets to walk because there are so few ISPs out there and the ones that exist are sort of mega-conglomerate old-money type businesses that don't change without tons of pressure from both the public and politicians. Which means it isn't going away anytime soon, unless Google, Microsoft, and Amazon fight data caps somehow, as all three megacorporations have the capital and motivation to actually stop it. They don't seem interested in doing this, so I'm not holding my breath. In America at least, the coming administration has so much shit to sort out that this seems like it's going to be a backburner sort of thing.

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ShaggE

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What really butters my ass about this is that the pandemic proved how useless caps are. The internet can handle the increase just fine.

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berfunkle

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Both the PS5 digital version and the Xbox series S are selling well. It looks like some folks are in for some sticker shock when they find out that all the games they're downloading are going to cost extra.

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BladeOfCreation

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ISPs are like all of the bad aspects of capitalism bundled into a single company.

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frytup

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I watch a lot of shit on the internet, and I have yet to bust my 1TB (now 1.2TB) cap in the 2-3 years it's been a thing. Admittedly I'd probably be a bit more concerned if I were streaming games or if I actually had time to check out more than a couple of big games per month.

Which means it isn't going away anytime soon, unless Google, Microsoft, and Amazon fight data caps somehow, as all three megacorporations have the capital and motivation to actually stop it.

I actually think it's inevitable that they will. At least in the US it just comes down to who plops more money into politicians' pockets, and when you have Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and (possibly) Apple eventually, that's not a fight the ISPs can win.

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Efesell

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bigsocrates

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@efesell: Strange how they never actually put the "those who use less Internet data pay less" part into action. They must have forgotten to lower prices for people who stay under the cap. Whoops.

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hermes

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I think this is one of the cases where free market can work in your favor. Suppose some of the giants make a deal with an ISP so that data caps don't apply to their product. That would be reason enough for some massive exodus, which will certainly make other ISP pay some attention to their policies.

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bigsocrates

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@hermes: First of all, one of the reasons that data caps exist at all is that there is no free market for ISPs in most places. Instead companies get artificial monopolies for various BS reasons that mostly amount to political influence. It's crony capitalism and rentierism not the "free market" (which is a thing that doesn't actually exist, especially for something like an ISP, which requires a lot of government involvement to clear room for cables and is already regulated in hundreds of ways.)

Secondly...theoretical solutions that don't actually happen are not actual solutions. Companies generally don't actually enter into these types of agreements for various reasons, and even when they do the agreements are often bad for consumers in a host of ways.

The solution here is regulation. The same tool that these ISPs use to maintain their monopolies.

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Justin258

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@hermes said:

I think this is one of the cases where free market can work in your favor. Suppose some of the giants make a deal with an ISP so that data caps don't apply to their product. That would be reason enough for some massive exodus, which will certainly make other ISP pay some attention to their policies.

Threatening to move to a better ISP is a great option if a better ISP is available. Most Americans have two options, usually some Charter-owned company and AT&T, both of which are fucking garbage. A lot of people only have one viable high speed option available. If you've got those options and you threaten to move, it's mostly an empty threat.

Some have Google Fiber or a more locally-owned ISP that might be way better, but Google Fiber isn't spreading anymore and locally-owned ISPs are getting gobbled up by the big guys.

All of this is why the internet needs to be regulated as a utility and not as a service. It has become an expected necessity for many different kinds of jobs

Are there any mesh networks around the US or have those been made illegal for bullshit reasons yet?

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hermes

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Ok, I admit this was an hypothetical and poorly informed comment. I am not American, and in my country ISPs have a host of (different) problems...

I just find it surprising no ISP (even the big ones) would try to make this into a marketing differential.

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bigsocrates

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@hermes said:

Ok, I admit this was an hypothetical and poorly informed comment. I am not American, and in my country ISPs have a host of (different) problems...

I just find it surprising no ISP (even the big ones) would try to make this into a marketing differential.

They absolutely do! Optimum Online, for example, advertises "unlimited data" as part of its pitch. So did Google back when Google fiber was a business it was pursuing actively.

The issue is that due to the aforementioned franchise limitations in many places there are often only a couple or even one options, so new companies can't really get started or access to these markets. It's more or less impossible to start an ISP without government permission because you need access to utility poles or the ability to dig under the street to lay cable.

If you are the only seller of an essential service in a given place there is absolutely no need for marketing anyway.

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YoThatLimp

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I hit my cap quite frequently and I don't do anything crazy just stream a lot of Netflix and download a few big games a month and patch Call Of Duty. It sucks.

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colourful_hippie

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#16  Edited By colourful_hippie

I’m fully expecting that if things keep the way they’re going, sans any big regulatory change at the federal level, Microsoft will more than likely pay Comcast’s blood sacrifice in order to zero rate Game Pass downloads for its customers.

It also doesn’t help that all of us who are doing the complaining about their bullshit data cap barely make up 3% of the crowd who regularly breach the cap. We’ll just have to wait for the rest of the nation to catch up to using the internet intensively like us which will then push Comcast to hike the cap up further to re-establish the status quo and we’ll do this see-saw dance for the foreseeable future.

They had already hiked it up from the beginning their cap was at a flat 1TB

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Here in SLC, Comcast has had caps for years. But in areas of the city, with google fiber, no cap. It’s so crazy that they will charge it only when you have no other option. Once I had the option to go with a local gigabit fiber company, I left immediately.

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Shindig

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As someone with shit British internet, my speeds are fairly useless but there is no cap to deal with. I'm aware America is big and therefore requires big infrastructure, but can they not cap it on speed rather than data?

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Efesell

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#19  Edited By Efesell

@shindig: I mean it sounds like you're asking that they provide better service and that's not what the goal is.

Instead you have caps so that you can extract money from the consumers who do need to go over it.

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OurSin_360

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#20  Edited By OurSin_360

The internet needs to become an essential service, especially during and after this pandemic as it proves we need it more than ever for constant connectivity to each other. I have comcast now and their data cap is terrible (50 dollars extra a month for unlimited). ATT was okay if you have their cable as well as you automatically get unlimited data. In the midwest we are forced to use either or as there is no fair competition for cable/internet companies right now. They can't pull that shit in places like texas because of all the competition. Basically corrupt politicians allowing this stuff to happen for funding etc, Comed just got in trouble for it so hopefully they will get exposed as well.

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ajamafalous

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The internet needs to become an essential service, especially during and after this pandemic as it proves we need it more than ever for constant connectivity to each other. I have comcast now and their data cap is terrible (50 dollars extra a month for unlimited). ATT was okay if you have their cable as well as you automatically get unlimited data. In the midwest we are forced to use either or as there is no fair competition for cable/internet companies right now. They can't pull that shit in places like texas because of all the competition. Basically corrupt politicians allowing this stuff to happen for funding etc, Comed just got in trouble for it so hopefully they will get exposed as well.

Not sure where you're getting the idea that Texas is any different of an experience.

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penguindust

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This can't be good news for the streaming services either. It's no surprise that a cable company is limiting access as more and more people move away from traditional TV towards online streaming be it Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney+, Apple+ or HBO Max.

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OurSin_360

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@oursin_360 said:

The internet needs to become an essential service, especially during and after this pandemic as it proves we need it more than ever for constant connectivity to each other. I have comcast now and their data cap is terrible (50 dollars extra a month for unlimited). ATT was okay if you have their cable as well as you automatically get unlimited data. In the midwest we are forced to use either or as there is no fair competition for cable/internet companies right now. They can't pull that shit in places like texas because of all the competition. Basically corrupt politicians allowing this stuff to happen for funding etc, Comed just got in trouble for it so hopefully they will get exposed as well.

Not sure where you're getting the idea that Texas is any different of an experience.

Well it was when I lived there lol

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Crazy that the US ISP's are going back to caps after Australian ISP's have largely abandoned them in the past few years. Hope it's not a sign of the returning here also.

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I'm sure for folks with data caps they are a massive headache to deal with, but it has not stopped the rapid growth for Game Pass or the big shift to digital on console over the last generation.

I fail to see how data caps are a serious threat to GP, digital or streaming etc.

Capcom also said in their last earning call they expect digital to reach 90% in the next few years.

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bigsocrates

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@thepanzini: Data caps are relatively rare right now, but as I posted initially they are expanding. Game Pass only has 15 million subscribers right now, so it's quite possible that very few of them are dealing with data caps, we don't know the current impact. But if the caps expand and get worse it's a serious threat. In terms of Capcom and games going digital...in addition to the fact that Capcom is less U.S. focused than Microsoft (Xbox is much more a U.S. concentrated brand than Sony, Nintendo, or, of course, Windows) it's quite possible that so far digital games haven't been hit too hard by the caps, but as games get bigger and more bloated, and as the caps expand, we could see that happen in the U.S.

However if people only buy 1 or 2 games a month at max then it's probably not a big issue. And a lot of Capcom properties are legacy titles with small footprints (Monster Hunter World will eat your gigs quick but Mega-Man won't.)

The issue with Game Pass is that it's explicitly an "all you can eat, download everything" data hog in a way that other stuff isn't. Maybe it can keep expanding anyway, but that doesn't mean that expensive data isn't a threat to something that's explicitly designed to get people downloading. And the fact that they've reached 15 million customers so far is pretty meaningless because that's far fewer than the number of Xbox owners who don't have caps, so we don't know how the two issues interact yet (though I'd imagine Microsoft has data on it.)

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NameRedacted

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#28  Edited By NameRedacted

What?! You mean having corrupt, regional broadband monopolies that overcharge and underdeliver services, that actively suppress meaningful competition and legislation, that get massive tax breaks in addition to all the billions in tax payer money they're supposed to be using to upgrade infrastructure (but aren't) is a bad thing??? /s

Internet in the US and Canada are hot dogshit. The internet is a public utility and should be treated as such.

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#29  Edited By ThePanzini

@bigsocrates: Not sure about the US, but data caps in the UK are easily avoided with all providers, and not really a problem across EU and Asia either.

Worth noting currently 80% of Capcom's sales are digital, Monster Hunter World is their best selling game by far atm which sold more copies digitally.

Which is the same story for all the major publishers, FIFA a title that has always skewed heavily towards physical for the first time this years sold more digitally. The PS4/XB1 started the generation with 15% digital ratio were ending it at more than 55% and with every pub expecting it to grow.

I don't think data caps will be Game Passes limiting factor, GP seems to be really popular with core audience who buy/play a lot games, but most people just don't play a lot of games. Convincing the majority of FIFA, Fortnite and COD players to sub with be GP biggest challenge.

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Efesell

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@thepanzini: There are choices of providers here that do not impose caps but Comcast does and if you live in any populous area at all in the US then you most likely are served by Comcast.

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This can't be good news for the streaming services either. It's no surprise that a cable company is limiting access as more and more people move away from traditional TV towards online streaming be it Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney+, Apple+ or HBO Max.

Ironically, Comcast's TV service has been pretty durable in the grand scheme of the current cord cutting era. Sure it has been losing subs over the years but the rate of loss has continued to slow down and is nowhere near as severe as the losses that satellite TV providers are experiencing.

A big reason for this is that there are too many streaming options out there and the skinny cheap bundles that are available have consistently increased their prices to the point of nearly rendering the original price conscious objective of leaving cable practically pointless. Comcast's cable business will be here to stay.

I do agree though on these caps hurting streaming services. If regulations around this don't get created then you will absolutely see Netflix/Disney+ sized services paying ISPs their blood money to zero rate their services.

There's never been a better time to be a Comcast investor.

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ajamafalous

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#32  Edited By ajamafalous

@oursin_360 said:
@ajamafalous said:
@oursin_360 said:

The internet needs to become an essential service, especially during and after this pandemic as it proves we need it more than ever for constant connectivity to each other. I have comcast now and their data cap is terrible (50 dollars extra a month for unlimited). ATT was okay if you have their cable as well as you automatically get unlimited data. In the midwest we are forced to use either or as there is no fair competition for cable/internet companies right now. They can't pull that shit in places like texas because of all the competition. Basically corrupt politicians allowing this stuff to happen for funding etc, Comed just got in trouble for it so hopefully they will get exposed as well.

Not sure where you're getting the idea that Texas is any different of an experience.

Well it was when I lived there lol

Where did you live? I have lived in Texas my entire life across multiple cities and it has never been any different. In Houston, my mom can only choose between Comcast and AT&T, both of which have data caps. My dad can only get AT&T DSL (not cable, so he's capped to 18 Mbps). In Austin, I can choose between AT&T or Spectrum (Charter), and Spectrum currently only doesn't have a data cap due to a merger agreement scheduled to elapse in 2023, but that they're fighting to try to get cleared in 2021 instead. I've also lived in apartments where I didn't even get a choice; the ISP and plan were just 'whatever the apartment management decided they were serving to their rooms.' It is no different than most other places in the country.

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Trance-fighter

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Boy how I am happy to pay just 20 eur per month for unlimited internet and 400Mbit down speeds. Hope this nonsense will never come to us.

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Berserk007

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Shit just needs to be a hard rate utility, no scaling. The information travels at the speed of light, hard to believe its congestion that is meriting data caps. Waiting for 10g or whatever to get rid of the "tube" mentality

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vahidlp

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@csl316: OMG! Does that mean you can no longer download the games?