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10th March 2023

How large game updates affect download speeds

Written by Team Pentanet

10th March 2023


Let's say one of your favourite games has just released a massive update. For this example, we'll use Fortnite. You've got fast internet; that 36GB should be nothing. You start strong, but then you watch your internet go slower until it's barely a MB/s (Want to learn more about the difference between MB/s and Mbps? Read on here).   

Fine then, you'll play tomorrow as your download continues into the night but why is it so slow when your Netflix is still running fine and streaming in 4K? What gives? 

Video game updates are only getting bigger, not too long ago Call of Duty attracted a lot of attention for an update exceeding 170GB! These increasingly unwieldly updates present an issue for everyone involved; the patcher, the patchee, and the telcos.  

When a large update for a popular game comes out, telcos often see a substantial bump in traffic. With so many people trying to download the same massive file, we need to work hard to ensure everyone on the network receives stable connections. 

But telcos can only account for so much when it comes to these patches. Much of the speeds you'll see will be determined by the publisher's servers. After all, for a game to be downloaded, it has to be hosted somewhere.   

These servers, referred to as content delivery networks, provision an allotment of bandwidth for users downloading the update. As this fills up with more and more users downloading the file, they may place data caps on the server, limiting the speeds any user may receive at one time to ensure everyone gets a decent speed rather than favouring any one user.   

However, as capacity is reached, this can slow down further. Imagine it like a freeway, the paths they make available to their server are the lanes, but as traffic builds and builds, everything comes to a standstill. Drivers will move to back roads and dirt paths to get to their destination, these being overflow caches.

In this instance, an overflow cache is a high-speed data storage layer, containing data for the patch (but not necessarily the entire patch), which allows this data to be downloaded faster than by accessing the primary storage location. But as these fill up too, things can grind to a halt until traffic decreases, or they increase their capacity.  

Thankfully, game developers have been better about this in recent years. There was an adjustment period when game updates were first on the uptick in size. But now that they've better understood the needs of these updates, larger publishers like Epic Games and Activision tend to take better control of their content delivery systems and offer enough lanes on the freeway for everyone to get decent speeds.   

There is a better way, though—to skip the updates altogether. GeForce NOW Powered by Pentanet lets you play your supported games straight from the Cloud, on almost any device, anywhere. There's never a need to patch the games, and with the recent announcement that Microsoft will be bringing their best games to the platform, there's never been a better time to get ahead in the cloud. Want to get off the freeway and into the skies? Head to Cloud.gg and try cloud gaming free today!