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Historical Size Constraints in Electronic Games

This article is part of a series about entertainment and computer games. It follows and summarizes Entertainment Technology Generations. This section begins with an introduction to How the Computer Game Industry Works.

The chart below illustrates the changes over time in the maximum capacity of distribution media available to both general-purpose computer and game console platforms. Media capacity is represented in bytes along the vertical axis using a logarithmic scale. The span of the computer game industry's history (from its inception in 1976) is represented in years along the horizontal axis using a linear scale.

PC vs. Console Media Capacity
Computer vs. Console Media Capacity

Note that the amount of media capacity available to console games lagged that available to general-purpose personal computers until low-cost optical drives (c.d.-rom and d.v.d.-rom) were integrated into game consoles. Note also that this chart illustrates only the size of the media, and that media size does not necessarily limit the size of games (especially for personal computers), as they may be distributed using multiple volumes.

I include additional data points indicating the capacity and release of the NeXTcube and SNES platforms because they serve as interesting milestones. Had NeXT's NeXTcube been released years earlier (as likely was planned), its 256-MB magneto-optical (m.o.) disk cartridge drive would have fallen on the technology curve, rather than lagging behind c.d.-rom technology. (The first c.d.-rom game had been released the year before the NeXTcube.) The Super Nintendo Entertainment System offered an addressable range of only 4 MiB, vs. the 16 MiB range of the Sega Genesis, which was released about two years earlier. There may never have been 16-MiB games published for the Genesis, though 4-MiB games (such as Donkey Kong Country) were certainly published for the SNES.

For further reading about the history of video and computer games and their technology, see the introduction to Electronic Game Industry History and Entertainment Technology Generations, which introduces the Entertainment Technology Timeline.