European players who want to play Microsoft’s upcoming Flight Simulator reboot next month will be able to buy a physical edition of the game that is spread across a massive ten dual-layered DVDs. The retail package comes courtesy of the simulation add-on specialists at Aerosoft, which announced the publishing partnership with Microsoft and developer Asobo earlier this week.
That physical package, which Aerosoft says should cost “very close to the price you pay Microsoft [for the digital edition]” will include over 90GB of data, the bulk of which are graphical assets for the airplanes and detailed ground scenery in the game. After installing the game from those discs, players will still be encouraged to download update files to the simulation itself, as well as stream copious cloud-based data like high-res satellite photos, geographic details, and live weather updates for an even higher level of realism.
“This is very much a simulator that depends on the cloud if you want to use it to its full potential,” Aerosoft community manager Mathijs Kok wrote in a forum thread discussing the physical edition. “If you use the sim offline you get a world that looks a lot better than [Prepar3d] or X-Plane, but you will miss the full high-def coverage of the world with a photo base and all that goes with it (correctly placed trees, etc.),” he added later.
Including all that streamable data in a physical package “would mean not 10 DVDs but thousands of DVDs,” Kok said.
Despite all that online-exclusive data, though, Kok added that “the boxed version makes it possible for people on a slower Internet connection to get the sim installed without downloading the ‘content.’ So the simulator is in every way 100% the same. The boxed retail version just gets you a nice box, printed manual and about 90GB you do not have to download.”
The past and future of disc juggling
The rise of popular downloadable gaming services like Steam means disc-based releases for major PC games have been a relative rarity for years now. Many titles that do get a “retail” release these days end up just shipping a box with nothing but a download code inside.
But Kok still thinks there’s an audience for this particular product. “Keep in mind that in many parts of the world boxed [flight sim] add-ons still do very well,” he writes. “The boxed version of X-Plane we handled did extremely well, and we are super proud of that. As we learned that Microsoft Flight Simulator was a very large product (over 80GB) we knew that there would be a lot of people who could use a boxed version.”
In the US, at least, an Ars analysis shows that average household download speeds have mostly been outpacing the increase in game download sizes in recent years. But that might not be the case worldwide, especially in remote areas where fast broadband is not as prevalent.
For users who may not have DVD drives on their PC towers these days, Kok said Aerosoft plans to offer a “cheapo” USB DVD drive through its online shop. “I got one, under $20, and it works brilliantly,” he said. And while the same 90GB package could be fit easily onto two Blu-ray discs, Kok says that’s not in the cards for this title; while “DVD drives are getting rare in computers, Blu-ray drives have always been rare,” he said.
Flight Simulator‘s nine-disc release hearkens back to the era of late ’90s CD-ROM gaming. Back then, pre-rendered games like Riven would be packed onto five CDs, while massive PlayStation RPGs like Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy IX were spread across four separate discs. Before that, the Amiga version of Monkey Island 2 was famously spread across 11 floppy diskettes that had to be swapped frequently during gameplay.
These days, massive console games like Final Fantasy VII Remake and The Last of Us: Part 2 are seeing physical releases that include two Blu-Ray discs. Retail versions of games on the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 might be forced to span even more discs—both consoles are sticking with the Blu-ray standard rather than pushing for some sort of new, denser optical disc format (while both systems will support 4K UHD Blu-ray video, there has been no indication yet of whether or not games might ship on this higher-capacity format).
That assumes, of course, that physical discs continue to exist as anything more than a small niche in the wider game market. With Capcom recently announcing that 80 percent of its full game sales are digital, it’s no wonder both Microsoft and Sony are experimenting with disc-drive-free consoles, just as Sony’s Kaz Hirai predicted ten years ago. That’s not a great sign for struggling physical game retailers like GameStop, which may be facing a world of nothing but zero-disc games relatively soon.