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Going Solid: Will the next Xbox ditch the disc?

Going Solid: Will the next Xbox ditch the disc?

Fri 09 Mar 2012 1:23pm GMT / 8:23am EST / 5:23am PST
Hardware

The numbers don't add up for solid state media on home consoles, says Rob Fahey

Trade newspaper MCV reported this morning that Microsoft is planning to drop optical disc media from the next generation Xbox, replacing it instead with a removable solid state format. The reaction online was instantaneous - a strong backlash against the idea of an all-digital console, lamenting the plight of those without superb broadband and fretting over the inevitable price hikes brought on by the end of second-hand and retailer discounting.

Spot the disconnect. What MCV reported is the end of optical media in the Xbox; what the world heard, apparently, is the end of physical retail. They're not the same thing, as anyone who's bought a PlayStation Vita - and then successfully walked into a shop and bought a game on a solid-state flash card - can tell you.

MCV shoulders much of the blame for the confusion, since having established that (according to its unnamed sources) Microsoft was proposing to replace optical discs with a solid-state format, it then proceeded to talk about the threat this poses to retail anyway - as if retail cares deeply whether it's selling games on discs or on solid-state cartridges. The next generation of consoles will, inevitably, shift some focus away from physical retail and on to digital distribution, but that will happen regardless of what format is chosen for physical distribution of games.

Still, even if that approach hadn't been taken in the original article, the reaction would probably still have been broadly the same. The industry is pretty jumpy about anything that has an impact on retail right now. It's understandable, given the GAME crisis and the overall fall in physical sales. It's just not terribly relevant to this discussion.

"The industry is pretty jumpy about anything that has an impact on retail right now. It's understandable, given the GAME crisis and the overall fall in physical sales. It's just not terribly relevant to this discussion."

What we're actually talking about here, remember, is the question of whether games will be distributed on optical discs, as we currently do, or whether the next-generation Xbox will follow PlayStation Vita down the path of distributing games on flash cards. That's not a matter of digital retail strategy - next-gen games will be available simultaneously on digital download platforms and in physical retail, regardless of what form the physical product takes. Rather, it's a really straightforward question of cost:benefit.

What are the advantages of solid state? What are the disadvantages? What are the costs? Does it balance out? That's what we're really asking here. That's what Microsoft is asking, too. With solid state prices in freefall and given the problems the Xbox 360 has had with its disc drives over its lifespan, they'd be mad not to think about alternatives to discs. Thinking about it doesn't mean they'll do it, though - it just means they'll weigh the pros and cons.

What are the pros? Well, solid state memory gives you a fair few benefits in terms of the physical structure of the machine. Compared to an optical disc drive, it's small, it's got no complex moving parts, it makes no noise, generates little heat and doesn't suck up much power. From the perspective of a console hardware designer, those are all very positive things - although it's pretty obvious that they're much more attractive if you're designing handheld hardware (like PlayStation Vita). In a console that sits under a TV, plugged into the mains, power consumption, heat, noise and size are still considerations, but vastly less critical than they were in Sony's decision to drop discs from the Vita.

In a console that sits under a TV, plugged into the mains, power consumption, heat, noise and size are still considerations, but vastly less critical than they were in Sony's decision to drop discs from the Vita.

How about the technical aspects? In theory, solid state offers various advantages in this regard. Discs are a well-understood technology, but that doesn't stop them from being a bit of a pain in the backside - they stream data faster in some parts of the disc than others, and have long delays when you move between areas of the disc, forcing the read head to travel across the surface. They're very good at streaming large, continuous files (like movies) and pretty bad at providing access to loads of little files scattered around (like games). Developers solve this by cleverly arranging data on the disc, but it doesn't always work out; solid state should, in theory, be a much better medium to work from.

That's in theory. In practice, the term "solid state" covers a multitude of sins. It can mean the superb SSD drives which give computers a new lease of life and are beloved of anyone working with random access media anywhere, but it can also mean the cheap off-the-shelf SD card you pop into your camera, which offers far fewer advantages - if any. You get what you pay for, in essence. If you're paying for modern, high quality solid state, disc drives would be hard pressed to keep up with performance. If you're watching your budget, though, high quality optical drives will leave you in the dust.

Microsoft, of course, will be watching its budget. It's a trade-off. A good quality optical drive is expensive to build into a console, both financially and technically, but the media costs for games are subsequently very, very low. A solid state reader is cheap, but the media costs - if you're going to rival the performance of the optical drive - are high. Over the lifespan of a console, that could end up being very, very expensive indeed. Bear in mind that a single cent of added expense in game media means a million dollars of lost profit over just a few months of software sales.

It's also important to recognise where the technology now stands. It's lazy to compare solid state media with existing optical drives such as the PS3's somewhat sluggish Blu-Ray drive - instead, look at what the state of the art will be when next-gen consoles launch. Blu-Ray drive speeds have improved vastly in half a decade, and media prices have fallen dramatically. This is now a mature, cheap, attractive technology. Of course, in another half-decade, it'll look a bit old hat - which is why Microsoft is quite right to think about solid state alternatives - but if PS4 and Xbox3 launched tomorrow, the former with a Blu-Ray drive and the latter sporting solid-state, Sony would have a serious cost, capacity and performance advantage over its rival, at least for a few years.

Microsoft isn't developing a console in isolation - it's building a product that it'll pitch against very strong rivals, and it's building it with one eye on what they're going to do. Sony will absolutely have a Blu-Ray drive in the next PlayStation.

That's a further crucial thing to remember. Microsoft isn't developing a console in isolation - it's building a product that it'll pitch against very strong rivals, and it's building it with one eye on what they're going to do. Sony will absolutely have a Blu-Ray drive in the next PlayStation. It's deeply committed to it as a movie format and as a game format, even as it pushes towards the eventual goal of digital distribution, and this time out, Blu-Ray drives are cheap, easy to build and provide strong performance.

In the face of that, could Microsoft convince consumers that not having a drive at all - no ability to play Blu-Rays or DVDs, no option of backwards compatibility, and potentially no real performance or capacity advantage - is a step into the future rather than a critical error? It's a tough call. Apple manages it, of course, but Apple's operating in a very different ecosystem with a very different set of rules.

Is Microsoft thinking about dropping the disc? Yes, of course it is. Every manufacturer knows this day is coming sooner or later. Will it happen in the next Xbox? I don't think the numbers stack up right now. The cost is high, the advantages low. The company may keep its options open with a high-performance removeable memory slot - that would make sense - but it's hard to imagine a new Xbox shipping in the next couple of years without the ubiquitous optical disc drive making a return.

66 Comments

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
It is utterly ridiculous, in this day and age, to ship 1s and 0s around the world in cardboard and plastic. As Apple and Steam have so amply proven.

Posted:2 years ago

#1

Jim Webb
Executive Editor/Community Director

2,246 2,229 1.0
Bruce:
Because we all have the bandwidth to download 50 GB games less than a day. Because none of us have monthly bandwidth caps that could limit you to 1 or 2 games a month if not outright lock you out completely. Because none of us like to trade, borrow or resell our games. Because the PSPGo was such a phenomenal success.


Rob, good article. As always.

Posted:2 years ago

#2

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
@ Jim. Apple have managed 25 billion app downloads thus far.

And Edholm's law applies. (Or Nielsen's law, if you like).

Posted:2 years ago

#3

Dave Herod
Senior Programmer

520 743 1.4
Exactly, Jim. The bandwidth of me walking into sainsbury's, picking up a PS3 game on a blu ray disc, and taking it home in twenty minutes is a hell of a lot faster than a broadband connection. There's nothing remotely ridiculous about that.

Posted:2 years ago

#4

Jim Webb
Executive Editor/Community Director

2,246 2,229 1.0
Bruce, that means exactly what to someone trying to download a 50 GB game on a 500Kb connection with the monthly D/l cap of 40 GBs? Should that person have to simply do without completely because the console is digital sales only?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jim Webb on 9th March 2012 2:25pm

Posted:2 years ago

#5

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
@Jim. Look up Edholm's law. (Or Nielsen's law, if you like).

As seen in news like this: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/03/07/deutsche_telekom_data_record/

Posted:2 years ago

#6
@ Bruce - small games (download overnight may seem reasonable). For folks purely interested in getting home and playing immediately, it doesnt take a zygote to figure a NON downloadable alternative (via traditional/sold state media) is still superior.

In MENA teritories, dialup is still the norm. The day everyone has decent broadband, is probably when we have less world wars, and everyone has a decent personal communications. Until that time, digital only is a very limited narrow viewpoint (because there is no plan B or plan C)

It only takes a 9 hour power cut to scare folks into bemoaning the end of the modern world. No fresh food (the freezer is going to go stale in 2 days), no internet (oh no, we are doomed...), no reading material (because we stuffed it onto our kindle/ipad) and books were abandoned because we had to save paper for biodegraable loo roll, phone batteries die out (because we're busy streaming mindless mp3, music, video without a thought about a alternative powersource)

So yeah, digital is so cool, that when someone pulls the plug, modern society will cease overnight!

In addition, the day some lovely EMP wipes out half the satellites and modern communications, one can still enjoy retro console gaming whilst the world burns (instead of trying to download on vapour)

:)

Posted:2 years ago

#7

Fieaz Ismail

11 1 0.1
I honestly don't think a digital only console would work at the moment. As others have mentioned there are bandwidth caps and many people just don't have access to a fast internet connection or don't have internet altogether, you would lose a lot of business going digital only.

Some form of solid state cartridge doesn't sound too bad, it would definitely increase loading times and probably make the console more reliable. I'm not sure what the cost of something like that would be though as solid state storage is currently quite expensive.

@Bruce. Yes, Apple have done exceptionally well with the app store but you have to take into account that apps are tiny in size compared to current console games and I imagine next-gen we will not see many games under 25GB.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Fieaz Ismail on 9th March 2012 2:46pm

Posted:2 years ago

#8

Jim Webb
Executive Editor/Community Director

2,246 2,229 1.0
Bruce, we've had Internet2 for several years as well. Where is it for the public? You think that's going to happen for everyone in the next few weeks? maybe in a few decades when iPad 3 and Vita have long since lost relevancy in the markets.

If you are hedging your market direction on the future iterations of the optical carrier backbone pipelines, you are ignoring the current market and gambling with investor money (in a way I'm sure they'd not like).

Posted:2 years ago

#9

Antony Carter
Senior Programmer

85 47 0.6
@Bruce

There is nothing on iPhone that relates to the size of games that are on current Gen consoles, never mind next gen consoles. Your comparison is ridiculous, Millions of people will download 20meg apps, Millions wont download 20gig apps.

Yes the future is download only but that aint now, UK is quite a well developed country as far as broadband is concerned and we couldn't cope with it what with all the current download caps, never mind all the less developed countries consoles are sold in.

Posted:2 years ago

#10

Gareth Donaghey
Customer Support Agent

34 45 1.3
Is there even enough rare earth metal materials in the world at the moment to handle conversion to solid state cartridges or such for stocking games in stores across the world? And to make it cost effective?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Gareth Donaghey on 9th March 2012 2:56pm

Posted:2 years ago

#11

Charlie White
Software Support Analyst

15 6 0.4
@Bruce I can't help but feel your opinion is rather deluded. Going from your previous posts in other vita/current gen related articles, it's clear you have a serious vendetta against the vita and current gen consoles other then that of Apple products. There is a market for all these products to co-exist, where would we be without competition in this industry? As the other comments stated and anybody with half a brain in economics will know the Ipad will sell extremely well, as its target audience is vastly greater than that of the Vita's (for example), but it doesn't mean it's a failed or inferior product.

Coming from an owner of the Ipad2 and a Vita, I can honestly say the Ipad is a better experience for web surfing and your so called 'casual games' but, the Vita is a much more immersive experience with such 'hardcore games' as Uncharted and Wipeout the Ipad just cannot compete on the same level due to its lack of buttons, which makes the experience feel rather like an entry level for gaming.

Posted:2 years ago

#12

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
How about the 90+% of PC games that are pirated. Aren't they downloaded over the interweb thing?
And all those Steam games, aren't they downloaded over the interweb thing?

Presumably this is possible because PC games have more slippery bits that go down the wire faster than console game bits do.

Posted:2 years ago

#13

Jim Webb
Executive Editor/Community Director

2,246 2,229 1.0
Gareth, if the Next X has a software presence of around 1 billion sold (nearly double of the X360 already) across a life of 8 years. I don't think that would dent the material allocation market too much as dozens of billions of solid state devices are already sold every single year.

Posted:2 years ago

#14

Jim Webb
Executive Editor/Community Director

2,246 2,229 1.0
Bruce, 90%? I hope you don't seriously believe that figure.

And yes, services do exist today that are valid and are successful. But to day the entirety of the market should jump onto that same delivery method is madness.

Hey, SUV's sell very well. Maybe every vehicle made from now on should be an SUV. That's what your argument sounds like.

Posted:2 years ago

#15

Peter Dwyer
Games Designer/Developer

481 290 0.6
Funny. As you can see from the original story. I interpretted it as the return of some form of cartridge. No idea why anyone would have thought there could be an all download console at this stage.

An app store approach would turn customers off for anything but the most compact games and applications. Waiting 12 hours to download your game (assuming your internet provider doesn't drop your connection at any point) would be a straw the consumer back would willingly call it's breaking point.

Posted:2 years ago

#16

Patrick Frost
QA Project Monitor

393 189 0.5
Although I don't agree with Bruce, i think that the chances of MS pulling a download heavy platform are very high. Most of the features of the current system require a connection and not exactly a bad one either.

Posted:2 years ago

#17

Marty Greenwell
Software Developer

56 38 0.7

Posted:2 years ago

#18

Keldon Alleyne
Handheld Developer

431 406 0.9
@Bruce: excellent observation about the pirates being happy to download their 50GB games, and the 90% figure is in line with comments from a few UK studios on their reported figures of piracy.

... But... your average pirate isn't exactly your average consumer. Pirates go to sleep with their computer on and have RSS feeds configured to download the games, shows and films they want so that by the time they've come home from uni (or whatever they do) they have the products downloaded a few days before launch.

On the other hand broadband providers could cache the data to more local locations, reducing the contention issues of accessing the whole web. Perhaps they may introduce new routers with memory so that locally connected homes can seed the data to nearby homes.

Posted:2 years ago

#19
Most apps aren't Several GBs+

Certainly technology is likely to improve but communications tech is not at a point yet where everyone can rely on soley digital distribution.

Posted:2 years ago

#20

Wesley Williams
Quality Assurance

131 68 0.5
What if Microsoft were to complement a system that had no optical drive with the implementation of an OnLive like service? Play digital games low fidelity instantly or download them for higher fidelity. Bandwidth is still an issue, but time to access is reduced.

However, I still think you could easily go with two SKUs next gen, with the cheaper one having no optical drive and with retailers primarily selling game cards (unlock codes for downloadable versions of games).

Posted:2 years ago

#21

Christopher Bowen
Editor in Chief

411 574 1.4
Bruce: With all due respect, Apple's apps are small. I don't think I have one that's a gig, maybe the first Infinity Blade. On the contrary, console games - especially for a next generation console - are humongous. An entire day to download, and that's for those of us with top-flight connections. And then there are the bandwidth caps imposed by ISPs, which are going to get worse before they get better. The situations are not similar.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Christopher Bowen on 9th March 2012 4:18pm

Posted:2 years ago

#22

James Park
Sr SW Engineer

6 1 0.2
The issue of taking time to download is a non-issue as there is no reason to not implement a system similar to Steam where you can pre-download an encrypted version of the game and unlock it on the day of release.

As for download caps, I'm fortunate enough to live in a country where they simply don't exist (mainly due to a decent communications infrastructure and fierce competition between providers). Admittedly the UK is extremely backward in this respect but that's not to say that this approach can't work elsewhere.

Posted:2 years ago

#23

Christopher Bowen
Editor in Chief

411 574 1.4
One more thing: let's not forget to consider hardware and software improvements. Since the Xbox 360 came out, with ostensibly the same hardware and only some firmware improvements to the software, two entire iterations of Windows have come out, and they're working on a third. Hardware has kept up to speed. That's not the case with consoles; what will be revolutionary in 2012 will be antiquated in 2017. So trying to scale for that is a mug's game. This could work in either direction, but frankly, predicting success or fail at this point is a non-starter.

Posted:2 years ago

#24

Petr Tomicek
Intern Programmer

11 1 0.1
I do not see removal as of optical media as a problem. People tend to think it means download only, but as the article suggests it could just mean substitution of disc for flash based media.

We heard the rumours of next Xbox disabling the possibility of playing used games. With proprietary flash format it could be very easy to do: Once a "virgin" flash media is inserted into a console, it is imprinted with that console's unique ID and be bound to that console.

I can also imagine a scenario where the next console has a large removable drive which is rugged enough to be carried around. If you don't have fast internet connection/don't want to wait for the download, just take your drive to your nearest game shop. The game shop could have a secure terminal, provided by Microsoft, where you can slot in your drive, select the games you want to buy and after you pay those games are loaded onto your drive. All the releases are preloaded into the terminal and stored locally, no need to download on demand.

There are many ways to improve on digital distribution as well. Pre-loading is common these days and content streaming technologies (ie. download first level and start playing and the following levels are loaded as as you play) are starting to appear.

So there are many ways this could work and I am inclined to believe Microsoft has a good plan they thought about long and hard to make it work. The transition to digital is coming, but there will be a middle step that we will see in next Xbox.

Posted:2 years ago

#25

Dominic Jakube
Student

92 13 0.1
One bounus would be a harder format to pirate, everyone has a DVD burner and some a BLU-RAY burner but who has a eprom burner?It would cetainly cut down on "amatuer" piracy but I'm sure a R4 sort of device would appear.Maybe they calculate that into the equation.

Posted:2 years ago

#26

Steve Ball
Software Engineer

18 5 0.3
"... as anyone who's bought a PlayStation Vita - and then successfully walked into a shop and bought a game on a solid-state flash card - can tell you."

So that's not that many really then... :P

Posted:2 years ago

#27

Jack Lee

60 6 0.1
@Keldon Alleyne

I'd like to second bits of this opinion. Pirates are not "standard consumers." It's an example of selection bias. The people who are pirates (in the sense we're discussing, i.e. downloading lots of torrents of digital files, as opposed to people buying/making bootleg dvds or whatever) are people with access to high quality internet already. I'm sure there are exceptions, but it's a very biased pool.

Also, the 90% figure is questionable in my eyes. I don't know the percentages for games specifically, but I do know the percentages of people downloading movies and music (note that I said "people downloading," not "number of files downloaded," as I'm sure serial pirates download absolutely massive numbers), and in the UK more than half of media downloaders get their files from strictly legal sources. Extrapolating this (and yes, I know it's somewhat apples and oranges, but it's close enough to provoke some thought), I would imagine that far less than 90% of game downloaders are pirating their software.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jack Lee on 9th March 2012 5:42pm

Posted:2 years ago

#28

James Verity

132 25 0.2
go down the digital only route and you will be doomed to fail.... the only reason why Apple can cope with the Digital downloads on the iDevices is because the games are quite small 1.5GB max... not everyone has Unlimited Super Fast Broadband... also have you really seen the speed of PSN (for example) sometimes, its hardly fast enough to be downloading 150MB of data let alone 25GB of data!

Edited 1 times. Last edit by James Verity on 9th March 2012 6:42pm

Posted:2 years ago

#29

Chris Nash
QA Engineer

47 23 0.5
I'm leaning towards the "multiple SKUs" explanation myself. A cheaper model without a disc drive for those with fast internet connections, who don't mind about not being able to play physical discs, and an all-bells-and-whistles Blu-ray equipped model for people who are attached to the current play-and-trade model of business, or don't have the net bandwidth to download 30GB+ games.

The solid-state cartridge model makes a kind of sense, but would be obscenely expensive to implement on as grand a scale as MS would want. The major benefit of disc media is that running off a batch of DVDs or Blu-rays is dirt cheap, while manufacturing costs for an equivalent capacity (which would have to be 64GB) flash/solid state card is very high.

Posted:2 years ago

#30
If MS go down the "digital only" route, they will have lost me as a customer. The ME3 demo (for instance) is around 3GB, and most of my friends didn't bother because of the size.

If they go down dropping Optical, and replacing it with something else - I think its a brilliant move, and one I have been arguing for (for ages now).

There are also other alternatives to optical & solid state.

Posted:2 years ago

#31

Private
Industry

1,176 182 0.2
I think blu ray is nice for the storage space it offers but I'm not sure about 2 SKUs where one comes with a disc and one without as that brings fragmentation regarding the difference in data transfer speeds and also extra costs because you need to do extra testing etc. and probably a longer submission process. The advantage of a console is that all devices are the same and I hope MS learned from the mistake of launching the 360 in two versions with and without HDD and doesnt repeat that mistake of fragmentation just to offer a cheap version.

Like many others I cant see the infrastructure in US and EU for download only and only Japan would be able to do that at the moment.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Private on 9th March 2012 9:54pm

Posted:2 years ago

#32

Private
Industry

1,176 182 0.2
I think blu ray is nice for the storage space it offers but I'm not sure about 2 SKUs where one comes with a disc and one without as that brings fragmentation regarding the difference in data transfer speeds and also extra costs because you need to do extra testing etc. and

Posted:2 years ago

#33

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,156 1,075 0.5
One minor reason this fantasy won't happen in the next cycle (or at least until as noted, we ALL have tip top broadband connections): Madden. EA shipped out a Madden NFL game on the original Xbox and PS2 until the 2009 season, long after those consoles were declared "dead" by everyone except those still using them.

You won't see EA completely kill off getting disc-based content out in some form on their multimillion sports titles and it would be a bad idea for anyone else to go digital-only as well in a few other genres. I'm guessing we may see a new type of media, but any console maker who decides to drop ANY form of physical media is only asking for PSPgo-like sales (and the resulting failure of that new system).

And Bruce... at least try to actually KNOW people who live in otherwise civilized areas that suffer from power outages from storm activity on a regular basis who, even with decent broadband connections, can't rely on them to get service when there's zero power for a few hours to almost a week in some cases.

Posted:2 years ago

#34

Andrew Goodchild
Studying development

1,235 396 0.3
Although if you have a power outage, what is powering your 360/PS3 in the first place?

Posted:2 years ago

#35

Klaus Preisinger
Freelance Writing

1,072 1,007 0.9
Let's bury this with logic.

If Microsoft uses fast memory cartridges (such as SSD), then the costs per Gigabyte will be brutal.I doubt MS will forfeit their licensing fees, so the cartridge of a 16GB game will be quite expensive to produce. We are talking $25-$30 gone before one bit is on the cartridge. That is for a game that could have fit on two DVDs. 50GB games will be way too prohibitive in terms of costs to produce.

Meanwhile, Sony can offer far cheaper production of physical media to developers. If the game cost the same, developers will make much more money with the Sony version at launch, or people will flock to the Sony version because it is cheaper.

If Microsoft uses slower memory, then what is the upshot for the consumer? Vita load times anyone? The price disadvantage might not be as bad, but still pretty bad.

The one advantage for Microsoft is every game being unique. Traceable in every way imaginable and reselling is then at the mercy of MS. But that is not something which makes people buy your console. If anything, it scares away people.

STORAGE COSTS MONEY TO THE CONSUMER TOO! If the console is download only, the user has to pay for storage. That means either MS will sell proprietary disks like now and a $60 game will suddenly cost $65 because you have to factor in the space it takes on your expensive harddrive. Compared to a Microsoft 360 hard drive, a post-flood PC hard drive is still dirt cheap.


With arguments overwhelmingly against a cartridge/download only console, these rumors are nothing but rumors. At best, they were seeded to throw off the competition from what MS is really doing.

I agree, a lot of people wouldn't mind the next Xbox to be able to speak to any 4TB drive from the shelve. With such a drive the costs for the consumer to store a game are incremental. A lot of people would buy the game as a download, but the same people would also not mind having a disk. Why? Because even Steam games are sold in a store on a disk and people install that disk. Why copy the data from the Internet, when you can copy from your disk?

Nobody would mind the console to have an additional SSD powered cache, between RAM and physical media. Use an SSD in much the same way the first Xbox used the hard-drive for fast cache.

Posted:2 years ago

#36

Adam Campbell
Associate Producer

1,153 935 0.8
The irony is, if Apple threw out a box tomorrow (a beefier Apple TV) and used the iTunes download only model, people would flock to it.

I guess as Microsoft have a legacy in physical versions of all their software and Xbox is part of an era of 'traditional' consoles, the download only model wouldn't work.

Apple has their market for this, Microsoft don't entirely and we wouldn't want an epic loss in sales from the majority of people that have barely a 3Mbps connection in the west and imposed download limits.

Posted:2 years ago

#37
Some misconceptions:

For solid state, the price per GB is actually pretty low (in cents) - *if* you are talking read-only data, and mass produced data. This is completely different from SSD or USB drives, which are R/W.

The benefits of solid state vrs optical are:
- higher reliability
- cheaper & simpler hardware
- lower power usage
- much, much faster loading times
- possibly an improved architecture (if the memory is good enough, consider it memory directly addressable on the bus). Suddenly your system has gone from 2-4GB of RAM, to 2-4GB RAM + 'n'GB of R/O addressable memory.
- lower reliance on hard disk (pre-caching not needed)
- potentially harder to pirate
- solid state sizes expandable over time
- can combine R/W on solid state (i.e. store save game & other data on memory chip). Can potentially do other things (SuperFX chip on SNES)

The big disadvantage of solid state is the loss of backwards compatibility (unless the unit has a drive as well). This is the big issue, its causing enough issues for the VITA for instance.

The secondary issue is that optical has "space to burn", whereas solid state costs money per GB. So games will need to avoid wasting space.

...

The backwards compat issue is significant (unless MS have some magic way around it): if they do dump optical, I wouldn't be shocked to see two models released (one with an optical drive for backwards compat) - or even an external drive (that would work well...).

Posted:2 years ago

#38

Richard Pygott
Level Designer

40 13 0.3
it would also be ridiculous to alienate your existing customer base that already buys your products by not allowing them to, if they dont have the means or infrastructure to!

Posted:2 years ago

#39

Richard Pygott
Level Designer

40 13 0.3
Interestingly also, if a SSD was used in a future console that does have a Read/Write capability, then what would be the possible Piracy implications???

Posted:2 years ago

#40

Richard Pygott
Level Designer

40 13 0.3
I think though that the rumors have some truth to them, coupled with that its reportedly going to launch 2 SKU's with the Xbox 720.

A pure set-top box that delivers Game content like OnLive!, The Xbox Live Set-top box that is controlled via Kinect, and then a Fully Fledged Xbox 720 with optical drive and Sold State Drive slot or something to make it future proof,..

yes all rumours,...but there is usually an ounce of truth to them

Posted:2 years ago

#41
iOS apps are also in the 10-200mb range while full Xbox and ps3 games will be in the multiple GB range. What's the bandwidth cost of 25 Billion downloads of a 4gb game? and that's just for a single layer DVD game..

Also those of us in the US and other parts of the world have much slower broadband, some with data caps.

Posted:2 years ago

#42
I'm also curious to the difference between the old cartridges and current solid state hardware. Optical media was supposed to lower the price of games (just like the music industry said it would lower the cost of music) and games are still just as expensive as they used to be.. Of course production costs are higher now and we aren't using 2-4 mb cartridges.

P2P distribution could help with distribution of games. Just build in a low-power mode that trickles data into the cluster of clients.

It seems like it would make the most sense to have a blu-ray drive in the next console with a decent sized SSD or even HD while the infrastructure and people's comfort with digital distribution matures. I wouldnt be surprised if the Xbox 4/PS5 has digital distribution only.. But that's still 10 years away.

Posted:2 years ago

#43

Tin Katavic
Studying MSc-Games Technology

44 3 0.1
Question - what happens if your HDD where you install all your games fails? Or gets full? Or the whole unit gets damaged?

Every game you de-install or loose you would have to download again. If you have an optical drive it would take an hour or two to reinstall ... lets say 5 games. To download 5 games it will take much longer. It might take several days unless you have a fast internet (not everyone does) or leave your XBox downloadin 24 hours a day (which would also mean you wouldnt be surfing much while you wait not to mention that that cant be good for the system).

And on top of that this means the consol isnt enough for a "media center" cause if you want to watch a DVD/BlueRay you need to have a DVD player. Buying an extra box for the shelf is not great. If PS3 didnt have BlueRay I know I wouldnt go buy a BlueRay player but would make do with DVDs.

Posted:2 years ago

#44

Rodney Smith
Developer

80 40 0.5
A 1TB (931 formatted) drive would hold 18 Bluray (50gb) disks. These could be your current favourite list (you're not likely to play killzone, killzone 2 if you're playing killzone 3) but it wouldn't be pleasant if you decided play an older game with 50GB over 50Mb broadband taking at least a couple of hours to re-download.

After playing Windows 8 (terrible) I'm getting a real bad feeling about the xbox next with rumours about AMD 6400 series graphics, kinetic focused and no optical drive it looking like microsoft has stuff it on this one. Could this be its Saturn/Dreamcast moment?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Rodney Smith on 12th March 2012 8:11am

Posted:2 years ago

#45

Dave Herod
Senior Programmer

520 743 1.4
@Mike F - "and games are still just as expensive as they used to be.."

Posted:2 years ago

#46

Aleksi Ranta
Product Manager - Hardware

272 126 0.5
As long as there are people around the world that dont have unrestricted access to the internet and/or without data-caps, there will be a physical media drive in consoles. I can pretty much state that as a fact.

Edit: Also the outcry from hardcore gamers that would hit their datacap would be huge. "why on earth should we pay more for downloading 5games a month as compared to people who download just one? The actual cost of my 59.90 MW7 was actually 74.90 with my extra download costs."

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Aleksi Ranta on 12th March 2012 9:10am

Posted:2 years ago

#47

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
Well pointed out Adam.

If/when Apple make their home gaming device it definitely will not use physical media. And it would sell in the hundreds of millions.
Microsoft know this is coming so have no option but to do the same themselves. Otherwise Apple will destroy them.
Bandwidth gets faster and cheaper every year. Virgin in the UK are just currently doubling what they give customers, at no additional charge. They are rolling out 100Mb connections that will download an album in 5 seconds and a movie in one and a half minutes. This will be the same all over the world. Then it will get even faster.

The people commenting on here who don't believe it should just look at a graph of internet speed and cost over time then extrapolate it.

When you look at it the idea of shipping cardboard and plastic all over the world is just ridiculous.

Posted:2 years ago

#48

Dave Herod
Senior Programmer

520 743 1.4
I can download an album in minutes and have been able to do so for years. So why then are there still shops selling CDs? I can download books to my Kindle in seconds, yet there's still book shops. Bruce, you seem to see everything with tunnel vision, with a kind of "there can be only one!" approach and dismiss everything else as ridiculous. While there's truth in what you say, don't you think for now, the answer lies somewhere in the middle and over time, the balance will probably tip but not all in one huge avalanche of change?

Posted:2 years ago

#49

Aleksi Ranta
Product Manager - Hardware

272 126 0.5
Bruce: "When you look at it the idea of shipping cardboard and plastic all over the world is just ridiculous."

The comment is true, its just not true for the next lifecycle of consoles. The internet connection penetration is just not there yet for the majority of users.
Possiblity doesnt mean reality yet....

Posted:2 years ago

#50

Jim Webb
Executive Editor/Community Director

2,246 2,229 1.0
Bruce, if Apple debuted a home console with no physical medium delivery method, it would still consist of the same titles already available on their market today. They would not attract many full console titles.

And your bandwidth claims that soon the whole world will have 100 Mb connections is pure fantasy. Most of the switch gear still in use today was designed for dial up. High bandwidth in densely populated areas is possible because the cost dynamics make it worth it. Reduce the population density and your bandwidth costs per customer can skyrocket. You also have to consider that smaller countries that never had much of the old infrastructure installed back in the 80's and 90's can more affordably install modern infrastructure where as a larger nation that did originally install legacy hardware must incur massive costs to upgrade and replace the old hardware to attain your 100 Mb connection.

Posted:2 years ago

#51

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
@Jim Webb
Edholm's law applies. (Or Nielsen's law, if you like). As I keep saying.
Look them up and think about what they mean.
In the developing world people use cell infrastructure instead of wire. The mobile standards being rolled out, like LTE, run at 1 Gbit/second.

You seem unable to grasp the reality of what is actually happening in the world just now. Consoles are in sharp decline. Physical distribution is in sharp decline. Digital distribution is booming. These are are all easily observable and provable facts.

Apple would not just put the same titles on their home machine as are already on their market. Because Apple don't put anything anywhere. It is the publishers that decide what is created. And the publishers made the transition from iPhone to iPad easily enough. So the publishers would have no problem making the transition to HDTV.

Finally boasting on VGCHARTZ about your posts on here is not very mature. Viper1.

Posted:2 years ago

#52

Chris Wood
Lead Game Designer

14 2 0.1
@Bruce - the issue with Nielson's Law is that it seems to only apply to high end users. (and probably those in areas where the infrastructure is pretty well advanced).Not everyone can afford it. Yes Mobile standards are being rolled out - but I can still only use 1 gig of bandwidth a month without paying exorbitant charges. Greater technological access is of course inevitable. I still think we are not quite there yet.

Posted:2 years ago

#53
i can barely download the sunday times in a pub or be able to see and download files via dropbox on a tablet/smartphone. There is a fat chance (in this term) that all the fantastical rhetoric spouted above will be a reality in the next 5 years.

In fact, there is a higher chance of finding lunar anomalies and evidence of ex civilization on mars before we even get decent wifi/3G and internet for the masses.

Posted:2 years ago

#54

Jim Webb
Executive Editor/Community Director

2,246 2,229 1.0
Bruce, that was a social experiment to see how fast it would get back to you. I'm working on some projects about the dissemination of positive and negative information and the interconnectivity of cross platform online users. A 1st person test opportunity presented itself. You beat the average, by the way.


I just checked out a few data plans with mobile phone providers.
AT&T - 5 GB per month for $50. $10 per extra GB.
Sprint - 12 GB per month for $80. $0.05 per extra MB ($50 per extra GB).
Tmobile - 10 GB per month for $80. Dropped to 2G speeds if over 10 GB.
Verizon - 10 GB per month for $80. $10 per extra GB.



I'd keep going but it's obvious that mobile data plans are not very conducive to gamers looking to download 50-100 GB per month.

Posted:2 years ago

#55

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
@Jim

Not today. But draw some graphs of cost over time and you will see that mobile airtime is headed for zero cost.

Posted:2 years ago

#56

Jim Webb
Executive Editor/Community Director

2,246 2,229 1.0
Sure, just as any service and electronic products with good competition and free market forces.

But I think we have different expectations on when it will be come feasible to utilize those services on a level that allows for the removal of all boxed content. And you have to remember that if one link in the chain of all those services and all those countries (first tier economies) is not yet ready, you will still need boxed retail or risk alienating a huge portion of the consumer market.

It will get there. I will completely agree with you on that. I'm not as optimistic on when as you are. Many of your words suggest we are either there already or will be there in just a few months time. I think we may be a full console generation cycle away...if not 2.

Posted:2 years ago

#57

Christopher Garratty
Trainee Solicitor

77 81 1.1
@Bruce: As many others have said. The iPhone market is very different to the home console market. If Apple were to launch a home console then all the iOS users may well flock to it, but they'd flock to it with their expectations of Freemium titles and $0.99 apps. That's not the market that Xbox and PlayStation live in. You can fund the development of Angry Birds on a $0.99 model. You can't really produce AAA blockbusters like Mass Effect and Call of Duty on that basis though.

You also need to look at the current Xbox 360 market. For the ~60 million Xbox 360 consoles sold, there are only 40 million Xbox LIVE accounts, not all of them Gold. Why risk cutting off up to 30% of your market? Especially when your closest competitor can easily come in and scoop them up.

As a consumer, going download only would make me very nervous, unless of course Sony and MS are going to let platforms like Steam, Origin and D2D sell directly to the consumer so that there is some competition in the market (I doubt Hell will ever get cold enough for that).

As for removing optical media, both Sony and MS have been pushing their consoles as home media centres. If MS don't bring a Blu-Ray to the party next gen then they automatically fall out of that "one stop shop" for people's entertainment needs.

Also, you keep referring to Edholm's and Nielsen's law. As I understand it Nielsen's law says, internet will get faster, and Edholm's says that the relative differences in speeds between in Wireless, Wi-Fi and Ethernet will stay about the same (with Wi-Fi and Wireless converging in 2030). That means that in 2030 I'll be able to download a 50gb Blu-Ray game as quickly via my phone as I can via my Wi-Fi, but nowhere near as quickly as via my Ethernet cable.

You're acting like network speed is the only thing that is changing, and as a result have overlooked "Garratty's Law" (there may be an existing facsimile) which states that "if you give a developer a capacity to work to, they will complain that it is not enough". 1080p will give way to 4k, requiring higher res textures. Physical media will get cheaper and be able to store more. 50GB games will become 500GB games and super/hyper/whatever fast broadband users will still have to download those games overnight when they could get the physical media and play it straight away.

Posted:2 years ago

#58
Another gross over estimate are global and natural forces

1/ Lets say, the major producers of fuel are diminished/cut off and production of energy is destroyed. (now we are not even talking apocalpytic events here, maybe a 1-2 year hiccup due to regional destabalization) Energy prices it self will sky rocket, and one may experience rolling waves of electrical blackouts/curfew.

2/ escalating cost of living due to energy and food deprivation. This leads folks to steal further copper wiring and ravage existing infrastructure...internet technologies will probably be the purvey of the minority

3/ a goodly portion of the world still USES dialup! or do not even own mobile phones and have to resort to the local net cafe for any sense of internet access.

Personally, having a device with all options available and thus having a "plan B" wins the home entertainment battle

Posted:2 years ago

#59

Klaus Preisinger
Freelance Writing

1,072 1,007 0.9
Let's put the numbers down:

A BluRay costs $1 and can be resold ad infinitum by GameStop. The only chance to make money off games is the moment you dump them on the market. At some point GameStop will circulate copies to satisfy demand at the expense of publishers. The BluRay cannot prevent this.

But the flash rom can! You could create cartridges in such a way that they become linked to one console and one console only. No more lending to friends, no more rental places (or at least they would have to buy special rental versions), no more used sales cutting you out.

User will still want to resell games and this flash rom can provide. They just bring it to the GameStop, the GameStop gives them credit and that is as much as they need to know. LICENSED USED GAME RETAILER (can you smell the franchise fees?) The licensed used game retailer then connects the cartridge to the web and "refurbishes" it, i.e. buy a license for money. The game will once more be linked to the next console it is plugged in. No difference for the customer, but Microsoft can tap into GameStop's cash register. Jackpot!

How likely is this scenario? Well, just crunch the numbers. Leverage the added costs of a cartridge over the BluRay and whether they can be recouped by earning on every resell. If the numbers add up, then why wouldn't you try it. Plus publishers probably increase used sales by eliminating the option of people to lend games to friend. Rental places will be forced to cut new deals with publishers. It is a win win win situation.

The numbers might not work out yet, but someday they will. Microsoft might be compelled to release with BluRay at first, but give the console a proprietary cartridge slot for later in the lifecycle.

Posted:2 years ago

#60

Tin Katavic
Studying MSc-Games Technology

44 3 0.1
@Bruce As you keep mentioning Apple ... there is Apple TV that you hook up to your TV and using iTunes download a movie and stream it on your TV. By your logic the moment Apple TV launched it should have spelled the end of DVD/Blue Ray for movies. And yet they are still holding on. People still rent movies in Blockbuster, people still buy movies for their home collections.

Microsoft is going in the wrong order - first start changing the way you distribute games and when there is no more demand for DVD then you make a console without an Optical drive. And even THEN if I had a choice between a console with or without Optical drive I would choose with so I could play movies from DVD/BlueRay if not older games.

Posted:2 years ago

#61

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,156 1,075 0.5
Some folks in these areas have backup power generators, Andrew. You can get some stuff powered up, but the internet usually stays down. Granted, most of them probably aren't worried about getting a game console going (just the fridge and freezers so food doesn't spoil), but I'm one of those dopes that would waste juice wanting to play a game at some point because I'd be bored looking out the window at some point...

Posted:2 years ago

#62

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
@Tin
Apple TV, up to last week, was only 720p. So not the best competition to physical media.

And blu-ray has been pretty much a failure compared with previous generations of optical media. It has come too late.

Posted:2 years ago

#63

Curt Sampson
Sofware Developer

596 360 0.6
One thing to keep in mind is that, if all the SKUs include an HDD, there's no particular need for the original game storage media to be fast. You just cache the bits to which you need fast access, or even the whole game, on the hard drive. The UI for this could be cleaned up a bit from the way both systems do it now, where the user is currently responsible for deleting stored material that's not likely to be used again in the near future.

And I suspect that any vendor would really like the idea of selling download games even at retail, where you'd either buy media there or bring in your own (a USB flash drive or whatever), but link the game to your ID at the shop so it could no longer be re-sold.

Posted:2 years ago

#64

Rodney Smith
Developer

80 40 0.5
Carts will limit image quality and game size. Even with new process methods I doubt that we will see much above 4GB for a long time and will not match blu ray's 50GB without costing the earth.

If you want to see what carts can do look at uncharted on the vita samy textures and locations with delays as they are decompressed (so no real speed increase over disks).

Posted:2 years ago

#65

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