Rumour: Microsoft abandoning discs for next-gen

But a download-only console is unlikely, proprietary physical system could remain

A report has emerged which claims that Microsoft is going to abandon disc-based games for its next console, prompting fears that the platform-holder could be building a download only machine before both infrastructure and retail are ready to support it.

The unverified report, from UK trade site MCV, suggests that briefings have already been given to developers under "the strictest NDA", warning that whatever the next Xbox transpires to be, it won't feature disc-based media.

What it doesn't claim, however, is that the Redmond manufacturer is totally abandoning physical media, or indeed the high-street retailer.

A statement issued by Microsoft on the issue is typically non-committal, but does offer some insight into which direction it's facing.

"Xbox 360 has found new ways to extend its lifecycle like introducing the world to controller-free experiences with Kinect and re-inventing the console with a new dashboard and new entertainment content partnerships," the release reads.

"We are always thinking about what is next for our platform and how to continue to defy the lifecycle convention. Beyond that we do not comment on rumors or speculation."

Poignantly, the original report also claims that the machine would "offer compatibility with some sort of interchangeable solid-state card storage". If so, it's likely that this would represent some alternative means of selling physical media, rather than eschewing it for a digital only system instead.

Currently, a DVD or Blu-ray drive means extra heat, noise, space, power usage and opportunity for mechanical failure. Whilst the market is clearly edging ever closer to an all-digital future, it may make more sense for these considerations to be closer to the decision making process behind abandoning discs.

Sony has experimented with bespoke formats for its hardware before, with the PSP's UMD, and now the 'NVG' for Vita. That transition in itself says much about the way in which the platform owners are looking at selling physical media.

Solid-state systems are technically viable, relatively cheap and harder to pirate. They have no moving parts, eliminating many of the drawbacks already mentioned. Microsoft's major markets also lie in territories where infrastructure is still not reliable enough to support a download-only machine.

Rumours of new Microsoft hardware persist, fuelled by the current console cycle nearing its apparent natural end, as well as rumblings of secret developer briefings. Standard fare, perhaps, but any speculation always generates a few false leads.

The idea of a digital-only transition is not impossible, but Microsoft are smarter than that. Physical media may be changing, but it's not dead yet.

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Latest comments (11)

Nick Parker Consultant 9 years ago
....but Microsoft may offer a disc drive as a peripheral?
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Scott Davis Games Analyst, Lift London, Microsoft9 years ago
The games coming out on this system are going to be expected to be of a higher calibre than the current generation (which is only natural for a next-gen system). But Unless they can get a real cheap card-esque physical medium with very large storage capacity, i can't see it beating out multi layered blu-rays for storage capacity surely?

Please correct me if im wrong.

I can't see the next Mass Effect or Final Fantasy being played from an SD card like medium.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Scott Davis on 9th March 2012 10:36am

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Peter Dwyer Games Designer/Developer 9 years ago
So back to cartridges then.....full bloody circle.

I wonder if they've picked out a spot for the mass burial yet. Probably near wherever E.T. ended up...

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Peter Dwyer on 9th March 2012 11:38am

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Show all comments (11)
Henry Durrant Programmer, SUMO Digital9 years ago
Flash-Memory is pretty cheap nowadays, can get 8Gig for a few quid. I would expect that the solid-state ROM would be installed to HDD for speed.
It will be interesting to see where this goes.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Henry Durrant on 9th March 2012 12:47pm

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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 9 years ago
What if Microsoft are going to an App Store model?
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Thomas Dolby Project Manager / Lead Programmer, Ai Solve9 years ago
Why are so many people treating this as in insane idea? Anyone heard of a little thing called Steam that's out at the moment, I think that's doing ok without discs...
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Wesley Williams Quality Assurance 9 years ago
Cheaper, smaller base SKU with HDD and no optical drive. External optical drive (Blu Ray) or larger more expensive secondary SKU with built in drive available.

Retailers selling game cards for downloads as primary with smaller stock of optical versions for those of you not ready to embrace the future. ;)

That would work nicely for me.
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David Wicks Editor / Co-Founder, Gamers Heaven9 years ago
standard flash media that is available cheaply these days is as far as i know not reliable enough for long term storage when being accessed constantly, so a new cartridge is what we'd be looking at with a custom storage system capable of being accessed constantly with a very low failure rate... disc has the advantage in that it will last hundreds of years. also blu-ray can be extended way beyond what is available now. i think M$ are looking for anything other then blu-ray (or another failed attempt at going up against it like hd-dvd). the idea of sony making money from every next gen xbox sold with a blu-ray drive in it would be a hard thing to live with for M$.
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Henry Durrant Programmer, SUMO Digital9 years ago
After a quick Google : apparently Flash EEPROM can keep its data for over 100 years.
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Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus9 years ago
The last time Microsoft did something 100% proprietary for their systems, we got their atrocious hard drives, which are 3X more expensive than comparable hard drives you would see on Tiger Direct or Newegg.

I don't like where this rumour is going.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 9 years ago
A BluRay costs less than $1 to produce, what on earth could be cheaper than that? Certainly no proprietary MS module. So it is either higher costs for the consumer, or less profit margin for the developer. Both is rather unlikely.

Modules have one advantage though. They can be fused to one console, making used sales impossible, or at least force shops like GameStop to purchase "refurbish codes" from Microsoft.

Question being, if publishers will believe the number for this add up. If the financial models say that the additional revenue from "refurbishing" outweighs the additional costs of the Flash Rom, then old school modules could happen again. I do not believe piracy will be impacted much.
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