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According to British news magazine MCV (The Market for Computer and Video Games), inside sources from Microsoft have given them information that the successor console to the Xbox 360 will not include an optical disc drive, and will be on sale in 2013. Microsoft refused to confirm the rumors, but issued a statement on March 9 that they are always trying to “defy the lifecycle convention.”
If this information proves to be true, it would be a significant change to the gaming world. While record collections are now mostly digitalized and people prefer their music digital, the infrastructure for gaming is not quite as prepared for an all-digital economy.
The Xbox 360 is arguably the most popular gaming console this generation, with the widest selection of games, a huge online-experience user base, and a serious gamer clientele.
Many of the games that came out this generation were mold-breaking, history-making landmarks for the industry. This is generation in which gaming overtook the movie industry in terms of gross revenue. For the next Xbox to feature no optical disc drive means gamers’ collections will be rendered unplayable, and hauling out the old 360 to play the old classics will be unappealing to the next generation of gamers.
A lack of backwards compatibility for already-existing games is not the only issue of concern for an all-digital platform. The collector’s edition also rose to prominence in the past seven years, a package that allows devoted fans to pay a bit more for some extra nice packaging, an art book, some exclusive behind-the-scenes info, and other perks.
Without a physical distribution, collector’s editions will either be a thing of the past, or rendered digital as well. Human beings, as proved by the continuing sales of physical books despite the growing popularity of ebooks, are tactile creatures, and unwilling to entirely abandon the feel of holding something they bought in their hands, for bits of data on their harddrives.
Another potential issue for digital distribution is an increased vulnerability to piracy. Digital media, such as music or movies, is significantly easier to copy and share than disc or cartridge-based media. Even on the Xbox 360, if you have installed a game on your harddrive, you still need the physical game disc in the disc drive for confirmation. Microsoft acknowledges the risk of relying only on digital media.
All-digital will also be a blow to the retail sector. If everything goes through a centralized Microsoft download hub, that means even Amazon will be affected by reduced game sales, let alone the more traditional brick-and-mortar stores. This could have a significant impact on the money-generating power of the gaming industry.
If Microsoft decides to go ahead without any optical disc drive, they will have to be prepared either for a huge success with crippling effects in other sectors, or a massive failure that will significantly affect their profits. Some of these concerns, such as collector’s editions and retail distributors, could be ameliorated by using small solid state drives loaded with games instead of purely online distribution, but backwards compatibility and piracy will remain considerable factors.