The news this morning that the Next Xbox will not feature a disc drive has lead to a whirlwind of debate and disagreement on Twitter.
MCV does not claim to have all the answers. We know the Next Xbox will be out in 2013. We know it won’t have a disc drive. We know it will offer compatibility for some sort of physical card/cartridge storage.
But beyond that we get into Microsoft strategy, and that’s when we’re required to join the dots and do a bit of speculating.
We’re not convinced this is an issue for two reasons. One, Blu-ray is not a “Sony” format. 14 companies joined forces for the format’s development and launch and its modern day affairs are governed by the Blu-ray Disc Association, which comprises 19 members.
Secondly, an HD disc format is not the future of entertainment. Hugely popular services like iTunes and Netflix have proven there’s life beyond the disc. The idea of getting out of your seat and swapping discs every time you want to play a new game IS a thing of the past.
Anyone kidding themselves into thinking that pre-owned is not at the very heart of the upcoming revolution is deluding themselves. A shift away from the current retail-centric model is the driving force behind the changes that lie ahead.
The problem this poses for consumers, however, is price. No trade-ins and no pre-owned market mean that gaming WILL be a more expensive habit.
As Robin points out, this problem could be mitigated by lower RRPs. A digital-lead market should be a cheaper market. Should be. But how confident are we that publishers will choose to lower prices to increase appeal rather than stifle the physical market and leave consumers without a choice?
This is a possibility. After all, if retail is left simply selling codes to download games then some consumers, undoubtedly, will be put off.
However, if gamers could leave a store with a digital version of a game already in their possession on a flash drive or memory card then that’s one big obstacle of the digital revolution well and truly overcome.
Indeed, platform holders are not oblivious to this problem. Nor will they let it stop them pressing ahead with their plans. We’d expect a range of options for consumers – full downloads or slow Steam-like drip feed download for pre-orders for example. If this nut is cracked then the flood gates will well and truly open.
The next iteration of Xbox Live will be service lead and it will offer consumers an array of different options. Expect rentals and timed trials to feature heavily in this.
And don’t write streaming tech off, either. A New Xbox where consumers can either download games outright, purchase them directly, purchase a code from a store, download the game in-store onto a flash card, rent it over Xbox Live or stream it directly with no purchase as such would truly be of the next-generation.
If we were to lay our life on the line, this would be our bet. The Next Xbox will be a service lead evolution, not a hardware lead one. More processing and more pixels are no longer the battlegrounds on which the console wars will be fought.
We do live in a digital world, there’s no escaping it. And publishers DO want to shift as much of their business as they can away from physical and toward digital. That, however, does not mean the same as away from retail.
There’s no escaping the fact that these development will make retail an even trickier sector to survive in than it is already.
However, we do not expect games to vanish from shops. Whether that comes in the form of Vita-like proprietary cards, download codes or a method of purchasing a digital game and transferring it onto a storage device remains unclear.
But one thing you can be sure of is choice. Don’t be surprised to see the New Xbox and the New Xbox Live offer a range of options – downloads, rentals, streaming, physical.
That way those who bemoan their feeble BT internet (or even claim, bizarrely, to have no internet whatsoever) can still take part. And the rest of us can pick and choose as we see fit.