Regardless of whether or not you're now a fan of the Xbox One, it's difficult to deny that the console's first appearances to the world were... troubled.
Between the "always-on" connectivity requirement, mandatory use of Kinect and heavy-handed DRM, Microsoft was looking at a hugely significant backlash and was seemingly handing the next generation to Sony on a plate. All of these decisions were thankfully reversed after a torrent of negative feedback, but there's one other idea that never got off the ground -- and which would have probably caused similarly unhappy reactions.
Microsoft reportedly considered removing the optical disc drive from Xbox One entirely -- and, bafflingly, the team seemed to think that this would be a good idea after the disastrous unveiling at E3 last year.
"After the announcement and E3, there was some feedback about what people wanted to change," said Microsoft Studios' Phil Spencer, in conversation with OXM. "There was a real discussion about whether we should have an optical disc drive in Xbox One or if we could get away with a purely disc-less console, but when you start looking at bandwidth and game size, it does create issues."
That would put it mildly; of all the things that people gave "feedback" about, the fact the system had a physical disc drive was not one of them. In fact, one of the most crucial pieces of negative feedback towards the console in its original form was that disc-based titles -- which were seemingly still important to a significant proportion of the community -- were subject to the same DRM measures as downloadable games, and consequently couldn't be traded, loaned or sold to other people. Removing the disc drive altogether would certainly remove this problem altogether, but not in the way the community wanted.
It's often said that we're heading for an all-digital future, and certainly platforms such as the PC are already pretty much there thanks to the popularity of distribution services such as Steam, GOG.com and their ilk -- and these services' ability to back up your games and, in most cases at least, play them offline. But consoles have been slower to catch up due to each new generation's lack of backwards compatibility and, in many cases such as the Xbox One, inability to upgrade the hardware -- that 500GB hard drive doesn't last long when many modern games are 30-40GB in size.
Modern PCs don't lose access to games from a previous "generation" when a new one starts -- and in cases where newer operating systems prove incompatible with older games, it's generally not long before either enthusiastic fans or outfits such as GOG.com put out a patch allowing these titles to be run on newer systems. Consequently, the concept of "generation" is all but irrelevant to PC gaming, whereas it's very much an issue when it comes to consoles.
Console gamers' hesitance to embrace an all-digital future is at least partly due to this very fact: what happens to, say, your digital Xbox 360 games a few years down the road when Microsoft decides, as it did with the original Xbox, that it isn't practical to keep the old system's Live servers operational any more? And with some publishers removing content from digital marketplaces due to the expiration of licensing deals or other disputes, how do you get back the games you've paid for if they're no longer available?
The last non-PC platform to go all-digital was Sony's PSP Go, which was a disastrous failure at the time. It's interesting to note, however, that since that time, digital distribution has taken off a great deal more on handheld platforms for two reasons: convenience, and the fact that it's possible to keep your entire collection on a small, easily portable collection of memory cards without having to delete anything. Mobile, too, has an entirely digital ecosystem -- though it could be argued that the games on mobile are inherently and deliberately more "disposable" than computer and console titles. Until the Xbox One and its ilk offer a similarly straightforward means of keeping all your digital content safe and secure regardless of ability to access online servers, it's probably best that TV-connected systems still have a disc drive attached.
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