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Microsoft Considered Removing Xbox One's Disc Drive

Apparently the company wasn't satisfied with the negative reaction it had already garnered at E3.

News by Pete Davison, .

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."

Sick of interminable 720p vs 1080p arguments between Xbox One and PS4 fans? Imagine what online discussions would be like if PS4 had a disc drive but Xbox One didn't.

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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Comments 8

  • Avatar for Funny_Colour_Blue #1 Funny_Colour_Blue 3 years ago
    Not too long ago, I bought a PSPGo used for about 100.00 dollars, along with the cradle/stand, an S-Video/Composite Output Cable and a DualShock 3. Through "alternative" means It's probably one of the "secret best" PSone consoles to date. Simply because it's so much easier to swift through thousands of PSone titles off the computer rather than having these bulky discs take up shelf space:

    I have a 2 Terabyte wireless harddrive that I mostly use for backups. On this harddrive is a folder with a backup of all my PSone purchases. Whenever I want to switch out a game on the PSPGo, I simply transfer it through a usb cable on my laptop which only takes about 30 seconds rather than having to download it off the Playstation store again.

    Similarly, I also think, when Sony designed the PSVita, they designed it with the mentality that you would actually WANT to purchase a larger memory stick rather going the traditional route and purchase each "gamecard" individually. Because all you get now when purchasing VITA games psychically, are the gamescards themselves….AND THEY'RE SO INCREDIBLY FRUSTRATING TO INSTALL!!!!!

    …Having said that, I think I would be much more open to an all digital console, if there was a relatively easy and initiative way to back up the purchases that I actually own for that console.

    But because of copyright protection and software piracy - the fact that I can't backup a digital PS3 game to a computer that I own somewhere and then transfer it back - I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon.

    There just needs to be a more consumer friendly method for backing up these digital purchases. Something that you can easily access, navigate through and freely transfer once you've downloaded it.Edited 2 times. Last edited January 2014 by Funny_Colour_Blue
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  • Avatar for VegaTT #2 VegaTT 3 years ago
    Console makers face trouble either way. Include a disc drive and people will accuse the console of falling behind phones and tablets and costing $50 too much. Exclude it and people will accuse it of forcing a strange, new business model on customers, requiring too much bandwidth and not allowing backups.

    Speaking personally, I've never bought a disc game for my 360 or Wii. For those consoles I've rented disc games and bought $5-to-$15 digital games. I keep wishing it was possible to rent AAA games by download. I'd be interested to hear how much money companies make from my habits.

    Maybe if the most interesting games this generation are $10 indie downloads, customers will get bored with disc games and start wanting a driveless console.
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  • Avatar for The-Fool #3 The-Fool 3 years ago
    A disc-less console would screw me right royally, it would.

    I live in rural NSW, Australia. I cannot get internet access through my telephone line. The exchange is much too old.

    I need to use wireless "broadband". I get 6GB of data for AU$50. I think my download speed has never exceeded 400 kb/s.

    Maybe if you lived in Japan, or the US it would work. It wouldn't work for me.

    Maybe I should move?
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  • Avatar for docexe #4 docexe 3 years ago
    There were some rumors that they were toying with this possibility even before E3. Honestly, I believe the backlash would have been even more massive if they had gone through this path.

    Now, it can’t be denied that digital is the future and that it is incredibly more convenient to purchase your games online and have them on a hard drive than keep swapping discs. But there are still too many issues that still prevent it from being the one and only business model: File sizes, storage, back-ups, broadband availability, obstructive DRM policies, etc. Honestly, the internet infrastructure is still not there to support it, at least not globally.

    Maybe one day we will live in an era where consoles don’t have disc drives and everything is acquired online. But that day is still far from us.
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  • Avatar for metalangel #5 metalangel 3 years ago
    I've had two friends surprised and upset when their new laptops arrived without optical drives. There's a reason stuff comes on discs - you have everything you need, on the disc, ready to go.
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #6 SargeSmash 3 years ago
    @Duskblayde: There are quite a few places here in the States that are like that, too. I know quite a few rural communities that can't get more than 3G right now (like back home), and I'm just outside a city of 20,000 and can't get DSL or cable. I'm fortunate enough to have been able to get grandfathered into a 4G unlimited plan (that I make sure I don't abuse so I can keep it!), but that's definitely not the norm for folks around here.
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  • Avatar for CountZeroOr #7 CountZeroOr 3 years ago
    @Duskblayde There are places in the US (and I imagine Canada) that have the same problem - and that isn't even getting into problems that US servicemen would have trying to play Call of Duty in Afghanistan.
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  • Avatar for peacefuloutrage #8 peacefuloutrage 3 years ago
    @VegaTT You mentioned you rented games. That's great and all, but how long would it take for a 50GB download? What if you wanted to play a game you downloaded and bought, but it the server was taken offline and your hard drive died? They don't last forever, you know? I still have decades old game systems that I play for nostalgia. As the author has mentioned, with LIVE! servers shutting down, access to purchases may no longer be possible to play a favorite indie game. If the games were labeled and priced as rentals, this may not have been an issue. But that is no the case.
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