There are so many rumors flying around about Microsoft’s plans for its next Xbox that it’s hard to keep track of them all. Microsoft isn’t giving any details yet, so nothing is truly confirmed. But the latest purported leak is worth noting because it raises a larger question: Are we really ready to move beyond physical game discs?

It comes from game site MCV, which reports that “Microsoft has been telling partners that the Next Xbox will NOT include a disc drive.” The site also says it has confirmed a 2013 launch date.

The site reports: “Although the console will not include a disc drive, it will offer compatibility with some sort of interchangeable solid-state card storage, although it is not known whether this will be proprietary or a more standard format such as SD.”

Here’s the problem. Even with the rise of digital downloads, we’re still spending billions of dollars on old-fashioned video-game discs every year.

Preliminary 2011 figures from the NPD Group research firm showed that U.S. retail spending on physical game content was $9.3 billion for the year. That was down 8 percent from 2010, but it still accounted for the majority of total game content sales of $16.3 to $16.6 billion (counting not only physical discs but game rentals, downloads, online games, etc.)

Clearly we’re headed toward a world where digital distribution dominates. But are we going to be there next year? Probably not. And it would be a huge risk for Microsoft to get rid of the disc drive entirely.

(Via The Next Web and Techmeme)

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  • Alex Malek

    I imagine Microsoft will allow stores like GameStop to sell games on “SD cards”. That way they keep the distribution channel but move beyond slow and bulky optical media. 

    • Guest

      What value does GameStop add to the gaming experience? Other than used games, which are on their way out, what can I get at GameStop that I can’t get more conveniently or cost-effectively from the producer itself?

  • Dmiller68

    Great my kids keep losing their DS games already I can only imagine what will happen with this. The interesting thing about this would be that it could lead to a cross platform… Can we say xbox handheld where you buy one game plays on both with an integrated gamer score?? With the announcement of the high rez screen on the iPad 3 this could be reality.

    • Guest

      There are already several Xbox Live-compatible handhelds running Windows Phone 7. Complementary game delivery would be a welcome feature to encourage gamers to use both Xbox 3 and Windows Phone 8.

  • Guest

    I haven’t used a single disc to load an Android game, an iOS game, or even a Microsoft Windows game. With digital distribution of everything already a reality, I’d be surprised if Xbox 3 were to include a disc drive. Discs are failure-prone, they’re loud and slow to read, they have a limited storage capacity, and they can be resold without benefiting the game publisher. Sony, Apple, and OnLive have all released game consoles wholly reliant on digital distribution. Microsoft would be wise to follow suit.

    • Link1565

       The difference with games on Android and iOS are is that there small 1-10mb games. We’re talking about full console releases here and people with low data allowance connections would not be able to download these titles. Also game retailers would lose business aswell. There are people out there like myself that still enjoy going out to get the physical disc. Removing this feature would be a bad idea. An example of this is the downloadable versions of the GTA expansions, they failed misserably and were eventually re-released on a disc.

  • Donovan Kliegg

    Last time I checked the cogs on duplicating plastic disks is a lot less than duplicating solid state objects.  Maybe it doesn’t matter at the price point most games come out at.   

    Downloading 4 to 8 gigs is still time consuming and the cost of goods for that bandwidth is still significant.  Azure would charge someone a dollar a download.  

    Sure, it’s the way of the future, but it will be a significant jump in cogs for a distributor.  It’s hard to beat the cost benefits of plastic.

    • Guest

      Plastic discs cost a fortune to ship to all of Earth’s game stores, will have to be shipped back to the distributor, and can be resold without the publisher benefiting.

      Forget Azure. At a high price tier, Amazon charges about forty cents to transfer a game to the consumer. Compare that to the cost of shipping a disc in a box to a store which hires an employee to ring up the price and put the disc in a box in a plastic bag to give to the customer. In the time it takes to send a disc in a box to a local shipping depot, I could download the first few levels and start playing the game.

      Digital is efficiency, Donovan. As the price of producing plastic (a petroleum product), boxing it in plastic, and shipping it to a needless intermediary continues to rise, the price of hosting and serving data is plunging. What’s more, who wants a shelf full of boxes taking up valuable space in their home?

  • Anonymous

    OK, for those who haven’t been following along for long enough, here is
    what’s really going on. At the core of Bluray movie technology is Java,
    HD-DVD was Javascript. Java and Microsoft are old arch enemies and for
    Microsoft to EVER ship a product again which includes Java at least two
    people would have to DIE (Gates and Ballmer, and even that might not be
    enough to stop them from coming back and killing the idea). So if
    Microsoft did include a Bluray drive in the next Xbox they would look
    stupid if it didn’t also play movies, so instead the company line is
    that optical media is obsolete. Has anyone noticed that Apple has done
    pretty much the same thing?

    • Guest

      I have, and Apple has won.

      Java is a dead technology on the consumer end. It might be a nice language for your Enterprise Java Beans and your back-end services, but on the consumer side, there isn’t a single product sold in the last 15 years that actually relied on Java and sold well.

      Rather than embrace a dead technology, Microsoft are embracing the future of digital media. Kudos to them.

      • Anonymous

         “there isn’t a single product sold in the last 15 years that actually relied on Java and sold well.”  You’re right as long as you ignore Android phones and Bluray players, but generally I agree that Java hasn’t worked out well as a language to write front ends in.  However I disagree that Microsoft is embracing the future with this decision, they just backed into this decision by accident because of their history of losing lawsuits over Java.  While I’m not an Apple fan, at least they’ve come into their success deliberately instead of by by being painted into a corner.

        • Guest

          Microsoft doesn’t give a fat fig about Java anymore. Blu-Ray has had its day in the sun and most companies, with the notable exception of Sony, are moving on. The future of media is not in inventing a new flavour of plastic disc but rather in creating instantaneously-enjoyable customer experiences delivered over broadband connections.

        • Gregg Eshelman

          There’s millions of HP networked printers running JAVA in their internal print servers. JAVA is out there in far more places than most realize. Most of the time it’s not doing a Sega scream type JAVA! in your face.

          • sprior

            I’m quite aware of how much Java is out there (I program in it every day for a living). I’m just saying that with the exception of Android using Java as a front end hasn’t worked out nearly as well as Java on embedded devices or on the server. But none of this affects the fact that Microsoft HATES Java, their .Net runtime competes with it and it’s part of their corporate culture to hate it. The Xbox 720 seems like it will have a Bluray drive included, but only as a storage delivery device, as I predicted there’s no indication it’ll be able to play Bluray movies (which would require Java). Microsoft’s past support of HD-DVD over Bluray can be explained by the fact that HD-DVD used Javascript where Bluray required Java.

  • Yetter

    Disc drives are out and gamestop is dead.

  • Link1565

    I don’t like the idea of moving away from a physical medium. I love going out to the shop and getting my hands on a brand new game much like I did recently for the midnight launch of MW3. Digital downloads just kill the experience for me. Also when your talking about games that are going to be just as big if not bigger than the 360 how are people on lower internet connections going to be able to get the games. Removing the physical game would be a very bad business decision in my opinion. 

    • Guest

      Waiting in the cold outside a Gamestop represents inefficiency. While you’re freezing to death, I’m playing on Steam.

      Those with “lower internet connections” are simply not relevant anymore. Much like Xbox Live in 2001 boldly shunned those with dial-up Internet (and many relied on it at the time), Xbox 3 in 2013 shall shun those with poor broadband.

  • Gregg Eshelman

    Microsoft figures they can succeed where Sony’s Playstation Vita has been a flop? A download only game console that requires at least a 5 meg internet connection will be MS flipping the bird to a significant chunk of their current Xbox 360 user base. Even if the games are only in the 4~5 gig range, they’ll take a long time to download at 5meg speed.

    I just got an Xbox 360 recently for free as payment for some computer work. Its laser died of secondhand smoke. Had to take it apart and literally wash it with soapy water to remove the tobacco residue and all the dirt stuck in it. It was so bad the cancer stick residue was corroding the metal shielding. Then I put the parts in a dehydrator at 85F for a couple of hours. After boiling the tray drive belt for 60 seconds and replacing the laser with a new one ($7.76 on eBay) and picking up a MadCatz controller for $14.50 (also eBay) I have a perfectly functioning Falcon revision Xbox 360 for a whopping $22.26

    My other consoles, Dreamcast $29, Playstation 2 $10, needed a broken part on the tray fixed, Xbox $12 with DVD remote because it “didn’t work” – just needed the tray belt boiled. I hunted quite a while for a cheap 360 controller because I was not going to pay almost as much for a gamepad as I’d paid for my other three consoles.

    What’s holding back the expansion of faster internet in the USA is what’s not being done with the Federal Universal Service Fund. FUSF is a tax on your phone service. The FUSF is supposed to be used by the telcos to subsidize ALL types of telecommunications, including high speed internet.

    Do the telcos actually do that? Heck no. Ask for a break on your broadband because you’re a disabled veteran or a senior citizen on social security and they’ll practically laugh in your face. You’ll get a discount on voice only landline phone service and that’s it.

    The smaller telcos, the CLECs (Competitive Local Exchange Carriers. The big outfits are the ILECs or Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers.) would love to tap the FUSF but the rules and regulations are so snarled up it’s essentially impossible for them to do it.

    I’d love to see John Stossel investigate the FUSF. How much money is in it, if there really is? Why won’t the ILECs use it for what it’s supposed to be used for? What needs to be changed so the CLECs can use it?

    • Guest

      Gregg, you might want to stop by the mall the next time you’re in town. A little startup based out of Cupertino has defeated both Sony and Nintendo in the handheld gaming market with a series of devices that work entirely over 4G and wifi. We believe that Microsoft can defeat its rivals with a similar strategy at home.

      Incidentally, for the price of two cartons of cigarettes you could buy another Xbox 360 and treat the next one with more respect. Belching toxic fumes at electronics tends to break said electronics.

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