How a disc-less Xbox One S could change everything
There's nothing confirmed, but chances are looking pretty good that yet another version of the Xbox One will be hitting shelves soon - probably this spring. From all reports, it's going to be your standard Xbox One S, but with one major difference: it'll be missing a disc drive.
Immediately, this will be good news for anyone wanting to get themselves an Xbox One, but have balked at the price point. Not having to include a drive in the production of the console will significantly reduce the price. On top of that, fewer moving parts means fewer malfunctions, meaning lower failure rates.
But, it also means even more for the console industry if this thing is successful.
The original Xbox One plan
If you remember back during E3 2013, Microsoft announced a game licensing strategy that... well, let's just say that calling it "not well received" is putting it mildly.
"[A]ll games, including those purchased at retail, would be bound to the user's Xbox Live account. Users could access their purchased games from any other Xbox One console, play games without their disc once installed, and allow users to "share" their games with up to ten designated "family" members. Users would trade games at "participating retailers", and could also transfer a game directly to any Xbox Live friend on their list for at least 30 days, but only once.
To synchronize licenses, the console would be required to connect to the internet once every 24 hours; if the console could not connect, all games would be disabled until the console was connected again." - Xbox one Wikipedia page
As we all know, Microsoft reversed course on this faster than you can say "angry gamers". But, the main philosophy behind this strategy was preparing for an inevitable future where all game purchases are made digitally. It's not an inconceivable idea - pretty much the entire PC game market has gone digital. Just try to find a used PC game to buy outside of a thrift store or used book store.
Old habits die hard
One of the reasons behind the public backlash was that, when it comes to physical media, people just don't want to be told what they can and can't do with it. Ever since consoles were a thing, being able to trade cartridges (and eventually discs) with friends, or having the option to sell or trade their game when they finished it wasn't just something that was appreciated... it was a given. Suddenly, there was going to be restrictions on it? Forget that, I'll get a PS4 instead!
By offering a version of their console that's digital only (while still selling the regular unit at the same time - which is very smart on their part), and for a lower price, Microsoft is not only expanding their user base, but they're also, in a sense, "reeducating" their audience. It's a lot easier to get people to accept restrictions on digital content when there isn't a disc-based alternative.
Call it a "new normal", if you will.
Change is inevitable
Going digital is something that game publishers have wanted to do for years. Not having to deal with retailers (at least, not as much, anyway), not dealing with product distribution, not having to produce discs, box art, etc. - heck, not having to deal with product shortages ever again is a thought that keeps game publishers warm at night.
Of course, this isn't going to change immediately. But, the success of an all-digital Xbox One S will go a long way in determining how the next generation is going to play out. It's possible we could see versions of the next Xbox and PlayStation with both disc drive and digital-only editions. More than likely, those disc drives will be slowly phased out over the lives of the consoles.
Problems are also inevitable
Games still need a distribution method to get them onto consoles, however, and if the Internet is the only method to do that, that's a problem.
Despite the fact that we're nearly 20 years into the 21st century, there's still a large portion of the world that simply doesn't have access to the bandwidth needed to efficiently download games - especially when games like Red Dead Redemption 2 are over 100GB in size. This is going to have to be addressed, or else they're basically eliminating sales.
Storage is also going to be an issue to be addressed. As I just mentioned above, games are huge these days, and storage space is having trouble keeping up. Improvements to streaming services are one solution to this but, then again, that's also reliant on Internet speeds and reliability.
Retailers are also going to take a massive hit, as well. While obviously game specific stores like GameStop are going to suffer, game retail is a big part of bigger stores as well. Business like WalMart or Target will probably be fine, but electronic stores, from Best Buy to Fry's, are going to lose a big chunk of revenue. That's obviously not a problem for consumers (unless they're employed by one of these places), but it's something to consider.
All that being said, the Xbox One S "All Digital Edition" is going to be the first step in a console future that gaming companies have been hoping to see come true for years now. And, if it's a success, that future is closer to coming true than ever before.
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