The Case for physical media – My Xbox experience

Xbox One S and controller

I am a dedicated fan of the Xbox. In fact, I have five Xbox consoles – Three of the original Xbox consoles, an Xbox 360 and as of this past week, a Xbox One S.

Microsoft has done a wonderful job of creating a beautiful package for the Xbox One with an amazingly simple and yet beautiful system packed incredibly well in a box that is a work of art itself. I picked up a Halo/Gears of War bundle with my system and am pleased with the games I have. To say that Halo, my favorite game series of all time, was enhanced and incredibly more detailed and beautiful, would be an understatement.

And once connected to my Wifi network, I was greeted with a massively complex game console that is a universe unto itself. I must admit to being a little intimidated by it all, but have forty years of IT under my belt, I jumped in with both feet and didn’t look back. I will say that I wasn’t too surprised to see that the Xbox One desktop is a giant billboard. One could exhibit a little secret wish that someone would replace the big complicated dashboard with something beautiful and geared to the end user’s sensibilities, but I diverge from the point of this article.

A quick check of Microsoft X-Box books on Amazon revealed a paltry few titles, so I resolved to check into these at a later date to see if any might be helpful, but for now, I’m on my own.

Once I got signed into the Xbox and did the basic profile setup, I turned my attention to the downloading of the four games in my bundle. I was a little shocked at what I was in for. Literally an entire evening and into the wee morning hours of downloads to get the games on the system. I eventually threw in the towel and went to bed without the pleasure of playing a single game on the first day I cracked open the box. And that didn’t count the mandatory system update that took over half-an-hour (a future article covering this will be published).

“This can’t be right” was my first thought. “Why wouldn’t Microsoft pre-load the bundles right on the hard drive or at least provide a thumb-drive with the bundle to save on downloads?”

And so I had all day today, exploring my new console (and for the most part, loving it) to toss over in my mind the question of downloads-only for the Xbox.

The sheer cost of downloads and the price of downloading literally over 150gb of games would be more than offset by adding a five dollar thumb-drive to let people download the content off the drive at far higher speeds than over broadband.  And given the inevitable death of DVDs at some point in the not too distant future, I think that the case for distributing games via thumb-drives is a valid one.

This might be a huge boon to companies like Amazon and Gamestop, whose distribution costs could be cut down seriously by smaller form factors that would be easy to ship in containers that would be 1/2 to 1/4 the size of current game titles.

With the sheer number of game title boxes I see on YouTube channel owners like Metal Jesus and others like him, I am floored when I see their beautiful game studios with what looks like a public library of huge boxes of games taking up the bulk of the space. A thumb-drive distribution model for all future games (and past distributions) would take up far less space and yet would allow users to get around the vexing downloads-only world that I hear many speak of as being “inevitable” for gaming.

Now I can already hear the screams of “DVDs are cheap and Thumb Drives cost too much! Downloads are the future no matter what!”

True… economics being what they are, it is far easier to download content directly, but imagine the huge hits on network infrastructure that will be taken if gaming goes that direction for downloads. And with many games taking literally an entire evening to download, this speaks volumes for some kind of physical media that is fast and easy to share media upon.  I’d rather have the DVDs if no other media is cheap enough, but I think thumb drives do have a lot of unexplored potential that just needs to be pushed so the record speeds can be increased to be as efficient as DVDs in a production setting.

Time is money. And people’s patience with downloads, especially software that essentially talks up entire hard disk drives, is showing increasing frustration at this attitude of “Too bad… your time isn’t valuable to us” mentality being exhibited by the game vendors themselves.

The only way to get this fixed is to look at what a more perfect world would be for gaming on the Xbox. I give you the list of changes I’d make if I were Microsoft:

  • Microsoft Game Studios and others acknowledge that their customers time is valuable too and commit to not wasting their customer’s time.
  • Like it or not, distributing giant console games over the internet is ridiculous and physical media STILL have a place in the world.
  • All XBox bundles are shipped with the games already loaded on the hard drive for immediate gratification out of the box.
  • All XBox bundles ship with the games on USB sticks.
  • Microsoft slowly abandons DVDs and switches to USB thumbdrive media or even small USB hard drives that their larger games would be distributed on. Such a move would likely change the entire game distribution system and result in big improvements for everyone.

Can you imagine the changes for Gamestop? They could cut serious distribution costs off their bottom line and literally push the games to USB sticks on-site.

And a future console for Microsoft XBox could be completely free of DVD drives and be a much smaller footprint. The savings in materials, power consumption and the like are obvious.

I won’t hold my breath Microsoft, but I think this point I am making is worth hearing. And I think the market will agree..

More to come… stay tuned for new Xbox articles in the near future.