In the wake of the recently highly publicized FTC trial, many court documents have popped up that show the inner workings of both Xbox and PlayStation.
From Phil Spencer talking about buying Nintendo, to Jim Ryan admitting he had no worries at all about Microsoft acquiring Activision, knowledge of how these companies work behind the scenes has opened many eyes and unmasked a lot of their public personas.
Arguably no greater unmasking has occurred, however, than that of Microsoft’s supposed efforts toward game preservation. In a series of documents from May 2022, Microsoft’s plans for mid-gen refreshes for the Xbox Series X|S as well as its next-gen platform reveal a clear desire to shift toward online and cloud gaming requirements.
To start with, documents show what Microsoft refers to as “Brooklin – Series X Refresh” which ditches the disc drive. It does not have a lot of performance benefits, but it does improve Wi-Fi abilities, reduce power requirements, and increase internal storage.
It’s not just a digital Series X to save money though, as the document makes clear it will have the “same great price [of] $499” so it is clearly still meant to be at least perceived as an upgrade.
After that, and significantly more worrying, is the document that reveals Microsoft’s plans for its next-gen Xbox. The document states an expectation for the system to be released in 2028, so still a good few years away. The console is said to be built around “cloud hybrid games.”
This seems to suggest that most, if not all, games released for this console would be built around supplementing performance by integrating cloud support.
We have already seen some games do this to certain degrees, including Xbox exclusives such as Crackdown 3 and, more notably, Microsoft Flight Simulator, which streams in much of the world’s terrain from the cloud, rather than storing it within the game’s files themselves.
How Xbox’s Plans Attack Game Preservation
Dropping support for disc drives entirely does more than just make new games harder to preserve for the future. With a platform like Xbox, which currently boasts the best backward-compatible support out of all current major consoles, it also hurts past games.
While not all are supported, you can play games dating all the way back to the original Xbox on your Series X|S console.
Of course, the majority of games owned and purchased in those eras were physical. In fact, it was only in 2020 that digital game sales first surpassed those of physical releases, which is likely much more recently than most may have expected.
Furthermore, many of these classic titles have been delisted, so it is not an option to simply repurchase the titles digitally for those who own such games physically.
Additionally, given no laws currently exist to ensure access to digital products once purchased, such purchases have no guarantee of permanence, as a company could still feasibly revoke your digital license or make a impossible to re-download should they choose to do so, and license agreements for digital purchases rarely ever prevent this.
Furthermore, Xbox plainly states in a section of the document labeled “The Voice of the Player” that the hope is that players using the new systems are simply happy or apathetic about the lack of a disc drive, with them hoping players simply say “I don’t miss my disc drive at all.”
Microsoft is not alone in this, either. Many leaks have already sprung suggesting that Sony intends to drop the disc drive for the PlayStation 5 Slim.
Given that both Xbox and PlayStation have made the effort to release digital-only variants at the outset of this generation, it seems clear that both companies intend to use this generation to finally phase out support for physical media entirely.
Dropping physical media, however, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to these dangers. The greater danger to preservation lies in “cloud hybrid games.” As it stands now, whether you own a game physically or digitally, an internet connection is not necessarily required.
Should your internet go out, or you live in a more rural area with lower internet speeds, or any number of other scenarios that may take you offline, many games can still be played.
Currently, hybrid cloud games tend to use it for extra bells and whistles, improving graphical capabilities in doing so.
However, seeing as the next Xbox appears to be implementing this as a core design element already, over half a decade ahead of its intended release, it’s not hard to imagine games would use it not just for improved graphics, but required features needed to make the game playable at all.
Should a game be built to not just leverage the cloud for increased performance, but require it to run at all, access to not just an internet connection, but one of a sufficiently high speed becomes a requirement, even if the game is single-player.
Granted, most people have this these days. In June of 2021, “99.2% of Americans had access to at least one high-speed internet provider.”
The issue now lies in popularity and profitability. If you wish to play a game with such a requirement on your next-gen Xbox right at launch, all power to you, you likely will face very few issues. But suppose the game does not sell particularly well.
This, of course, does not mean the game was bad. Though acclaimed and loved by its fans, the first Alan Wake had underwhelming sales, largely due to launching in tandem with Red Dead Redemption.
By requiring the cloud to run, should a game underperform in sales or simply enough time goes by, the cloud servers required to make the game playable will no longer be beneficial to continue supporting.
For most games now, servers going dark means a loss of features, or potentially being unplayable if it is an always-online multiplayer game.
If even single-player games require such support, though, that means the risk of even single-player Xbox games becoming entirely unplayable as soon as server support is lost.
While there are some benefits to these future plans, including Xbox’s environmental initiatives and improved controller features, it is quite evident that should it stick to these plans, Microsoft intends to phase out physical media and bring in cloud gaming features.
It is important to keep in mind that many of these documents are over a year old. Any number of these plans could have drastically changed by now, but it is still an important conversation to have nonetheless.
Game preservation has been in jeopardy lately, with over 87% of games released before 2010 being officially unavailable commercially, putting them at a similar survival rate to silent movies.
How do you feel about the future of gaming? Do you hope cloud and digital fronts become the exclusive future of the industry, or are you hoping more is done to make physical and offline media a viable option in the future? Let us know in the comments and on our social media feeds!
Source: Leaked Microsoft Documents