The months leading up to the Xbox One launch were fraught with indecision and poor choices. We were originally supposed to get an always-online console with very minimal disc support. As late as the summer of 2013, Microsoft was still toying with the idea of releasing an Xbox One model completely lacking an optical drive. That would have been a very different machine, and could have drastically changed this generation. After all of this back and forth with the gaming community, I’m left wondering if Microsoft could still release a new Xbox One SKU in the coming years with no disc support whatsoever.
This week, Microsoft’s Phil Spencer told OXM that the possibility of a disc-free Xbox One was on the table until the middle of 2013. While the idea was strongly considered, the reality of massive game installers and slow Internet connections brought the Redmond company to its senses. Sadly, Internet speeds are still far too slow to download 50GB games in a reasonable timeframe for many gamers, and an online-only console would have caused even more backlash.
What about the possibility of a secondary barebones model, though? In a year or two, Microsoft could release a cheap version of the Xbox One, and significantly lower the barrier to entry. If this theoretical budget machine dropped support for HDMI input, lost the Blu-ray drive, upped the hard drive to 1TB, and came without a Kinect, the asking price would drop significantly. Of course, a deluxe version would continue to be offered, but this could serve a similar purpose as the low-end Xbox 360 Arcade.
The mass market isn’t ready to go digital-only, but Microsoft is clearly raring to get there. By offering a cheaper model without Blu-ray support, Microsoft could have its cake and eat it too. The regular Xbox One model would continue the status quo, and a barebones digital-only machine would serve very much the same market as Steam. Much like Sony’s PSP Go, this stripped-down machine would likely only serve as a supplement to the regular console. Even if it’s relegated to a niche market, it’d be nice to see the Xbox One hit the £300 price point (or perhaps even slightly less) sooner rather than later.
Of course, there are many potential outcomes here. Microsoft and Sony are bound to release console redesigns and numerous add-ons in the coming years, so it’s only a matter of time before one of the major players makes a strong move away from physical media. Given Microsoft’s track record in the last year, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see many of the original concepts for the Xbox One come back around before the end of the generation.
For more on the new Xbox, check out our article on why the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One's homogeneity bodes ill for the future of the game console. You might also want to look at our roundup of the best Xbox One games coming in 2014.