According to a recent rumor that has been circulating the web, the next Xbox console will launch in 2013 and won't include a disc drive. While this may sound like a completely idiotic idea at first glance, there may actually be some weight behind this rumor, as a drive-less Xbox offers many benefits for Microsoft. But before I get into any specifics, let me just preface this by saying that all this speculation is heavily based on rumor. While I believe a disc-less Xbox would be an interesting idea, I'm not convinced that this is actually the direction that the company will take.
Microsoft's console was the first to hit the market this generation, having launched all the way back in 2005, an entire year ahead of the competition. This, coupled with a robust online service, has elevated the platform to impressive heights, serving as the most popular hardcore gaming machine in North America with sales that continue to impress. However, with the upcoming launch of the Wii U and the growing disparity between PC and console gaming, Microsoft isn't going to be able to keep that trend going for much longer.
As such, the company is going to need to launch the Xbox 360's successor sometime in the not too distant future, which I'm guessing will likely be 2013. Because the staff at Microsoft is made up of some pretty innovative and talented minds, you can be sure that this new console won't simply be a more beefed up 360 that supports Kinect. Instead, Microsoft has got to do something completely new and innovative, something that will push the industry forward in new ways, taking that evolutionary step into the future of gaming. Will the rumored disc-less console be that step?
By not including a disc drive in the next console, you risk alienating a huge chunk of the consumer base who may not have access to high-speed internet, but you are also able to combat two of the biggest issues plaguing game publishers and developers. Both used games sales and piracy are two major problems that a digitally-focused future would be able to remedy. Let's not forget that prior rumors have also hinted that the Xbox 720 would be an "anti used game" machine, which a disc-less console would certainly fall in line with.
The gaming community looks at Valve and their PC-based platform, Steam, as one of the most innovative and impressive online marketplaces for gaming, but what we often fail to recognize is the fact that they too were ahead of their time, and getting to this point wasn't easy or entirely smooth. Sure, moving to a primarily digital console would provide some considerable risks for Microsoft, but the payoff — should they succeed — would be immense. Just look at how well Valve is currently doing with the Steam platform. Much like how the music industry made the jump to a digital-focused market as a result of iTunes' ease of use and convenience, Steam has helped move gaming in the same direction. The question is whether or not a major console manufacturer would be willing to take the plunge this early as well. If you ask me, out of Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo, the Xbox manufacturer is by far the most likely to innovate in this regard.
There is another piece to that aforementioned rumor that I haven't brought up yet, namely the alleged support of some kind of "interchangeable solid-state card storage." Much like the PS Vita, which is primarily a digital-centric machine that also supports game cartridges, the next Xbox could help usher in a digital-centric future while keeping the rest of the gaming community — who for whatever reason can't or don't want to download games — in the loop by providing a solid state alternative.
I'll be honest, the current state of the industry doesn't really lend itself to a digital-only console right now; however, that doesn't mean that it's all that far off. If Steam can find this much success as a digitally-focused platform, why wouldn't Microsoft want to take a few pages out of their book? The convenience and ease of use is a huge perk for consumers; just look at how successful the iOS and Android platforms have become. There's a good chance we'll see the next Xbox revealed in some form at Microsoft's E3 press conference this year, so hopefully we'll finally be able to put all the rumors and speculation to rest.
In the meantime, let us know what you think about the potential of a disc drive-less next-gen Xbox in the comments below.