Nintendo NX: Would All Digital Be Better for Consumers?

You may have read recently (on this very website, in fact) that Nintendo filed a patent for a diskless system. This would mean that all games, expansion packs and downloadable content would have to be digitally downloaded. This would be good for Nintendo as no longer would they need to pay for production, shipping, storage etc etc of disks, cases, manuals, advertising or whatever else you can find in a game’s case. These cost would likely translate to the consumers as they’d only need a code to activate the game on the console and any additional material could be presented on Nintendo’s website.

So what does this mean for the hypothetical consumers of this hypothetical console? Firstly the lack of a disk drive would be the first Nintendo console to not have one since the Nintendo 64, which used a cartridge based system. The cartridges then offered very little in the way of storage so games wanting to be more complex, or include full motion video or recorded audio, had to be disk based. It was one of the key factors in driving Square Enix away from Nintendo, and ensuring the dominance of the PlayStation. Now, you see games on Blu-Ray disks which can store up to 50GB.

This sounds great but look at the file size of the newer AAA games. Batman: Arkham Knight on PC requires approximately 55GB, plus even more for dlc, already too big for a Blu-Ray disc. Wolfenstein: The New Order is another game that requires over 50GB – and these games don’t even come close to high-end simulator games where 100GB would be considered small-scale. Not to mention the storage that you’d need far surpasses the current maximum storage of the Wii U with the deluxe version having only 32GB for the system files and saves of your games (although you can use external hard drives). It stands to reason that future consoles will need external storage drive or a more beefy internal drive – up to 4TB. Even that drive could be considered small soon with companies unveiling slightly absurd 16TB solid state drives and beyond that with standard hard drives.

Now I’m not suggesting that NX games will all be a ridiculously large file size (Animal Crossing games are generally only a few hundred Megabytes) or that there aren’t other solutions – namely multiple discs or cloud based games. But when you are downloading all your content it raise a new problem. Download limits, the bane of all content consumers, are a big one. Say you have a 20GB monthly limit, that £50 game just got 50% more expensive because it passed your limit. In large parts of even the developed world, downloading games in the tens of gigabytes is so slow as to be totally impractical. Don’t even think of playing the online-only multiplayer.

To summarise for the Nintendo NX to be fully digital would be generally quite good, the lack of a disk drive would give space for:

  • Larger storage drives, a must as games get bigger
  • Less physical space taken up by the disks and other content
  • More space for larger internal storage
  • A good excuse to improve the Nintendo network infrastructure if they go for cloud storage.

But digital only seems too far and too fast for a great number of consumers who still struggle under slow internet and download caps. To limit game access to download only would be to severely limit the appeal of the console. That is something Nintendo cannot afford right now.

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