It was rumored that Sony's next PlayStation (currently code-named "Orbis") and Microsoft's next-gen Xbox (code-named Durango) might lose the optical drive in favor of digitally-downloaded games. The WSJ's learned that these ideas were once very real at some point during development.
Take one look at Valve's Steam PC platform and it's hard to deny that digital-distribution for gaming is only a fad. People crave the convenience, especially if downloads can be remotely triggered via an app. Ignoring for a moment those people (like me) who still enjoy box art design, most people are happy to shed the plastic disc cases in return for a slightly cheaper price on the digital copy.
Most people have a fast enough Internet connection these days to download a large-sized game and with improvements such as early-download that'll ease your download pipes, there's really not much to not love about digital distribution. Hell, most games that are digital even have quicker loading times when compared to reading data off a disc.
Publishers and developers also win because they can clamp down on the used game sales market as well as piracy.
The only losers in a digital-distributed world are used game sales shops such as GameStop. They'd have to find a new source of revenue because there would be no more physical discs to buy and sell.
In a new story from the Wall Street Journal:
Sony decided against a download-only model largely because Internet connections are too inconsistent around the world, one of the people familiar with Sony's thinking said. Because game files are large, customers in countries where Internet connections are relatively slow would be hobbled by a requirement to download games, the person said.
Microsoft too was considering an optical drive-free Xbox at one time, but is reported to have also ditched the idea, citing Internet bandwidth as the problem as well.
Of course, Sony has more to lose than Microsoft does if it ditches the optical drive. A PS4 without an optical drive would mean there wouldn't be any backward-compatibility with Blu-ray movie discs or PS3 games. Time-and-again, BC is a feature that's proven to be very important in determining which game console maker comes out on top each generation.
The WSJ also believes that Sony's next console will be released in 2013. With no planned next-gen hardware announcements, we're not sure 2013 will be enough time for Sony to mobilize the hype machine.
Sony is rumored to be preparing to announce a partnership with either OnLive or Gaikai at E3 for a cloud gaming service.
As a gamer, I'm happy to see the disc live another generation. I love physical media. It's inevitable that it'll be replaced by digital zeros and ones, but not next generation. What say you? Death to the disc or hurray for makeshift coasters?