An Xbox 360 Without A Hard Drive? The King Without A Sword?

I’m just playing up the King Arthur angle in a shameless effort to gain hits from Arthurian legend seekers, but seriously, the Masses want to know: Does not having a hard drive mean that the 360 is doomed before the new era is even upon us?

Well, kids, no. No, it doesn’t.

One of the really frequently-voiced objections comes from PS2 owners that were burned by the PS2 hard drive. This is understandable as the whole thing is remembered as a fiasco, but my opinion is that this situation is different – let me explain why.

First, the PS2 Hard Drive itself.

At launch, the PS2 had no hard drive. There were no games that “took advantage” of a hard drive at that time. The hard drive launched late, and launched with one title. It was big, it was reasonably expensive considering the componentry, and it was undersupported. You also needed to buy the network adapter (to use a Hard Drive!?). Games hadn’t had the hard drive in mind before, and with a massive installed base of systems that didn’t have the hard drive (and bluntly didn’t have a reason to get one), there was no point for developers to go that route. They would develop for the masses, and by and large the masses had a no hard drive model, and couldn’t see a reason to get one.

Too little, too late.

Flash forward to today: the Xbox 360 has been announced. The best value package includes a hard drive, from launch. Day zero. The package that doesn’t include a hard drive includes no equivalent – you will not be able to play games in any serious capacity without picking up at least a 64MB memory card as well. By the time you’ve spent that much, you might as well go for the next model up, and get the good stuff, but let’s say you don’t, and you survive for 6 months on the memory card alone. At that point – and this is pure speculation – perhaps the 40 gig model is out, or the 20GB price has dropped. Or you can pick one up second hand, if you can’t afford the really-quite-reasonable asking price.

And there is a value proposition to buy the hard drive – it’s not the white elephant that the PS2 hard drive seemed to be (as someone who sold their PS2 early to buy an xbox).

Storage (any storage?) gives you the capability to use Live, and having 64MB storage might be a mechanism by which games can be patched for online play on Live (when was the last time you saw a 32-bit PC executable that was bigger than 8MB?). But if you’ve got more than a couple of online-capable games, you’ll probably want a hard drive. The hard drive is easy to buy, easy to install (from the look of it), doesn’t require the purchase of a network adapter (or worship of demonic minions), and will probably end up in the majority of packages in the long run. That’s my prediction, and I’m sticking to it.

There will be reasons to buy a hard drive.

Allard says the storage is “abstracted” in Xbox 360, so developers can make use of “abstracted storage” to whatever extent it’s present.

From the Chat Transcript: (spelling fixed by me, my emphasis)

J Allard (Expert):
Q: Why do they have the core package? Why doesn’t microsoft just release the package with the Harddrive so developers will be able to fully utilize it?
A: Independent of the configurations we have at launch it was imperative that we work with developers now to abstract the storage system because (1) the drive is removable and we want people to play even if the drive is not present (2) another possibility is that 5 years from now that you want more storage on the box or on the network and be able to take advantage of that. By abstracting storage in the system we are making sure that all xbox 360 games will work on all configurations moving forward and early customers will be able to take advantage of future scenarios like bigger drives and network storage.

Let’s recap the PS2’s Good Reasons To Buy A Hard Drive:
Final Fantasy
And you needed to buy the network adapter too.

Let’s recap XB360’s Hard Drive Reasons
Backwards Compatibility with Xbox games
Downloadable Stuff From Live (game patches and other content)
Ripping Music etc
And it looks like once again: Final Fantasy. Laugh? I nearly…

The hard drive included in the All Glory package (anyone else getting Hypno Toad from the packaging?) is a 20GB model, but expect some flexibility in this space. Assume that larger and/or cheaper drives will become available as technology improves.

Xbox 360 “Core” – No HDD

Xbox 360 pricing is now a known quantity, at least in the US and Europe, and it looks like this:

$299 (converts to around $AUD430 after adding GST) buys the “Core System” – a console without a hard drive. Or a memory unit. (With a wired controller).

And it looks like this version’s a little contentious (check out the comments).

The main issues from the upset gamers (assuming 85% aren’t just PS2 fanbois trolling) break down like this:

  • We are scared that you will fragment the market and that the games won’t be as good. PS2 Hard Drive was teh suxx0r. Do not make that mistake, we beg you.
  • $399 Is Too Expensive But I Want A Hard Drive Etc
  • $299 Is OK But I Want A Wireless Controller
  • $299 Would Be OK But You Can Do Nothing With It
  • OMG No HD Cable In Cheap Version? You Said It Was The HD Era
  • Broken Promises

And that, kids, is quite literally all that’s in the cheap “Core System” box. I’m hoping for the sake of the buyer that the Xbox has *some* way of storing a savegame without a memory unit, otherwise we’re back to the Bad Old Days of consoles providing passwords in place of saved games, just in case users don’t have a memory card. That’s Not Cool.

$399 ($AUD650, I reckon) buys the deluxe version with 20GB hard drive, remotes, wireless controller, Xbox Live Silver subscription, etc, etc.

Next Generation interviewed a bunch of developers and got mixed reactions.

The idea from Microsoft’s end seems to be to allow people to buy “just the box”, and then upgrade it over time. There’s now a FAQ available, which indicates a memory card isn’t really optional if you want to do – well, anything really interesting with the box – I just hope there’s some storage for saved games on the un-memory-carded system.

I honestly can’t see a point to the lower priced system, which is guaranteed to cost more to upgrade in the long run. So why bother selling it? (Just to increase the proposed value proposition of its full-featured sibling? Just to claim “we have a $300 game system available”?).

I’ve always planned on this generation costing about $700 again (like the PS2 did here when it launched, and the Xbox after that), so I’m OK with the pricing personally, I just ignore the low-end model. As long as it doesn’t affect the games I play, I’m OK with that.