All-Digital Xbox Leak Reignites Game Preservation Fears

All-Digital Xbox Leak Reignites Game Preservation Fears

In some ways it feels like Microsoft has never quite recovered from its disastrous rollout of the Xbox One. A decade later, it has new studios, better consoles, and tons of great games, but the shadow of its big, out-of-touch bet on an all-digital Xbox with an expensive Kinect add-on still lingers. It surfaced again this week after early plans leaked for an all-digital lineup of console refreshes for the Xbox Series X/S to arrive in 2024. The game preservation nightmare everyone feared back in 2013 might finally be coming after all.

Microsoft accidentally leaked an unprecedented number of unredacted internal email exchanges, presentations, and meetings related to Xbox this week. Among the trove of materials was a series of slides about plans for a mid-generation console refresh in 2024. A new Xbox Series X, codenamed Brooklin, would be cylindrical, have better Wi-Fi, and most importantly, come without a disc drive. Instead, it would get an extra terabyte of hard drive space, while still being priced at $US500.

Backlash to the new Xbox Series X leak

It was just one of many details that came to light in the leaks, but maybe the most contentious because it signaled Microsoft might be moving away from physical game discs sooner than some players expected. “MS doesn’t care about preserving games at all,” tweeted YouTuber Mutahar “SomeOrdinaryGamers” Anas to his 800,000 followers after seeing the specs for Brooklin. “At this point you may as well get a PC and get access to every other storefront as well.” Game developer and YouTuber ModernVintageGamer chimed in as well. “You’ll never be able to convince me that Xbox cares about game preservation,” he tweeted.

News of a potential all-digital future for Xbox consoles comes as digital storefronts for older generations are gradually shutting down. The 3DS and Wii U eShops turned off earlier this year. Sony announced a similar fate for the PS3 and Vita stores in 2021, but ultimately walked back the decision. The same can’t be said for the Xbox 360. While Microsoft has championed backwards compatibility for discs, the older digital shop will disappear in July 2024.

For now, players who already own games can continue to download them, but with new online games shutting down every month, the fragility of digital game preservation remains ever present. “We know how many people are playing 360 games on the 360,” Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer told Eurogamer last month. “It’s a pretty small community.”

Disc-based games are disappearing

An all-digital future is clearly the way things are trending at the moment. As Niko Partners research director Daniel Ahmed pointed out, the majority of Xbox Series consoles currently in circulation are the disc-less Series S versions, and over 70 percent of game sales on PlayStation are digital downloads. Players now spend more on microtransactions and subscriptions than the games themselves. “How platform holders approach next-gen consoles will determine longevity,” he tweeted.

Despite the overall convenience of digital downloads, getting rid of physical games entirely saves companies money without necessarily giving players anything in return. Digital versions of games have become a lot cheaper, with big sales on all of the major storefronts several times a season. But nothing beats the bargain bin at your local GameStop. Far Cry 6 is currently just $US10 used on Xbox Series X. You can even share it with a friend once you’re done.

“Digital games have no resale value, retailers will suffer, and there’s a very concerning knock-on effect for game preservation,” wrote Polygon’s Oli Welsh. “Digital collections may feel permanent, but in reality they only persist at the whim of storefront operators, while games can be (and often are) delisted by their publishers.”

Eurogamer had a similarly critical appraisal of a disc-less Xbox generation. “Microsoft’s work on improving Xbox 360 releases and letting you play 4K versions of some titles with your dusty old discs still feels nothing short of magical,” wrote Editor-in-Chief Tom Philips. “How will that work with your personal games collection in the years to come, without a slot to put them in?”

Philips was also quick to point out that Microsoft has called some of the information in the leaks outdated. ”So much has changed,” Spencer tweeted. “We will share the real plans when we are ready.” Does that mean the existing Xbox Series X won’t be replaced by an all-digital successor? Or will Microsoft release an optional external optical drive add-on, as Sony is currently rumored to be planning with its as yet unannounced PS5 Slim? We don’t know yet. Microsoft didn’t respond to a request for comment to clarify.

The company’s original plans for the Xbox One were to have players license games, effectively renting them whether they “owned” the physical disc or not. Sony made fun of this value proposition with the now infamous “Official PlayStation Used Game Instructional Video” released during E3 2013. Microsoft immediately pivoted in response to the backlash. This week’s unplanned leaks give them the chance to do that again. Otherwise the job of game preservation will continue to rely on piracy to keep the medium’s history intact.

The Cheapest NBN 1000 Plans

Looking to bump up your internet connection and save a few bucks? Here are the cheapest plans available.

At Kotaku, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.


One response to “All-Digital Xbox Leak Reignites Game Preservation Fears”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *