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Will Cartridges Come Back? Is Disc Media Dead?
Many old time gamers remember the first battle between Sony and Nintendo. Sony, still licking its wounds from Nintendo opting not to use its CD based add on for the Super Nintendo, decided to take the prototype and develop their own system. The Sony PlayStation was released in 1995 in the US. Nintendo, not to be outdone by its new opponent, released the Nintendo 64 in 1996, just over a full year after Sony entered the market.
3D was the name of the game and both consoles had great titles to show off their new technology. There was however, one main difference between the two approaches. Some would even say it was the defining characteristic of the 32 and 64 bit generations. The Nintendo 64 used a solid state memory system in cartridges, like its previous consoles. Sony however, used a disc based system: the compact disc. The battle between speed and space was born. And ultimately, space won out and all consoles, save for future Nintendo handhelds, used the disc based media.
One thing the solid state memory always had over disc based media was read speed. The Nintendo 64 had blazing fast load speeds but suffered greatly with low capacity. Anyone who has sat and watched a loading screen is one of many fallout victims of Sony’s win.
Today, current generation consoles mainly use the disc based system. The Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii use DVDs with up to 9 gigs of space and the Sony PlayStation 3 uses Blu Ray discs with up to 50 gigs of space. Some games can be downloaded to your console hard drive but a majority of games are delivered to you on 4.7 inch round discs of plastic.
The industry seems to be trending toward digital downloads and some doomsayers are predicting the death of physical game products in the future. But with the cost of solid state memory getting cheaper and cheaper and posting faster and faster read/write speeds, I predict a different future:
The Return of the Cartridge.
It’s already possible to carry up to 256 gigs (I’m serious, it’s not cost effective but it is possible) of space in your pocket in the form of a USB thumb drive and with USB 3.0 on the horizon, the speed limit is about to increase exponentially. Costs are getting cheaper and cheaper and manufacturing cost was a deciding factor in the disc’s rise to power.
Imagine if you could marry the vast spaces of discs with the blazing fast speeds of solid state memory. Can you say no more load times? You pop the game into the top of the console so the game is sticking out the top like in ye olden times and you could see the sweet artwork on the front of the cartridge. The nostalgia is killing me!
One could easily argue that all entertainment consumption is trending toward digital downloads. iTunes has revolutionized the way we consume our music and all but killed the CD industry. Record execs can blame piracy all they want but until they accept the fact that the public consumes our music differently now, they will soon be standing in line at the clearance racks. E-books are growing in sales and personal e-book readers are becoming a common sight. Netflix and digital movie rentals are rivaling DVD sales. In fact, you would have to be pretty stubborn to not see the significant impact that digital downloads have had on the entertainment industry.
So why would I say that cartridges are the future? It’s probably just a personal belief but I think that buyers want to have a physical connection with their product. The completion of a download progress bar is nowhere near as satisfying as ripping open a shrink wrapped case and flipping through the instruction booklet in your car. The scroll list of your library doesn’t have the visual impact as a shelf lined with the beautiful artwork of game cases. You don’t get the same emotional connection with a download. You don’t feel the same sense of ownership.
Or, I’m nostalgic. And wrong. And eventually I’ll die off along with the cartridge and the disc and the remaining human race will download their entertainment into the empty spaces of their brains and they can do nothing but sit on their couches, drooling, the baby crying, but having fun. I fear that tomorrow’s children will not be able to experience the thrill of picking something off the shelf and running to their parents, begging them to buy it and the sheer joy that comes when they finally say yes. Can you experience the same thrills when you press the “purchase” button? Will you get the same joy when the game joins a list of other games you own?
I don’t know about you, but it won’t happen for me.
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