Why Nintendo Should Leave Optical Media Behind

I recently was watching a Youtube video of people playing Little Big Planet 3 on the PS4. First of all the game, looks awesome and is one of the bigger reasons to get a PS4 in my eyes.1 But the thing that astonished me most was the loading screens of the game… it would take a good minute or two to load the game up, reminding me of PSX load times that always made me glad that I had an N64 instead of a Playstation. Load times, unfortunately, are the negative that come with optical media, however in recent times that has been negated a bit by having faster optical drives in the system.2

Enter the new competitor which Nintendo has embraced on its portable systems for years now… the SD card. SD cards do not suffer from the speed problems of optical media, they also are a more durable media format, and can write onto the disk. In fact, SD cards very much remind me of the old media that Nintendo prized for so long… the cartridge.

The main problems from the cartridge was the size constraint vs. cost. But let’s look at the size first of all… PS4’s Blu-ray drive can hold 50GB of space. Honestly, compared to the jump in size that the CD gave, this isn’t a whole lot of space anymore. A quick look at amazon.com and I can find 64GB SD card today for about $30. Which isn’t a bad price for retail, though yes is a lot more expensive than what you can get for Blu-ray which runs about $25 for 10 50GB discs. That is .05 per GB of Blu-Ray to .45 per GB of SD. Of course, the hidden truth about these sizes is that games today are rarely over 25GB. For 25GB discs, the price increases to about .06 per GB and for 32GB SD cards, the price decreases to about .12 per GB.

This brings me to scaling. There are essentially two options with Blu-Ray… there is 25 and 50 GB. With SD, there is a lot bigger of a range. Are you making a smaller game? Use a 4GB card, making a bigger game? Use a 64GB card. Not only that, prices change as times progress. 64GB is kind of pricey today, but a year from now they may be fairly affordable. Price of a Blu-Ray disc aren’t likely to deviate much, yeah even at the cheap range, the Blu-ray may still hold an advantage in per GB price, but you are also paying for GB you don’t need and thus you might actually be able to pay less for a 4GB SD card than a 25GB disc even if you are paying more per GB what does it matter if you are only using 2? SD also scales better towards the future in size. PS4 will always only handle 50GB, but the 3DS for example is capable of holding a 128GB SD card and that system is 3 years old. No game requires that amount of space yet, but the ability is there if needed down the line. With Nintendo next console… I would not be surprised if 256 or 512GB might be easily tops.

The rumor for Nintendo’s next console is that they will be merging their portable system with their handheld system. Largely this is the rumor due to the working name of Fusion. The assumption I guess would be a system that might be similar to what we have with the Wii U, except the tablet has processing power similar to an advanced version of the 3DS within its shell that would allow you to take the system with you and play on the go. I think this would be a welcome addition and also feel like a natural evolution. I, along with many others I’m sure, would love to be able to just walk away from my TV and bring my gamepad to work or on vacation, even if the graphics aren’t quite as good as if they were on the TV and even if the games that supported such functionality were somewhat limited. After all, maybe Wii Sports just wouldn’t make sense without the Wii Remotes. The intriguing part of this to me is how to deal with the game media. And this is where SD card could become the next form factor for Nintendo.

Nintendo already has many  years of experience with working with the SD form factor.  SD holds with it many advantages that were lost with the optical media that I am sure Nintendo has long missed (Writability, expanadibility, speed, durability). And perhaps in 3 or 4 years, the size vs. cost has finally advanced to the stage that optical’s only real advantage is no where nearly as large. After all, say what you will about the cheapness of optical media… an expensive game on the 3DS is $40 where a normal priced game on the PS4 and the Xboned is $60. Surely, the price differential isn’t as big as people might assume.3

The reality is that despite the fact that Microsoft got slaughtered for trying to go with no media with the Xboned, with Valve possibly officially launching Steam machines in the next couple of years, I feel like the next gen of consoles won’t have media anyway. I mean think about it… 1TB hard drives are fairly cheap, media is expensive, most countries have good internet even if ours doesn’t, and you generally can redownload games as much as possible. One of the largest complaints I’ve heard of going no media is that not everyone has an internet connection… that argument doesn’t make sense to me after living through the Gamecube era where Nintendo got killed for not having internet support and that was 14 years ago. I agree with the sentiment, but feel that it is really an argument being used by people who don’t have the problem and I would rather them put out real arguments. Personally I like physical media cause I can resell it (valid, though game makers don’t want you to) and I am a collector and don’t like the idea that 10 years from now my game won’t be usable and honestly digital doesn’t really make for good collecting anyway. Really game makers don’t think either argument is valid outside of the fact that they are valid feelings we the consumer has. The other argument that people latch onto even though it doesn’t affect them, that not everyone has internet… it’s only valid to a certain point. In Japan and Korea, it is not. Do remember that Sony & Nintendo care about Japan first.  And while Americans like to think we are more important than everyone else, we are not. We certainly matter in the video game market, but we aren’t the majority. What’s more those without internet are not the majority of the video game market. Actually far from. The number of people who can afford a $600 (Console + 1 or 2 games + a controller) investment and DO NOT HAVE INTERNET is a VERY small percentage. Those people who don’t have internet are often the ones who this year decided to buy an Xbox 360 or a Playstation 3 for Christmas… a full year after the next gen has been out just to save money, so you are literally talking about people who are a full generation behind which means these people won’t be affected by a no media decision until 2022 at the earliest (Assuming Nintendo launches their next console in 2017 on a 5 year cycle which is the absolute earliest that they will, and then another 5 years until the next gen after that launches.) By that point, if people are really without internet… it isn’t Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft you should be angry at… it is the United States Government because that would be ridiculous…

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Still not worth $400.
  2. I believe the PSX had a 1x or a 2x CD-ROM drive which even at the time was ridiculously slow.
  3. I fully grant that 3DS games are cheaper to develop and that is part of the price difference as well.