No doubt about it, the forthcoming Xbox Series X is a gorgeous looking machine, and the steady drip of photographs, spec sheets, and feature lists only increase its desirability. However, one seemingly innocent feature caught my eye and makes me worry that Microsoft is setting itself up to make one of Sony’s greatest mistakes.
The Betamax Problem
Going back decades, Sony has always enjoyed pushing proprietary media storage formats as part of its business model. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, it was the Betamax tape – if you’ve never heard of it before, there’s a reason for that. Eventually, VHS won out. But Sony has had some success in this arena. Blu-ray discs are now the ubiquitous standard for disc media, beating out the HD-DVD format.
Sony’s problem tends to occur when they develop a competing memory storage format with no discernible benefit to the consumer. For example, the PSP handheld relied on Sony’s exclusive Pro Stick Duo memory card. As a PSP owner, this was certainly an annoyance, but the cards weren’t too much more expensive than their competitors and were used for more than just gaming – many cameras also used them.
The media format that single-handedly killed a console, however, was the PS Vita. In an age where MicroSD cards were cheap and had enormous capacity, Sony decided to launch the Vita accepting only a proprietary Vita memory card. This memory card had similar dimensions and capacities as the MicroSD cards, only with an extremely pricey markup. You couldn’t just not buy the cards, either – they were necessary to save game data as the handheld had no real internal memory capacity to speak of.
Microsoft’s Dangerous Game
Microsoft itself has dabbled in the proprietary memory game. The Xbox 360 initially launched with those ugly external HDD’s that were only purchasable from Microsoft – despite the drive inside the enclosures essentially being standard off the shelf hard drives. The Xbox 360 S had the same issue, only moving the HDD inside the console. Of course, it could be ejected and replaced with a larger drive from Microsoft. Some enterprising gamers found a way to partition an off-the-shelf hard drive in such a way that the Xbox recognized it as genuine, but both the PlayStation 3 and 4 have supported the ability to replace their hard drives with off-the-shelf drives from the beginning.
Circling back to the Xbox Series X, the machine looks amazing – but upon closer inspection, it appears that the SSD that it boasts is not all it seems. While the console can play Xbox One, Xbox 360, or original Xbox games from an external USB hard drive, much the way the current console currently operates. Any game made specifically for the Xbox Series X must be saved to the internal SSD or an Xbox Series X Expansion Card – a proprietary SSD manufactured with Seagate.
You can give that all the marketing spin you want, but in the end, it’s just a fancy proprietary memory card. As someone who lived through the sticker shock of proprietary expandable storage on my PSP, my Vita, and my Xbox 360, this certainly throws a wet blanket over my enthusiasm.