When the Xbox 360 first launched, Microsoft made a pretty big point of stating that the lack of a bundled hard-drive in the Core version of the console wasn’t a problem because games developers wouldn’t be allowed to make games that required it. While Core owners would be restricted in that you couldn’t download from Live Arcade or play original Xbox games, it was unlikely that the kind of customer buying the Core version would notice, or even care.
Then in 2006, Final Fantasy XI launched onto the Xbox 360 and the speed and amount of data access needed made using just the DVD drive an impossible proposition, so purchasers were required to have at least 5GB free space on a hard-drive to play the game. The strangest thing about this was how few Core owners kicked up a fuss – but then FFXI was an old game by then and anyone who wanted to play probably had one of the PC and PS2 versions.
At this year’s Gamesfest, Microsoft has finally conceded that the “no hard drive required” philosophy is pretty much flawed and ceded permission to allow games to need a certain amount of storage space in order to run. On what it calls a case by case basis, Microsoft will make developers submit a “maximum” space requirement which will then have to be displayed on the games casing, indicating to customers that this game requires a hard drive. This should be an expected upper limit, not necessarily what will be used.
The main genre benefiting from this move will be Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMOs), which as FFXI proved, do need hard drive space. It should also mean that games could follow the lead of titles such as the popular Oblivion, which used the optional hard drive to speed up loading times among other things – a technique already employed on the PS3.
Of course, it should be mentioned that you would probably end up needing to buy a 120GB hard drive, seeing as the 20GB version leaves you with only 14GB to use by default. This could prove expensive as the system can’t save game data to USB storage currently and no third parties make X360 drives. This problem doesn’t affect Playstation 3 owners who can simply either change the internal drive for a larger model or use a USB caddy to augment the internal one.
If you’re just itching for a console port of World of Warcraft or possibly Guild Wars (notable because it’s free to play and just awesome) then this announcement could be the forbearer of big things to come.