How times have changed. Box art proposals for Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare with a "storage required" sticker and a recent story rumor mongering that upcoming Xbox 360 titles will specifically require gamers to own a hard drive have created a mess of confusion around Microsoft.
The question is easy: will Xbox 360 games eventually require the user to own a hard drive?
Final Fantasy XI already does (unsurprising, since it's an MMORPG and those have traditionally required hard drives), and last year's European title Football Manager 2006 did because Sega claimed it was the only way to handle the large save files in the game. But, are we on the verge of seeing hard drive required labels on lots of Xbox 360 titles? Currently, Microsoft (and retailers) are still selling the Core SKU -- even if there are reports of an eventual discontinuation.
A clarification quote sent to GamePro.com sparked the most recent debate:
"Every game will work with every Xbox 360 system. But just like some games will require you to have a Memory Unit to save games, some games will require you to have a Hard Drive to experience them."
This prompted 1UP to contact Microsoft for our own clarification, but were told they stand by the quote absolutely. Microsoft points to games like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which was originally announced to use the hard drive to enhance the experience (the final version used it for DLC and save game purposes). That's likely the same reason Call of Duty 4 has a storage requirement sticker -- we get that. What's confusing is whether Microsoft's second statement of "some games will require you to have a Hard Drive to experience them" sets the dangerous SKU splintering stage for future Xbox 360 titles to outright demand a hard drive for gamers to participate.
Problem: they won't say. 1UP's requests to have Microsoft elaborate on their statement have been denied. Shouldn't this be a simple yes or no? Okay, fine, maybe they'll at least explain why they won't clarify the hard drive requirement? No, as Microsoft denied that request, too.
There's already precedent that developers are frustrated with their inability to take advantage of the hard drive, especially given every PlayStation 3 comes packed with one. Everyone was quick to point to PS3 development difficulties for the Grand Theft Auto IV delay, but just a few months earlier, Rockstar Games Creative VP Dan Houser addressed the lack of a hard drive to Official UK PlayStation Magazine:
"OPM UK: On PS3 you've got a guarantee that every machine is going to have a hard-drive and, with Blu-ray, you've got plenty of storage, whereas on Xbox 360 there's no guarantee of a hard-drive and you're working with the DVD format. Does that create limitations?
Houser: Yep. To be honest with you we haven't solved all those riddles yet. [But] both [machines] have enormous challenges ... both have their own particular pleasures and pains."
Sources close to Rockstar have indicated that it's very likely the hard drive will be required for GTA IV, which might explain why the company to this day will still not confirm or deny whether the game uses it.
And there's plenty more evidence Microsoft might already be leaving clues to their stance on the hard drive. Internet reports have suggested both Target and Best Buy will no longer be stocking the Core SKU once existing supplies have run out. If the Core SKU is phased out, it would give Microsoft the public relations opportunity to say that every Xbox 360 sold from there on out will include a hard drive, allow them to drop the price of the existing hard drive peripheral for existing Core SKU owners and call it a day.
If that's what they're planning, it's a far cry from their statements prior to the machine's launch in 2005. Then, Microsoft was openly stating a hard drive might not always be a part of the SKU strategy and developers should take advantage of it as an option, not a requirement. Two years later, they've perhaps completely shifted directions, but even the wording on the hard drive FAQ at Xbox.com leaves wiggle room for the company to suggest they've said this could happen all along.
"So if I don't need the hard drive, why should I buy it?
Microsoft: Even though most games do not require the Xbox 360 Hard Drive, it saves you money in the long run.
I can't afford the hard drive right now. What are my options?
Microsoft: Again, the hard drive is not required to use Xbox 360, but it does enable you to do many things with the system that are otherwise off limits. The good news is, you don't have to buy the hard drive to play most Xbox 360 games, and you can use the Xbox 360 Memory Unit for game saves.
While most games do not require the use of the hard drive to work, many harness its streaming capabilities and data-caching features to improve performance."
How times have changed, indeed.