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Data Storage Media Games

Will Game Cartridges Make a Comeback? 277

sk8pmp writes "With the cost of solid state memory going down, will we see the return of the game cartridge? Or will digital distribution reign supreme and transition our entertainment into the cloud? This editorial explores the beginnings of the cartridge vs. disc battle of the '90s and theorizes a second one in the future. '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!'"
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Will Game Cartridges Make a Comeback?

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  • No. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Friday May 07, 2010 @04:12PM (#32132460)
    Downloadable content is the future, not bits permanently etched into chips or optical disks.
  • by adeft ( 1805910 ) on Friday May 07, 2010 @04:13PM (#32132498)
    The medium switched to disks because they were cheaper to make, held more information, and worked. If cartridges take on these qualities, then there would be no reason to avoid them.
  • Re:Depends (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Knara ( 9377 ) on Friday May 07, 2010 @04:15PM (#32132536)
    Eh. It only delays the inevitable. "A system that an attacker has physical access to is already compromised" doesn't just apply to computers.
  • by PocketPick ( 798123 ) on Friday May 07, 2010 @04:17PM (#32132554)

    '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"?

    Cartridges will result in somewhat lower load times, for sure, but the complete elimination? I highly doubt it - The terrains of games like Oblivion and Fallout still take massive amounts of time to render in memory, and then display on the screen...The bottleneck is not necessarily the time required to simply extract it off the DVD or Blu Ray disk it resides on.

    As game creators push the limits further and further with the inevitable next generation of consoles, you'll find the limiting factor in how long it takes to get up-and-running has less and less to do with the choice of optical media vs. SSD.

  • by julesh ( 229690 ) on Friday May 07, 2010 @04:26PM (#32132738)

    I don't see how cartridges ever went out of style. Nintendo DS games come on cartridges. PSN on PSP downloads games to a Memory Stick PRO Duo. Wii downloads games to SD.

    Of course, these are all platforms where either (1) media size is critical or (2) writability is critical. Also small game sizes helps. The fact is that memory cards are much more expensive per GB than Blu-ray discs, and therefore unless there's a *major* advantage to offset this cost BD is quite clearly the way forward for any new game system. And except for handheld devices and downloadable content, I don't see it.

  • Re:Good riddence (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Delusion_ ( 56114 ) on Friday May 07, 2010 @04:28PM (#32132770) Homepage

    I never had a problem with optical discs for reliability. I really really don't understand people who can't keep CDs in good condition.

    CD-Rs I can kind of understand, since the reflective surface is applied to the top and often uncoated.

  • Re:No. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 07, 2010 @04:29PM (#32132794)

    You mean downloadable content that you can't borrow, lend, trade, sell? I'd rather have my games on physical media.

    Also having a 60 GB download limit per month limits what you can download/buy.

  • by MBGMorden ( 803437 ) on Friday May 07, 2010 @04:31PM (#32132834)

    And there are even still new NES games coming out, like Sivak's Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril and ProgAce's Bio Force Ape vs. Dur Butter.

    Apparently you're confusing "went out of style" with "completely ceased to exist".

    Just because I can find a green leisure suit on an internet site somewhere doesn't mean I will still look normal walking down the street in it.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday May 07, 2010 @04:33PM (#32132864) Journal
    Cartridges are still mostly pointless.

    Consider: If Flash is cheap enough to distribute games on, it is cheap enough to build large mass storage devices into consoles with. Further, since a console is a one-time purchase, and its internal mass storage is re-usable, while a catridge's Flash has to come right out of the margins of the game, it will always be the case, no matter how cheap Flash gets, that a console can have a much larger mass storage block than a cartridge can. Simple economic reality. Unless the singularity strikes, and the numbers are "Catridge: a million bazillion petabytes, too cheap to price" and "Console: a trillion bazillion petabytes, too cheap to price" this difference will always matter.

    Cartridges don't really offer any anti-piracy advantage anymore: again, because you have to fit into the margin of the game being sold, you are pretty limited in what security measures you can bake into the cartridge itself. Clones will be pouring out of China and onto ebay within moments. Any moderately robust system-level DRM is going to be in the console. And, if optical media really scare you, it is still cheaper to come up with a slight variant(Blu-Ray disks with embedded RFIDs or something) than it is to ship a cartridge. Downloads, of course, offer trivial per-download uniqueness opportunities.

    Now, that said, I do suspect that the institution of playing/executing from optical media will die out in fairly short order(except for "watch once" stuff like movies. Optical media offer shitty latency, long load times, and are often pretty noisy. HDDs are faster and more capacious. SSDs are faster still, and capacity is climbing. I strongly suspect that most people would rather have a "15 minute 'install' consisting of dumping a disk image to internal storage, possibly in a compressed form that the console offers hardware accelerated decompression for, followed by fast level loads forever" to "Instant play, and 90 second level loads forever". Or, with a little cleverness, somebody could probably whip up a hybrid model: "Instant play, initially a touch slow as the disk image is dumped in the background, followed by gradually increasing speed as more and more reads take place from fixed storage, rather than optical disk".

    Downloads, of course, will go to internal fixed storage(or external mass storage devices) no matter what.
  • by MBGMorden ( 803437 ) on Friday May 07, 2010 @04:34PM (#32132884)

    Doesn't necessarily have to be. Discs are dirt cheap, but solid state is getting cheaper too. The original reason CD's took over was because they held a lot more than solid state and they were a LOT cheaper. Cartridges were faster and more durable, but that wasn't enough.

    Today, solid state still has faster and more durable, and they've actually exceeded plastic disks in capacity. About all that's left is raw cost, but the difference is shrinking. If it gets small enough, it's not unrealistic to expect that the optical disc could fall out of favor.

    That said, the disadvantage that BOTH of them have (namely being a physical item requiring shipment) will IMHO cause both to fail compared to downloaded content.

  • by Syncdata ( 596941 ) on Friday May 07, 2010 @04:50PM (#32133102) Journal
    You just nailed it.
    There could be a thousand different reasons why Rom chips would be superior to an optical disk, and in the end it would not matter. Disks are cheap to burn, and you don't have to worry about commodity price fluctuations. Price to manufacture is the only concern that trumps all others. 60 dollars per new game is high enough, and game companies are not going to decrease their margins on games, nor will distributors or retailers. Any increase in price will be passed to the consumer. Let's face it: We all hate load times. But we've gotten used to them.
  • Re:Good riddence (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CronoCloud ( 590650 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <noruaduolconorc>> on Friday May 07, 2010 @05:11PM (#32133228)

    My parents taught me proper LP record/45 single handling skills when I was young, before that, no touching. You need to do the same in regards to optical media.

  • by yotto ( 590067 ) on Friday May 07, 2010 @05:23PM (#32133290) Homepage

    I've been a Netflix subscriber since 2005 and I can count on my fingers (no thumbs!) the number of times I've had to return a movie. And the bulk of those were early on when I had a crappy DVD player. On a whim, I bought a new ($20 cheapo) DVD player instead of mailing the "bad" movie back and my failures dramatically reduced. Like from 5 in a year to 2 in the past 5 years.

    Granted, I'm on the "1 at a time" plan but I almost always mail back right away so end up with 8-12 a month. That's 100 a year at least, so under 1% failure rate.

  • Re:No. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ArundelCastle ( 1581543 ) on Friday May 07, 2010 @07:53PM (#32134106)

    Downloadable content is the future, not bits permanently etched into chips or optical disks.

    Not only is that choice of words inaccurate from an archival data management standpoint, it highlights a weakness that only downloadable content has: It can vanish at any time without warning.

    I heard there were some Kindle owners pretty upset about that. []
    Imagine if Sony could delete games off your PS3... whether you purchased them legitimately or not.
    What makes anyone think they don't have that ability right now?

  • by RyuuzakiTetsuya ( 195424 ) <taiki.cox@net> on Friday May 07, 2010 @08:01PM (#32134202)

    Street Fighter II: World Warrior - SNES: 79.99
    Super Street Fighter IV - PS3/Xbox: 39.99

    Not only are discs *cheaper*, they have an advantage over ROMs. You can do small sized batches of say, 10k discs, but ROMs had to be sold in lots an order of magnitude greater or more.

  • Re:Don't blow (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pennyloafer ( 1175025 ) on Friday May 07, 2010 @11:46PM (#32136076)
    It really is important to clean with 99.999% pure 2-propanol and deionized water mixture to clean off orange Dorito stuff and grape jelly from the pristine edge connector :)
  • Yes, Please (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Zero_DgZ ( 1047348 ) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @12:31AM (#32136308)

    Given that cartridge based games seem to last about a bazillion times longer than optical disk and in most cases are much more durable, I would favor a return to cartridges. Especially considering I have Atari VCS games that still work perfectly ('70's) and PSX games that despite being carefully stored and handled do not due to data layer oxidation and other factors (early 2000's...) I think the results really speak for themselves.

    Cartridges can be repaired and are much more resistant to abuse - a cart with a cracked case will still work (possibly with the addition of some duct tape) but a cracked optical disk is invariably toast. Cartridge shells can be replaced, contacts can be refurbished and cleaned, and also very importantly - game save data can be kept on the cartridge, with the game. No more "my memory card is full, but I don't want to lose any of my 100% completion RPG saves!" sort of scenarios. Also, cart mechanisms can be made with no moving parts, or at least parts that need to move during operation (loading and unloading are different stories) leading to lower power consumption and higher reliability. Hands up anyone with a Playstation of any generation with either a dead laser, spindle motor, or both?

  • Re:No (Score:3, Insightful)

    by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Saturday May 08, 2010 @08:27AM (#32137778) Homepage Journal

    I suspect the only reason they don't do it is that if they will open themselves up for antitrust action to prevent them from leveraging their monopoly on resale of products, under First Sale law in which you have the right to do that anyway. You arguably don't have this right with a game which you've only paid to play, as opposed to one which you've bought on physical media; But if they give you the ability, a court might make them let others resell, and then they have to not only lose that sale, but be forced to produce the technical advancements to permit those sales to be lost. Economically it by far makes the most sense to simply prevent the transfers and force additional sales. It's bound to please the majority of developers to the greatest degree as well.

  • by egomaniac ( 105476 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @10:31AM (#32155150) Homepage

    Why on earth are you quoting manufacturing costs in one case and retail costs in the other? Retail Blu-Ray discs cost around $25-$30 -- right around the same as your quoted 16GB USB key price. As I don't know the manufacturing cost of flash memory, and evidently you don't either, we have no basis to make a comparison.

Love may laugh at locksmiths, but he has a profound respect for money bags. -- Sidney Paternoster, "The Folly of the Wise"