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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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  • by Delusion_ ( 56114 ) on Friday May 07, 2010 @04:13PM (#32132480) Homepage

    ...for solid-state media, for my tastes. It has connotations of low capacities and clunky housings.

    But it does bring up a good question - what's the next media format? Is Blu-Ray, DVD, and CD the last family of media formats (since they can all be read by BD devices) before we go to all-online distribution? I suspect that we're done with cheap universal physical media formats in the near future.

    Music stores are pretty much on their last legs, as much as it pains me to admit that. When physical game software dries up (PC or console) It has the added supposed-benefit (to the software industry) of eliminating the second-hand software market, which is something the industry has been trying to quash for what, 20 years?

  • Lets really hope so (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DontLickJesus ( 1141027 ) on Friday May 07, 2010 @04:14PM (#32132502) Homepage Journal
    I imagine the best size for a cartridge game being the size of an old TurboGraphx 16 game ( via google). I think SSD drives would be well suited for this. However, small games like SD cards are lost too easy. Remember, the gamer with kids can heavily influence this particular section of the gaming industry.
  • No (Score:3, Interesting)

    by proxima ( 165692 ) on Friday May 07, 2010 @04:26PM (#32132736)

    I'm already annoyed at the Netflix app for the Wii coming on disc instead of stored to the flash (word is it may be licensing issues; the app works spectacularly, by the way).

    For really graphics intensive games, we'll still be seeing game sizes in the tens of gigabytes. Flash is cheap, but it isn't that cheap (nor is the cheap stuff particularly fast. SD card transfer speeds are pretty pathetic). For most games, I think there will at least be a download option, ala Steam. Instant gratification from your purchase, and it allows for smaller, cheaper games to become popular (World of Goo).

    The physical disc does have a few advantages - you can bring it to a friend's house and easily re-sell it. Still, a really nice system would simply be an "export to USB drive/SD card" option which temporarily disables the game on the console and puts a valid copy on the USB key. The USB key's copy is valid for a fixed period of time. Sales could, in principle, be done via electronic transfer (though game publishers will be thrilled to cutoff the used game market if they can do it legally).

    So I think we'll see the really big games continue to get distributed on optical media (it's cheap), and more games distributed both on optical media and download. Since this last generation of consoles, hard drives have gotten much, much larger and cheaper relative to average game size. The next gen consoles will almost certainly have 1-3 TB drives built into them, standard. But ROM cartridges or substantial use of flash cartridges? I'm not seeing it.

  • Re:Depends (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Xtravar ( 725372 ) on Friday May 07, 2010 @04:28PM (#32132772) Homepage Journal

    Many people accidentally leave their doors unlocked, garage doors open, etc. In fact, you can easily open anyone's garage at any time. Or break their large bay windows.

    But you don't see people being robbed all the time due to these facts.

    Locked doors are little more than security theater for our own minds. If someone *really* wants to rob you, they will.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 07, 2010 @04:29PM (#32132784)

    As shown by Ea shutting down servers and my own experience with bioware games if you dont have a physical copy, (even if you do with always on drm) your games are doomed to stop working/ lose acess in about 3 years

    I bought jade empire (and nwn dlc) about 3 years ago from the bioware store. You can still buy this game on steam and other services but the bioware store was "updated". They took down the nwn stuff when they became part of ea - no refund no way to get it if you hant got it backed up.

      They also took down jade empire SE for those of us who baught it from their own store - with no warning and no explanation since. When I baught it there was no termination clause, infact it stated I could install 3 times with no problem then contact support for additional installs. I would have been on my second install.

    I have pmailed writen on the furom etc and have had no response other than Ill ask X to look into it.

    The cload may be cheaper for publichers it never will be for consumers. Physical copies are te only way to go for cnosumers. But publishers and devs wil love digital, they have a way to make us buy the game again in x number of years by just cutting acess, and no second hand market.

  • by Pojut ( 1027544 ) on Friday May 07, 2010 @04:37PM (#32132926) Homepage

    We encouter this problem a lot. The majority of the Netflix we get (6 at a time, represent!) are either historical documentaries narrated by people with British accents, silent movies, or anime. I'd say roughly one out of every six discs we receive need to be given a ride in the Skip Dr []. I can understand the anime and documentaries being scratched, since they are likely also gotten by people with kids...but the silent movies?!?!?! Who the fuck enjoys silent movies, but treats the medium they are contained on like crap? ::fist shake::

  • Re:No (Score:3, Interesting)

    by zeropointburn ( 975618 ) on Friday May 07, 2010 @05:53PM (#32133396) Journal

    I think you are on to something with the idea of electronic transfer. If the original publisher or platform company could handle the secondary market and take their cut, suddenly selling used games would be no problem. If Nintendo were to offer what amounts to an escrow service, where the buyer pays a small fee for the transfer and the seller gets the rest, and Nintendo gets to inspect both consoles to confirm the transfer, then they would have no argument against resale. Until someone like GameStop undercuts them on the transfer service (assuming it would even be possible considering the DMCA).

  • Humidity (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Friday May 07, 2010 @06:49PM (#32133666) Homepage

    A blow from the side though (and usually a 2nd cartridge wedged into the unit to hold the loaded one against the contacts tighter) would get it going in a jiffy.

    Seems the NES was the only system with this problem though (no doubt due to their goofy front-load spring-loaded design).

    As the proud owner of a still-working but quite wonkey NES, and I can tell you that you are correct on both counts. In reverse order:

    The connector does in fact suck, and makes poor contact because of the spring design. This is basically the entirety of the problem right there. The top-loader NES doesn't have this issue like every other console didn't, and if you used a Game Genie in your NES the problem would mostly go away as well (since it was designed to make contact with the connector when the cartridge holder was up).

    Blowing definitely works, but the reason it works has nothing to do with dust or anything. It's because the humidity in your breath increases the conductivity so the crappy contact the cartridge makes will be enough.

    Once I learned this, I stopped doing focused blowing from the side to try to get non-existent dust out, and instead use big open-mouth puffs. Works much better.

  • by Xugumad ( 39311 ) on Friday May 07, 2010 @08:50PM (#32134724)

    > 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.

    Given that download games mean:

    1. Tying up my Internet connection, possible for a large number of hours.
    2. Having to manage my own backups.
    3. Not getting the game any quicker (launch titles will frequently arrive by post before I could have downloaded the game, although pre-downloaded games that just need to be unlocked might beat this).
    4. Paying extra (at least in the UK, it's common for download games to be £5 more than the price from somewhere like Amazon - seriously).

    I'm not in a rush to move to them. I do buy download games where there's an advantage (typically this means something rare, or very VERY cheap), but almost universally we're talking 1-3 year old games...

  • by FishTankX ( 1539069 ) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @12:52AM (#32136392)

    I believe this is partially due to the variability of PC hardware. You can't just program the game to load on the fly due to the fact that you can't target a certain known disc speed. The person's hard drive could be nearly full (hence a commensurate reduction in seek time due to fragmentation) or what not.

    What I see happening eventually, is that every console will come with a high speed 32GB SSD as a loading cache. What will happen is that at the beginning of the game there will be a long load, and then in the background the game will continue to load the entirety of the pertinent data into the SSD while the game is playing. Video cut scenes and such will remain on the disc.

    This would eliminate the vast majority of load times, because as you're wandering into a new zone, the console can dynamically load the pertinent information from the SSD to the memory as you're walking there. A 10 second load time from a bluray disc (which I believe is roughly 20MB/s from an optical disc, to a dynamically cached system where pertinent data is just copied on the fly. Modern SSD's can saturate modern consoles memory banks in about 2 seconds flat. Even the 'value' 32GB SSDs run about 190MB/s. By guaranteeing a minimum baseload speed (A freakishly fast one at that) load times could permanently be eliminated as the player could never travel through the game world fast enough to outstrip the loading speed of the SSD.

    And since the drive would likely be emptied and trimmed every time the game was done, drive performance would remain consistent. The lack of a swapfile would mean that the IO load on the disc would be low, meaning it would probably outlive most components on the console.

    Additionally, they could sell a separate 'quick load' accessory which would slide into an external slot, and be another 32GB SSD which when put in there would allow maybe 10-15 games have the initial data for start up be present on the disc, with the primary caching SSD still there. This would allow initial game data to be read off the quick load disc and while you would still need to have the game disc inserted in the drive, would all but eliminate all semblance of long loads from the beginning of the game to the end of the game.

    To sum up, all modern games have long load times because they either have a fixed (but slow) loading media for loading on the fly, or a medium speed (but of inconsistent space/speed) media, where you have to assume the lowest common denominator. Having a quick SSD, solely dedicated to caching the content for one game at a time, would give you a blistering fast minimum baseline from which you could design your game from the ground up to take advantage of, and with modern games saturating RAM would only take about 2-3 seconds, meaning that it's unlikely that the gamer would ever interact with the game in a manner that would outstrip the SSD's ability to load this.

    Additionally, this would allow game developers to create more rich, vibrant worlds as less of the level would have to be in memory at a time to ensure loading times remain reasonable, allowing higher LOD within the game world being rendered at the moment, and the guarantee that when the player moves the SSD will be able to keep up the pace. Additionally, it would free up more memory by allowing certain things (like textures of the landscape being rolled in) to be streamed from the SSD instead of cached in RAM, as well as pretty much all audio samples, giving more memory available for game objects being immediately interacted with.

    A small, 32GB 200MB/s read SSD would likely give the developers a LARGE amount of leeway in ensuring that loads NEVER have to happen, save a small bit at the beginning of the game, while freeing up a lot of memory (brought in by the fast pace of streaming from the SSD, and quick access times, broadening the scope of what can be streamed) All while ensuring that games don't need to be packaged with 30GB of ROM, thus saving the costs of the ROM packaging, and probably paying for the SSD in 3-4 games versus the cost of ROM.

Trap full -- please empty.