The next games industry hardware revolution: Cartridges!
In Games Industry - posted on Fri 9th March 2012 2. 58PM
Or... How Angry Birds saved the games industry.
We are going back to cartridges! I'd heard mutterings about this before, but due to a vague document I once signed, and the fact no one would believe me anyway, I've not discussed it. Today Microsoft went public with the announcement* so its time to talk about what it means for everyone and how we got here.
Many people are already probably shaking their heads. Everyone knows solid state disks are too expensive for AAA titles, right? Not-any-more.
Flash memory prices in the global spot market have more than halved since this time last year. Last years prices had halved in the previous twelve months. A quick spot check on NAND memory puts our daily low for 64Gb(8Gx8 Multi Level Cell flash) at just $3.90! (This is actually double what it should be, the prices were pushed up by flooding in Thailand.) If we look at how fast the prices are being driven down, we can safely put the price of NAND by the next console generation to be about $0.05-$0.10 per Gigabyte.
So what does this mean? It means that, going on current pricing trends, a future console game could concievably come on a 64 to 128 gigabyte flash disk. That is an impressive amount of memory, even compared to a blue ray (50GB), but that's not the best bit.
If a console manufacturer puts a decent disk controller in their console, and doesn't jam it up with a nasty latency inducing DRM, we are looking at random access reads so fast (400MB/s) that the assets can be loaded in the frame that they are needed. Whole worlds can be explored without any RAM memory set aside to be wasted on pre-caching.
If you are a PC gamer this even bigger news. When every Xbox game is released on NAND based memory cartridges, the manufacture of NAND is going to sky rocket. Once production meets the spike in demand, we are going to see the price of SSD drives drop BELOW the cost of spinning rust disks.
And who do we have to thank for this amazing news? Well...
The demand for cheaper multi level cell flash has been driven by the booming smart-phone market. Which in turn was largely fuelled by mobile games. Before the onset of the mass-market smart phone, flash memory was the tech industry's fusion. Always ten years away, but not enough economic force behind the bright ideas.
Solid state disks are one of the most economical ways for delivering retail games in the future. None of the new optical formats offer a good trade off between latency, capacity or price. Its very unlikely that our digital future will start with this new generation. Digital distribution is still fighting against poor broadband coverage in key markets. Cartridges may be just the thing we need.
So don't turn your nose up at mobile games. They just started our next revolution.
*OK, so it is being spun as a leak. But Microsoft "leaks" follow a very predictable pattern no?
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this blog are solely my own and not those of my employer, sponsors or research centre.(2) comments :
Comment by Jane McLaughlin on Thu 28th February 2013 6. 18PMAngry bird becomes so popular. Toddlers, yuppies and grannies could even recognize who angry bird is. Now that there is a new hardware revolution, we could expect more games to be popularized and be recognized by different ages.
Comment by Timothy on Thu 28th February 2013 6. 50PMI’m a fan of video games and I look forward to much highly sophisticated device.