Xbox 360 Discs
Developers have dreamed to build games without limits. By substituting game discs for the cloud, the PS4 and alleged Xbox 720 could open the doors for incredible possibilities in gaming. Wikipedia

The PlayStation 4 and Xbox 720 -- the alleged names for the next-generation gaming consoles from Sony and Microsoft, respectively -- will surely feature powerful hardware and stunning graphics. But while both next-gen consoles will release later this year, details about the consoles themselves have remained under heavy wraps. But why?

Clearly, there are things about the PS4 and Xbox 720 that Sony and Microsoft respectively don’t want consumers to know about. Sure, information like price and specs will be kept strategically secret until the consoles are officially ready to go on sale, but neither company actually wants to show what their console looks like.

Given the reticence to debut any details about the form factor or capabilities of the PS4 or Xbox 720, it’s entirely possible that these consoles’ outer features give too much away about Sony’s and Microsoft’s future plans for gaming. But in the same way purchasing and listening to CDs went digital, it’s entirely possible that the “big secret” surrounding the PS4 and Xbox 720 is that neither console actually features a disc slot.

Why It Makes Sense To Dump The Disc Trays

Sony got first licks to introduce its console in 2013, debuting its PS4 at a New York City event on Feb. 20 without actually "debuting" it.

While the PS4 event showed off the console’s new controller, as well as some key features, Sony never showed off what the Playstation 4 will actually look like.

But even without hardware specifics, Sony gave away enough information about its PS4 to make the removal of the game disc a plausible idea.

For example, numerous times throughout the PS4 event, Sony reiterated how the PS4 can integrate “second screens,” including smartphones, tablets and its own Playstation Vita, but the company said the PS4 will focus a great deal on cloud-related features. For example, Sony wants players to download games directly to their PS4 units so they never have to leave the ecosystem to enjoy more content.

“The long-term goal of PS4 is to reduce download times of digital titles to zero,” Sony said in a press release. “If the system knows enough about a player to predict the next game they will purchase, then that game can be loaded and ready to go before they even click the ‘buy’ button.”

During the company’s presentation, Sony showed how users can actually play digital titles as they continue to download from the cloud; considering how most digital companies are finding more success in selling in-game content directly on their own mobile platforms (i.e. Apple, Android), it seems almost counterintuitive to sell physical games outside of one’s system.

Sony certainly doesn’t need physical stores to sell its own games: The company said it spent a great deal of effort and capital to expand the PlayStation Network and even incorporate cloud technology from Gaikai Inc.

“In the future, when a gamer sees a title of interest in PlayStation Store, they can immediately start playing a portion of the actual game -- not a stripped-down version of the game,” Sony said in its PS4 press release. “With Gaikai and PlayStation Store, gamers will be able to experience appealing games and only pay for the games they actually love. PlayStation Network and the cloud will offer additional value to PlayStation gamers.”

Most interesting to note, Sony said it’s “exploring unique opportunities enabled by cloud technology with the long-term vision of making PlayStation libraries, including an incredible catalog of more than 3,000 PS3 titles that is unmatched in the industry, most ubiquitous on PS4.”

If Sony is truly invested in putting its entire library in the cloud, the company must finally understand that while gamers love amassing giant libraries of past games, nobody likes to have piles of old game discs and boxes littering their living rooms. The argument against going digital would involve how gamers “love owning physical games,” but, to counter those particular theses, I’ll cite the deaths of CDs and newspapers, both of which have successfully transitioned to digital.

Why Game Discs Are History

Call it what you want: efficiency, evolution -- take your pick. Over time, it’s natural to cut out the things we don’t need. Humans may have needed tails to stay balanced at one point, but, once we didn’t need them to stand, we lost them. But don’t mourn for your coccyx; just celebrate the fact that you’re standing.

Similarly, we haven’t too often lamented the death of the newspaper or CD: While those items are highly nostalgic, their presences live on through digital media, which is cheaper to produce and consume and more efficient overall.

This wouldn’t be the first time gamers have needed to say goodbye to outdated technology: Gamers still miss the old days of Nintendo cartridges of SNES and N64, but now, it’s finally time for the game disc to walk into the sunset.

Without discs, producers don’t have set limits to the size or scope of their games. Numerous times throughout the PS4 event, game makers alluded to how the next-gen console is essentially “unrestricted” and “limitless.” Removing the game disc and replacing it with endless cloud storage would certainly make this statement true.

We don’t know if both Sony and Microsoft plan to kill the game disc -- both companies might opt to keep those trays around for one more generation -- but one thing’s for sure: Competition in the industry has never been greater. Thanks to the advent of smartphones starting in 2007, gaming has gotten increasingly mobile and less centered around the living room experience. The challenge for companies like Sony and Microsoft is to unveil new consoles and games that can rival the accessibility of the mobile experience, as well as appeal to the living room traditionalists. By selling their own games through their proprietary “marketplaces” and “networks,” Sony and Microsoft would be copying Apple’s App Store strategy, which centralizes all third-party applications over one major network. Picasso put it best when he said: “Good artists copy, but great artists steal.”