Proprietary Xbox Series X expandable SSD hard disks

Microsoft's product development team is lost at Sea… gate

17 March 2020

It looks like the days of expensive proprietary accessories for consoles were long gone. No more swapping out PS2 memory cards. No more weird non-standard expansion slots. Trust Microsoft to screw over its customers with their latest partnership. Seagate will be manufacturing custom SSDs as expansions for the Xbox Series X console, and only for that console.

Hook 'em up, drain their wallets

Pricing has not yet been announced for the Seagate SSD units, but I don't think there's anybody in the industry who believes they will be priced equivalently to their non-proprietary counterparts.

Don't get me wrong: it's great news that consoles are moving to SSD storage, because the vastly improved loading times will be a benefit across the board, and we've reached the point where solid state storage is no longer prohibitively expensive.

If you entered the console world in the past five years, you might even be forgiven for not remembering the harm of prior generations. The sinking feeling when you realise you need to erase a bunch of old save games to keep your latest progress, or the knowledge that your hard disk is full and you will have to download Grand Theft Auto V again, all 100 GB of it, if you want to install something new.

Once you've laid down that hefty chunk of cash for a new console, they're counting on you being locked in. You've already set it up, plugged it in, attached your credit card to the money siphon that is the game store. Only a few months later do you face the serious question: delete things you've already installed, or shell out on a storage expansion?

An NVME SSD plugged into a motherboard

What's the point?

For consumers, this is a bad sign. The best case is that the expandable storage devices will be the same price as the equivalent non-proprietary units, but, that seems super unlikely. Even if that were the case, you lose the option to repurpose it later. Think about how many USB sticks you probably have lying around and then consider that you can use any of them on anything that has a USB port. The clue's in the name: universal serial bus.

My guess is that Microsoft are taking more of a loss on the purchase price of the console, at launch, than they had wanted, and need to make back the cash somehow. By penning a deal with Seagate, the corporate overlords will have the means by which to take a cut of each expansion card sale, and recoup some of the losses.

Weren't Microsoft on the way to being the good guys?

It looked that way for a time, for sure. The Xbox Game Pass is incredible value for money, and optionally works on both PC and Xbox. The unification of the storefront means that everything can be acquired from one place, and the Xbox One controller is hands (thumbs?) down favourite amongst many gamers, being able to connect via Bluetooth to PCs and other devices.

Outside of gaming, Microsoft has been slowly adapting to the idea that locking people and businesses into their prehistoric products wasn't the best way to stay afloat, and gave us things like VSCode for free.

Just remember, this is the company that brought you the "embrace, extend, extinguish" corporate strategy, drove other browsers out of the market with questionable business practices that led to many lawsuits, and still haven't made Windows 10 into a stable operating system.

A leopard never changes its spots.

PlayStation 5 promotional image

What about Sony?

We don't know; Sony's been keeping quiet on all this so far. It's a wise move as well. They dominated the previous generation, so the Japanese giant can afford to wait for Microsoft to reveal much of their strategy and adjust accordingly.

If Sony were to offer a similar proprietary system, we're no better off as consumers, and we'll have to suck it up and fork out. If it were to offer true compatibility with any SSD on the market, it would be a not-insignificant factor in a purchase decision, especially for the more hardcore crowd, who love to fill their libraries with more than just a light selection of titles.

Sony are certainly behind their main competition in terms of a monthly gaming service; the Xbox Game Pass is definitely the better offering right now, and Microsoft has a soaring upper hand in terms of backwards compatibility. But then again, there are so many great titles on the PlayStation store that are just absent on the other side, something which Xbox Game Studios has hurriedly been trying to rectify with the mass buyouts of notable game developers like Obsidian.

Who knows, at this stage? It's all to play for in the race to release the next, biggest, bestest, most pixel-pushing console of them all. I only know that Microsoft have stubbed a toe on the starting line by forcing consumers to buy proprietary-brand expandable storage, but it's no surprise to me.