So, Microsoft and Xbox’s big new console reveal yesterday was something short of a full reveal. The company gave us a better look at its plans for Project Scarlet at its E3 press conference, but we’re still working in veiled terms: we’ve got more information on specs and an idea of what that might mean, but we’re still shy of big things like a name, box, price and launch lineup. And in a move that shouldn’t be all that surprising, Microsoft decided to lead with the same feature that Sony led with when it started talking about PS5: an SSD.
SSD stands for solid-state drive, and it’s a more advanced kind of hard drive that’s capable of running significantly quicker than the traditional HDDs we had in both the Xbox One and PS4—as well as the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro. If you’ve spent some time in the world of gaming PCs, you know what these things can do to your experience: getting the entire operation to run that much more quickly is one of the most cost-effective things you can do to improve your overall experience.
It makes sense that both companies are doubling down on the ability of an SSD to decrease loading times as a marketing strategy. Trying to sell constantly increasing graphical power is getting harder and harder, mostly because the sort of graphical leaps that we see these days just aren’t as immediately striking as the ones that we in previous generations: Microsoft and Sony can wave a term like “8K” around, but for most everyone playing games that’s never going to be more than a theoretical value.
Loading times, however? That’s something you can sink your teeth into. Cutting down on loading times is the sort of thing any gamer will be able to notice regardless of their console setup, and it’s the sort of thing that could dramatically impact the way that we play games in a more extreme way than fancier particle physics or even more photorealistic graphics. And it has the potential to affect game design, too: developers have long used strategies like long hallways or elevators to stand-in for loading screens, and that sort of thing might soon become a thing of the past.
It makes me think of The Elder Scrolls 6: Skyrim was a great game, but it’s hard to forget how constant loading screens between interior and exterior locations broke up that sprawling experience. What if we could play a Bethesda-style open world game without loading screens? It would be an entirely different experience. I’m not saying that we’ll get there, but that feels like this is how Sony and Microsoft are approaching next-gen hardware, and it feels like the right move.