It’s still technically a rumor, but more and more sites are reporting that there may very well be two different versions of Microsoft’s next generation of the Xbox when it launches later this year. According to this Gamesradar.com article the word is that the basic Xbox 360 will not have a hard drive nor will it be backwards compatible with the current Xbox, but you can get both of those options plus WebTV if you don’t mind spending some extra money:
As well as the standard console, an additional $100 will bag you a hard drive (which is said to fit into a port near the top of the machine), WebTV and, intriguingly, backwards compatibility – meaning that the basic Xbox 360 won’t be able to play current-gen Xbox games.
It’s being reported that graphics company nVidia still owns patents on some of the original Xbox components, meaning that Microsoft has to pay royalties in order to implement backwards compatibility in Xbox 360.
Personally I think this is a bad idea. It introduces market fragmentation right from the get go ensuring that developers will be less likely to make use of the hard drive because they can’t be certain everyone will have it. Sony’s PS2 has a hard drive available for it and exactly one game that takes advantage of it: Final Fantasy XI Online. The only reason I can see why Microsoft wouldn’t just eat the extra $100 cost of the second version is if they’re already eating a huge loss on each console sale as it is. That’s pretty much par for the course in the console world. No one makes money off the hardware until it’s been out for a couple of years and they can redesign it to reduce costs.
Still, it looks like Xbox fans may have a decision to make on launch day. I’d guess that most of the hardcore crowd will dish out the extra cash for the complete Xbox 360. That’ll make the question one of if there’s enough hardcore fans to convince publishers to support the HD like they did in the previous Xbox.