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Revolutionary: Wii can has hard drive?

Mike Sylvester

Every other week, Mike Sylvester brings you REVOLUTIONARY, a look at the wide world of Wii possibilities.

If you're smitten with the Virtual Console, one thing we're sure you aren't in love with is having to swap games between an SD card and your Wii's internal memory, or even worse -- deleting games to be re-downloaded later. WiiWare is on its way and it's hard to imagine My Life as a King demeaning itself to share its estate with less noble games. And certainly not with it bringing microtransactions to the royal ball. And wouldn't it be dandy if some of our multiplatform ports had somewhere to store that downloadable content that everyone is raving about on other consoles?

We want need more storage, and some of you have gathered to plead with Nintendo to sell a Wii Hard Drive. It appears that your cries just fall on deaf ears because they seem hardly driven to provide one. In this edition of Revolutionary, we'll examine why Wii can't have a hard drive.

Being a Nintendo fan means you've grown accustomed to waiting. You waited an eternity for their pioneering portable to evolve a backlit color screen. You endured an extra generation of cartridge-based gaming. And even now, you accept life in standard definition whilst holding onto a thread of belief that some day, Nintendo will go high def. So why is it that people are so willing to believe that Nintendo's on the verge of announcing a Wii Hard Drive when it's the standard choice for storage this generation? In accordance with tradition, it would have to come no earlier than next generation, if ever.

The reason why Nintendo is so profitable is because they take few risks in marketing products, and when they do go forth in delivering something new, it's after exhaustive research and calculation. A cursory analysis would show that a hard drive does not jibe with Nintendo's usual methods of operation. The two biggest marks against a hard drive are cost and fragility.

Take a look at the Xbox 360's hard drive upgrades. There's a huge difference in price between the hard drives they sell and the standard retail prices of the 20GB and 120GB hard drives that their products are based around. The difference in prices can't be entirely attributed to the enclosure that the Xbox 360 hard drives are packaged in. Microsoft wants to make a profit on the sale of peripherals, so they sell them at a higher price than it costs to market them. Nintendo would be no different, except they would not want to sell a product at such a high cost that the consumer has to call into question the value of it. Selling a 20GB hard drive at $90 is not as easy as selling Wii Fit, because we look at Wii Fit and say, "Well, it comes with a game and a controller." And it's unlikely that Nintendo would be looking to go with a 20GB hard drive, because manufacturing of drives at such low capacity is dwindling, and it's giving rise to rumors that the 20GB Xbox 360 bundled and accessory hard drives are going to be phased out and replaced with 60GB packages. If Nintendo went with that capacity, there would be higher costs and less profit.

Spinning platters and sliding read/write heads can cause a hard drive to wear out, even when data isn't being written or read from it. Flash memory, like the Wii's internal storage and the SD cards it also supports, has a finite number of reads and writes before ultimate failure, but the Wii usually copies saves and game data from the flash memory to RAM in limited accesses, instead of streaming the data as we would expect from a hard drive. We can count on the Wii's internal flash memory lasting a lot longer than the battery backups in NES cartridges, though the same might not be true of a hard drive.

Having to provide a warranty for portable hard drives, which may be easily damaged by a bump, fall, or just plain negligent treatment, would also affect the bottom line and make Nintendo resistant to marketing anything with this technology. It doesn't take much of a jolt to make the moving read/write heads grind into the spinning platters and cause an EPIC FAIL on any further attempts to access that part of the hard drive.

The Xbox 360 and PS3 are a little safer because the hard drive is attached to or installed inside the console. Shock can be distributed through the body of the whole console, and reduce the potential for damaging the drive. A USB cable tether doesn't provide much support to an external hard drive, but it might just yank the console down with it when falling off a precarious perch. Also, those systems don't have quite the reputation as our Wii for livening parties. All the mishaps that could happen from packing the hard drive for transport, or setting it up with altered judgment would have to be considered. So, why even go with a hard drive when there's a more suitable alternative?

The logical assumption is that Nintendo will follow course and just stick to flash storage. Not even in the highest densities available to consumers would it provide the "bottomless pit" of storage that a moderate capacity hard drive could, but that may be all part of their marketing strategy. Silly as we consumers are, we're more likely to buy one 8GB drive today for $59 and another a year from now than to buy that 20GB hard drive for $89, which we'd never have to upgrade again. There's added appeal in the flash drives for being small enough to poke out of a USB port with room enough for another. In contrast, even the smallest hard drives are bigger than a common flash-based thumb drive.

Why haven't they gone this route yet? Again, profit margins would probably be the primary consideration. If Nintendo waits a bit longer while production costs of flash memory continue to decrease, they can make more money selling them. All the while, demand for the product will increase as they continue to sell Virtual Console games and WiiWare.

Wedisk Thumb Drives
Doesn't work in Wii, but we can dream

This generation, Nintendo has bundled a game with every major piece of hardware. Wii Play comes with a Wiimote, Link's Crossbow Training is packed in with the Zapper, Mario Kart Wii will have the Wii Wheel, and Wii Fit will introduce the Balance Board. If Nintendo were to introduce a high-capacity, re-writeable storage medium, what could they possibly develop to showcase it? Well, they could re-tread tracks laid by their stillborn project, the 64DD. We haven't heard anything about a new Mario Paint, F-Zero, or the Wii-grown Zelda game, and each of those series has seen content developed for it on the 64DD with its internet connectivity and re-writable storage. And how about Pilotwings with downloadable expansion packs for additional aircraft, events, and areas to fly in?

How much would you be willing to spend for a Nintendo-certified flash drive on which you could run downloaded games and applications directly? How much storage would be enough to suit your desires, and what would you hope to do be able to do with it? Does flash seem like the best bet to you, or do you believe it's a hard drive or nothing? Be sure to drop a comment for discussion.

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