Yesterday we reported on a recently-listed patent filed by Nintendo for a home gaming console that doesn’t include an optical disk drive. The idea inspired a lot of spirited debate, which is a powerful testament to how ingrained the idea of owning physical copies of games really is as well as how many people are looking to a future where everything’s available at the touch of a button. Digging deeper into Nintendo patent lore, however, reveals that Nintendo might have plans to try to satisfy both audiences—with full-blown console variants that may include physical-only and digital-only models.
In our last patent investigation, we discovered that Nintendo’s patented a game console that uses a built-in hard disk drive in place of an optical media drive to store and read games:
An example system includes an internal hard disk drive storing a program and/or data, a communication unit transmitting/receiving a program and/or data via a network, and a processor executing a program stored in the hard disk drive to perform game processing. The example system is not provided with an optical disk drive for reading out a program and/or data from an optical disk.
However, later passages in the patent suggest that Nintendo isn’t limiting their vision for future home consoles to ones that don’t include optical discs. In fact, they may intend to design multiple hardware configurations, with some having only a hard disk drive for digital games while others include no HDD and
do read games from discs. Take a look at the relevant passage:
 The first basic program 24 and the second basic program 25 executed by the processor 10 of the game apparatus 1 according to the present example embodiment
is configured to operate in the game apparatus 1 of the hardware configuration illustrated in FIG. 1, while operating also in a game apparatus with a hardware configuration different from the above. The first basic program 24 and the second basic program 25 also operate in, for example, a game apparatus including an optical disk drive or a game apparatus not including the internal HDD 13.
 Accordingly, for the first basic program 24 or the second basic program 25,
multiple processing routines are provided corresponding to multiple kinds of hardware configurations. For example, as multiple processing routines, a processing routine for reading in a device driver for the internal HDD 13 and a processing routine for reading in a device driver for the optical disk drive can be provided. For example, as processing routines for reading out the game program 26, a processing routine for reading out from the internal HDD 13 and a processing routine for reading out from an optical disk drive are provided. These are mere examples and other processing routines corresponding to various hardware configurations may also be provided.
If this kind of platform comes to fruition, we may well see Nintendo find a path to deliver games in the best way for everyone, while not inflating the initial hardware costs to try to accommodate everyone. If you want to go digital-only, feel free. There might be a version of NX that doesn’t even have an optical drive, so you don’t have to pay the added hardware cost. If you like owning your games on discs, go wild! There could also be a variant that has a disk drive and no built-in storage for games (Author’s note: Don’t worry, indie aficionados, you’ll probably still be able to use external storage. And of course none of this prevents Nintendo from releasing a hardware variant with both an optical drive for physical games
and an internal HDD for digital storage).
This scheme could also serve another purpose: building hardware configurations that correspond to the tastes and needs of multiple markets around the world. In Japan, for example, manufacturers tend to place a focus on power efficiency; not needing to power a disc drive would help achieve that efficiency. Meanwhile, Western markets are tending toward digital consumption; having a digital-only console variant with a large HDD for game storage would meet that audience’s needs. Traditional audiences that aren’t comfortable buying digital can, of course, choose the disc model.
It’d be a much more attractive scheme than Wii U’s hardware variants, which simply offer slightly different-sized flash memory—with the higher-end model still sorely lacking in available storage.
While this approach would offer a solution for everyone, that isn’t to say it’s without its flaws. In order to deliver these options, Nintendo would need to keep a ready stock of every available hardware variant, a feat that’s easier said than done. With Wii U and 3DS already seeing declining retail presence, Nintendo may not have the leverage they once had to deliver on that potential. However, if they’re lucky enough to settle on an idea that’s a hit with the mass market like the NES, Game Boy, DS, and Wii were, and if they pair this kind of forward-thinking, “options for all” approach with a great software strategy, they might just be able to pull it off.
Source: US Patent & Trademark Office