There will be meetings at Microsoft as you read this piece. Serious meetings about how to handle the fact that some Xbox 360 games will require a hard drive after endless assurances that mass storage capabilities would not force a two-tier userbase for the new machine.
Slowly emerging details over the past few days have pointed to Sports Interactive's Football Manager 2006 requiring the Xbox 360 hard drive in order to play. The game, developed by the brilliant UK outfit fronted by Miles 'Small in Stature, Large in Knowing About Football' Jacobson is the first full release that will split the 360 community into the haves and the have-nots. This follows the release of the Final Fantasy XI demo which also required the HD to function. Although no official clarification on the subject was offered by either Square-Enix or Microsoft, it is suspected that the enhanced port simply will not run without the mass storage afforded by the 360 HD.
Although this news isn't exactly a bombshell, it is the first example of Microsoft's willingness to abandon promises it formally makes to the game-buying public. It's not a stand-alone indictment of the business principles employed at Redmond, rather the latest example of the erosion of a guarantee made on many occasions.
Microsoft executives have pointed out to us and other publications - on the record - that other companies have been disingenuous in positioning hardware and software. Of course, this is absolutely true. Sony has told some outrageous lies in the past, and shown media related only to its games in name alone. However, it's the manner in which Microsoft reneges on its promises, the gradual program of promise erosion, which is transparent from the off and becomes increasingly distasteful. Again, this isn't a damnation of Microsoft's Xbox program. It has delivered two brilliant games machines, smashed the boundaries of online gaming, and poured cash into areas of gaming otherwise overlooked in the industry. This doesn't change the fact that Microsoft misled consumers, assuring total 360 compatibility for Core System buyers. Those buyers now have a machine that does not do what its manufacturer assured.
And of course, the news regarding Football Manager (and almost certainly FFXI) will be painted as a slight hiccup, overblown by the media and not a real issue. However, in a year's time, how many games will be inaccessible to 360 owners who opted not to buy a hard drive having been assured that one would not be needed?
Microsoft then plans to launch the Xbox 360 HD-DVD add-on, at this time positioned as a movie player and nothing more. Given that the format rips apart the size limitations for developers, and the fact that the age of the truly epic game is - if not already with us - then just around the corner, it seems a safe bet that a three-tier 360 community will emerge.
For further information on the fantastic, genre-breaking monster that is Football Manager 2006, read our exclusive interview with SI's Miles 'Tax-Free Child Size' Jacobson here.