Mass Storage & Auto-saves
Despite their convenience, memory cards had one huge drawback: storage capacity. Around the turn of the century, the industry transitioned from battery-backed memory to non-volatile flash memory—the same thing you’d find in a USB flash drive or a camera’s memory card. Unfortunately, flash memory was still wildly expensive back then, meaning memory cards remained cramped. Frustrated gamers had to adopt a mercenary sort of attitude while digging through the contents of their memory cards, trying to make room for a new game by deleting their progress in another.
An alternative to memory cards appeared during the sixth generation of consoles. Microsoft’s first Xbox made history as the first console to come with a hard disk built in as standard equipment, and the PlayStation 2 supported hard drives as an optional add-on. Hard disks opened up a lot of new possibilities for gamers, including what was effectively unlimited storage for saving gamers’ progress.
Both the PlayStation 2 and Xbox supported traditional memory cards as well, but their 8 MB capacities were nothing compared to the hard disks inside the consoles themselves (4 or 8 GB for the Xbox and a whopping 40 GB for the PlayStation 2). The reign of the memory card was over.
With all of that space available, gamers were finally free of the dreaded “what will I miss least?” decision making process associated with making room on their memory card. Better yet, games could begin assuming that they were always allowed to save—rather than an event that might happen at the end of a play session, saving progress could happen much more often, and without necessarily overwriting what had been saved before. This, pardon the pun, really was a game-changer, leading to the invention of auto-saves. Auto-saves meant that the game itself decided when it should save the player’s progress, freeing gamers from yet another bit of minutiae and saving them from unpleasant events like power outages or game freezes that might’ve led to a loss of progress in years gone past. Some games even manage to leverage auto-saves to discourage cheaters.
Image: Sony PlayStation 2 hard drive with network adaptor