The ‘Box’ of the future is round… maybe
I’ve been lurking in the background of the gaming blogesphere and twitter circuit for the past couple of weeks. Mainly because it was a major holiday and I wanted to give the proper amount of attention to the games I have been reviewing; Bioshock:Infinite and Gears of War: Judgment. But now that that’s all behind us I’m back and ready to kick back into full-gear, and speaking of gears I’ll tell you what’s been grinding mine! Always-online consoles and the nonchalant reactions by these major companies.
Always-online consoles would entail that in order to run a game constant internet connection would be required just as much as electicity is required. (i.e. even when not engaging in traditional MMO style games). So if you’re interested in a new single player title, you may want to check your connection speed and hope that it’s up to par. This feature is also rumored to ban playing a used game, much like the patent which Sony took on mid-last year that also received severe backlash.
Adam Orth on April 4, 2013 made the following statement via twitter:
“Sometimes the electricity goes out. I will not purchase a vacuum cleaner,” he tweeted (via NeoGAF). Then: “The mobile reception in the area I live in is spotty and unreliable. I will not buy a mobile phone.” And after the scream-o-sphere caught wind of his dispatches: “Sorry. I don’t get the drama around having an ‘always online’ console. Every device now is ‘always on’. That’s the world we live in. #dealwithit”
Classy Adam, real classy.
This quip is rumored to be Adam’s retort to a backlash from gamers who are not interested in an online only console. Now, it’s not specific and these are still just rumors, but let me be clear: THIS WOULD NOT BODE WELL FOR MICROSOFT. If there is anything I’ve learned from SXSW or Square Enix complaining that Tomb Raider didn’t move enough non-digital units, it’s that consoles are in danger and the PC isn’t. So while it may be true that Microsoft may end up doing okay because it sells computer programs and has the capability to preform in that market, it’s entertainment division which already produces dismal numbers may not. Respected electronics analyst Michael Pachter predicted the death of the console after this wave. And by the looks of people’s disharmony in a market where we used to rejoice the new era while respecting the old, we now bitch and moan about what we have, and we bitch and moan about what’s to come. Maybe we were always like that, but the internet’s presence makes it impossible to deny now.
I agree with Orth when he makes respectful and logical comments such as,
That day is coming as surely as winter to Westeros. The Internet won’t be a capricious, easily roiled medium forever.
It’s not so hard to imagine a world where your connection to a paid service like the internet is mandatory because we already do it for electricity. Internet is practically a utility, even elementary schools require it for homework! The always-online debate is admittedly narrow because the internet is undeniably growing at exponential rates. I may not have it on my phone (yet) but most people in America do. Pretty soon we’ll be online just because we’ll be online. Not because it was coerced.
Still, what about those who aren’t in America? Or in some random rural back-swamp that’s more worried about renegade gators than fiber-optics? Do we consider them or are they just going to have to play catch-up? An argument presented in favor of always-online hones in on Netflix. There are just shy 25 million subscribers to Netflix here in the United States alone, 23 million to be exact! The time when internet is anywhere and everywhere is upon the horizon for first world countries. But as of today, April 2013, there is still some 20 year old in Nowhere, Missouri, who has been waiting for Fios to come to his town since 2007! Maybe he can stream an episode of the Walking Dead with little problems but can his connection hold up to a video game with major moving parts? It’s certainly not the case that everyone, anywhere has access to fast, reliable Internet and hence the idea of releasing an always-online console, right now in 2013, is also shortsighted.
Critics of always-online site the recent ‘SimCity Disaster’ which is an online-only single player game that crashed at launch. EA Maxis did not anticipate its own success, even despite their own beta research. The servers were not prepared for the volume of players, and as a result most people were locked out of their legally purchased game. Whether or not it should or shouldn’t have been online-only is irrelevant, the game remained useless even a week after launch. Of course the industry will learn from this and improve, but it’s just another notch in the oppositions’ belt proving how this just isn’t the time. Perhaps if SimCity had worked, this wouldn’t even really be an issue… but I think it still would be.
Xbox Live: All Day Err’ Day
The publisher appeal for Online-Only games is transparent. It makes room for DMR implementation which make piracy difficult. Additionally from what I’ve gathered they lock out the ability to purchase a used game which benefits not the publishers and developers but the distributor where you purchased the used game (i.e. Gamestop or Gamefly). It gives sale control entirely to the publisher, guaranteeing that every digital sale is a new one. That’s not unjustifiable because secondhand sales and trading as well as pirating dent the profits and sometimes make it hard for developers who produce good games to receive funding to make more. Still, DMR solely to combat a blemish on the gaming community’s criminality (internet pirates! ARGH!!) is not fair. And let’s be honest, hackers will always find a loophole around any system, this may slow the pirates down but it won’t stop them.
Piracy allegiances aside, this industry is moving quickly towards online mandatory games. It’s the way for almost everything if you’re willing to take a look past your console and see. Potential customers may boycott the system if it makes this leap, and perhaps it’s the right choice for Microsoft even if it’s too soon for 2013. We can cling to our consoles like we clung to our chorded controllers (or am I the only one who did that?), but the video game industry is heading full speed towards this conclusion; always-online. Will it be as Pachter predicted; contributing factor to the death of the console? Maybe. Perhaps it will save the industry and we’re all wrong!
It’s important for me to point out that Always-Online may not have anything to do with DRM. Microsoft claims that it’s Kinect technology works optimally when it is online and connected their servers. Voice recognition via the bundled Kinect system could be a major feature of the “Nextbox” and is rumored to maybe even be standard included like a headset. Xbox SmartGlass may also be required of every single game hence requiring the user to have access to online data. If Microsoft wants to move games away entirely from the notion of single player and make every game for the platform feel like it is connected to an active community the only thing we can do is not buy the system. I remind you that the reasons for wanting the system online are still unconfimed.
Instead of sending Orth hatemail and flooding the forums with plans to protest Best Buy on launch day, advocate for holding companies accountable for shipwrecked launches and ongoing server stability issues, due to their own design flaws. Hold them accountable in ensuring companies provide full refunds when products fail to deliver! Unlike EA Maxis’ approach by handing out already outdated games that no one cares about. Force these people to answer valid questions such as “Will you shut down my server for my games?” which is an issue we already face with people who want to play older games and can’t fulfill all achievements because some or most are online and the servers have been shut down. Imagine if that would be the case just for single player modes? Likewise ask, ” Will I truly own the game and be able to play it at my convenience, or will I have to ask permission every time I want to play it?” which is also valid and if not paramount. Will you ever own your copy in the craze to regulate the gaming market in a way which hurts and possibly infringes upon the legal consumer’s traditional rights? That’s the real issue that we need to remain focused on as consumers, while finding a balance which can keep this industry producing top of the line entertainment for decades to come.