It’s been almost three weeks since Microsoft’s official reveal event for the Xbox One. Almost immediately, it set off a mixed reaction uproar over the social media channels. Praise for the name, design, and features were met with equal parts of ridicule. Some people love the new design, others think it looks like an alarm clock. I think it looks like a VCR, myself. Aesthetics are really beside the point, though. What can it do, right? Multitasking, awesome. Seamless voice control, great. How does it play games? No one knows yet, but I suppose that’s what we’re all waiting for at E3 this week.
While I’m genuinely excited about some of the features and capabilities they showed off at the reveal event, I’m also genuinely concered about certain limitations and requirements that have been detailed via interviews and the Xbox website. I know the backlash has been pretty severe on video game news sites, reddit, and others online forums, and I’m not really here to add to that. I’m not saying, “WTF, XBONE! Don’t buy that! Evil M$ is trying to screw us!” I may believe certain things in that last sentence, but bashing a system that is months from release, on somewhat speculative bases is not my goal. What I am here to do, however, is outline the two features that really bother me, and why they do. I know some will shout, “RUMOR!” at these, but I did my best to speak on points that come straight from Microsoft, either through interviews with their representatives, or through the Q&A on the Xbox website…. which is tough because none of their reps seem to be on the same page, so I’m going on possibilities here. What if the worse we’re hearing turns out to be true? That being said:
1. Required internet connection
We know that the Xbox One will have to be connected to the internet to play games. The situation isn’t as horrible as the “always on” connection that some have surmised, but per the Xbox website, the Xbox One will phone home every so often to verify all the software on your console. Does it do this even with offline games? Apparently, yes it does:
With Xbox One you can game offline for up to 24 hours on your primary console, or one hour if you are logged on to a separate console accessing your library. Offline gaming is not possible after these prescribed times until you re-establish a connection, but you can still watch live TV and enjoy Blu-ray and DVD movies.
That’s a pretty definitive statement. “Offline gaming is not possible” until you connect to the internet.
I know, who doesn’t have a broadband internet connection these days? Well, according to the FCC, 119 million Americans don’t. That’s 100 million that choose not to subscribe, and 19 million that live in areas where broadband isn’t available. Total, that’s about 38% of the US population without broadband. The website also mentions the ability to connect via mobile broadband, so that lessens the blow somewhat. Unfortunately, these figures aren’t linked to demographic info, so we don’t know how many of these people are of “internet age” and of “gaming age.” Let’s be real, my parents couldn’t give less of a crap about having no internet. They wouldn’t ever, ever notice if Google’s DNS listing went bye bye and the site just stopped resolving one day. And, I’m pretty sure my mother wouldn’t even be able to identify Mario, the Master Chief, or Lara Croft. Wait, nevermind, she made me take her to see to Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life way back when. I’d say, though, that with 49% of American homes (ESA, 2012) having at least one game console, there’s bound be some overlap between the gamers and the internetless. I mean, I was there for a while. I didn’t start subscribing to broadband until last year. Admittedly, I didn’t game hardcore at the time – but I still played a lot of older games offline, as well as a whole bunch of DS games.
You see, I’m coming at this from the perspective of a guy that plays games mostly for their story. I like the single player experience. Even when playing MMOs, I tend to enjoy the PvE (Player vs. Environment) experience more than the PvP. That said, having an internet connection has usually not been a requirement for me to enjoy games. I’m not so sure it should be.
This doesn’t even take into consideration people that live overseas in rural areas, gamers in the military, and other places where having internet is a luxury. The fact is, that people will get screwed by the need for the console to be online, even once every 24 hours. Maybe Microsoft is just trying to target a whole different demographic. That’s fine, completely their perogative.
DRM = Digital Rights Management. Basically, they’re measures taken by the digital media publisher/developer to prevent unauthorized usage of their software. This includes blocking a physical copy on DVD/Bluray from being copied or having software that periodically connects to the internet to verify the software, which ties in to my previous section. While “phoning home” has been the norm for PC software for a while now, it’s now rearing its head and taking a good look at the console gaming world. I mean, Xbox Live has been dropping the banhammer on people with chipped Xboxes for a while now, but to prevent a game from even being played, that’s a new development.
Basically, it’s like this: Say, a month or so ago Agent Justin wanted to play the new Tomb Raider. But, he didn’t want to pay full price, because you know, he’s a frugal guy and new games are $60 US. I could’ve lent him my copy, he could have rented it to see if he liked it before buying, or he could’ve waited a bit and bought it used. He had a few options.
With the Xbox One’s scheme, however, “lending” your friend a copy doesn’t seem to exist. Why? Well, back to the scenario. If Tomb Raider was developed for the Xbox One, I would have had to first register my copy, which would link it to my Xbox Live account. Then, if Agent Justin wanted to borrow it, I would could give it to him the physical disc to play on his console, but he would have to re-register it to his Xbox Live account – and possibly pay a fee for doing so. Some reports even say that after this, the game may be locked. What if you wanted the game back? Again, this is somewhat speculative. The surety from Microsoft is that now, even your physical purchases will be subject to registration and bound to your Live account.
This sucks, because lending games is how I got a chance to play so many growing up. My friends would let each other borrow games. If we really liked something, it’d be up on our wish list and we’d hopefully find a way to get our hands on it ourselves. Secondly, this could absolutely do away with the way we rent games. Perhaps they’ll come up with a better system, who knows? Right now, it seems like they could go the route of time-disabled physical rentals, a bit like the failed DIVX rental system from the 1990s, or the iTunes digital delivery rental. More convenient for sure, but will the the rental companies be able to keep up infrastructure-wise? They may already be making the transition. Thirdly, what will this mean for the used game industry? If all games have to be re-registered with Microsoft, will the consumer have to pay at the store, then again at Live Registration? That’s what it seems like at this point.
I haven’t even started on the required Kinect attachment.
Thankfully, E3 is this week. We should get some questions answered and rumors quelled. My hope is that the situation will me far removed from the one I’ve laid out here. But, if this all turns out to be true, the Xbox One is going to be a hard sell. They’re essentially asking gamers to change their paradigm to one that allows themselves to be screwed in the wallet a little harder. I, for one, am not looking forward to this. In may, in fact, push me right into the loving embrace of the opposing team… unless the PS4 ends up looking like a toaster. Maybe we can call this the appliance generation of consoles. Holy crap, if Sony goes with a similar internet/DRM scheme… maybe it’ll be time to go PC Master Race. Let me just boot up my Microsoft Windows 8-based machine. Wait. Dammit.
Haha. Stay tuned this week for (hopefully) my live updates from the E3 floor! It’ll be fantastic! Allons-y? Geronimo.