How Always Online Xbox Could Ruin Microsoft Gaming

How Always Online Xbox Could Ruin Microsoft GamingWhat would an Always Online Xbox requirement mean to Microsoft gaming? Would it help Microsoft fight piracy or keep honest users from spending their hard-earned money on the next-generation console?

Sometimes, Microsoft makes it very hard to be a user of its products. I respect everyone at Microsoft for what they do. It’s easier to cast stones at a glass house than to build something yourself.

Always Online: Deal with It?

That said, Adam Orth has done a disservice to Microsoft’s customers. “Deal with it” is no way to respond to someone with legitimate concerns about living in a rural area and having a crappy Internet connection. If you want to impose Always Online technology on your customers, at least have the decency to own up to the fact that it isn’t convenient for everyone.

Always Online requirements are the latest in a long-standing battle between software developers and pirates. In the gaming world, this started with in-game puzzles that required a key made available in the owner’s manual. This later evolved into a unique CD key that was taped to the back of the manual or the inside sleeve of the optical disc case. This type of copy protection was quickly subverted by pirates as replacement EXE files (with the copy protection code removed or blocked) became readily available on the Web.

Copy Protection Misdirection

These days, software developers are becoming increasingly brazen with their copy protection methods. Always Online systems require that the user have an active connection to the Internet in order to play a game. Blizzard’s Diablo III and EA’s latest Sim City are two examples of this type of protection. In each case, a little added functionality (such as an online store where you can buy, sell, and trade loot) or more incorporated multiplayer capabilities are the trade-off for playing a game that requires you to be connected to the Internet at all times, even though the game itself may not be played in a multiplayer capacity.

I have to hand it to Boogie2988 (video above). Through his character, Francis, he managed to explain the folly of adding Always Online to the next-generation Xbox console.

Who Wouldn’t Benefit from an Always Online Requirement?

Who wouldn’t benefit from an Always Online Xbox requirement? Anyone living in a rural area where Internet connectivity is far from consistent, anyone playing the Xbox from an area of the world where Internet connectivity might not be readily available (a soldier in Afghanistan), or anyone who simply doesn’t have the ability to access the Internet at all times.

Would you buy an Xbox if Always Online were a requirement for its use? Oh, and this doesn’t take away the minimum $4.99 you have to pay to actually use it through Xbox Live, the ads that are being displayed throughout the OS, and the high price of admission for the games themselves.

Microsoft would be hurting its users, fans, and developers. It’s not like Microsoft is sitting on stable ground as it is. The Xbox’s success is largely rooted in a handful of early features and exclusive titles that made it more appealing to a particular audience. The decision to go with HD DVD early on notwithstanding, Xbox owes its success to titles like Halo and hardware like Kinect. Beyond that, it does very little to compete with Sony’s PlayStation, Nintendo Wii, or virtually every other console or gaming platform on the market. I personally still prefer my PC to a console, but that’s just me.

Always Online May Just Be a Rumor, But…

At this point, Always Online is still a rumored requirement with the new console. In response to these rumors, Adam Orth (Microsoft Studio’s Creative Director) tweeted a memed photo of Barack Obama on a mobile phone that reads “Deal with it” after some users raised concerns over the rumor. He also stated that just about every device has Always Online as a requirement. Adam Orth has since set his Twitter updates to private.

I’m sorry, Adam, but you couldn’t be more wrong. I can play pretty much any single-player game on my iPhone whether I have a signal or not. I can do the same on my Nintendo DS, Wii, and Android devices. Even most of my PC games play just fine when I’m offline. That’s how technology should work. It should turn on and operate properly when and where you need it to.

I can understand not playing an MMORPG offline. That makes sense. Requiring an Internet connection to play a single player game is ridiculous. I think the miserable press surrounding the launch of Diablo III should have taught us that.

Lessons Learned

What have we learned from this exercise? For one, I learned that the Xbox rumors might actually have some credibility to them since the Creative Director has opted to defend the technology in response to user inquiry. Second, I learned that Microsoft still has a lot of work to do when it comes to providing good customer service from the top down.

How do you feel about the idea of Always Online as a requirement for future Xbox use? Leave a comment below and let me know if you agree or, if you disagree, tell me why and make me change my mind!

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Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.