Microsoft apologizes for dev's "always-on" comments

Company says creative director's personal views don't reflect its approach, refuses to say if next console will require constant online connection

Yesterday, Microsoft Studios creative director Adam Orth took to Twitter in response to outcry over reports that the next Xbox would require a constant online connection.

"Sorry, I don't get the drama around having an 'always on' console," he tweeted. "Every device is now 'always on.' That's the world we live in. #dealwithit"

He followed that up by apparently mocking people who would make purchasing decisions based on an always-online connection, saying, "The mobile reception in the area I live in is spotty and unreliable. I will not buy a mobile phone," and, "Sometimes the electricity goes out. I will not purchase a vacuum cleaner."

Message boards and blogs jumped on the comments, and Orth then set his profile to protected, preventing the general public from being able to read his tweets. That apparently wasn't enough to tamp down anger over the incident, as Microsoft today released an official statement on the matter through the blog of Xbox Live director of programming Larry "Major Nelson" Hryb.

"We apologize for the inappropriate comments made by an employee on Twitter yesterday," the company said. "This person is not a spokesperson for Microsoft, and his personal views do not reflect the customer centric approach we take to our products or how we would communicate directly with our loyal consumers. We are very sorry if this offended anyone, however we have not made any announcements about our product roadmap, and have no further comment on this matter."

The apology apparently hasn't done much to address customer concerns. Minutes after posting, the comments section on that statement already sported dozens of posts from people wondering why the company hasn't shot down the reports of an "always online" requirement for the next Xbox.

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Latest comments (36)

Taylan Kay Designer / Lead Programmer at Black Gate Studios, Nerd Corps Entertainment4 years ago
I will design a vacuum cleaner for Adam Orth that needs bananas attached to it at all times in order to work. Or a smartphone that needs the camera and microphone to be always on. Because why not? #dealwithit
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I don't own a single device that is useless without an internet connection. Even my little networked media boxes still allow you. To connect to a local network or usb.

If the next 360 truly requires a web connection to play games or do anything... i will never purchase it.
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Axel Cushing Freelance Writer 4 years ago
The pattern is obvious, and yet it seems everybody in the industry of a certain size just has to go through it on their own because they have this weird belief that it can't happen to them.

1. Announce persistent online connection requirement
2. First wave of backlash/outrage
3. Obligatory "deal with it" announcement
4. Second wave of backlash/outrage
5. Release of product, followed by announcement of grossly inflated sales numbers due to pre-orders
6. Third wave of backlash/outrage
7. Piracy/hacking
8. Obligatory "stop hacking our stuff!" announcement
9. Repeat of steps 7 and 8 until company cries "Uncle!"

Valve cleared step 9 with Steam, Ubisoft cleared step 9 with their "always on" policy, Blizzard will eventually hit step 9 with Diablo III and StarCraft II, EA will eventually hit it with SimCity. I'd say that we can hope Microsoft won't repeat the pattern, but it is Microsoft. The pattern was practically made for them.
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Show all comments (36)
Paul Jace Merchandiser 4 years ago
On the one hand I can see his point that most networks these days seem to have some kind of always-on requirements. However, that still doesn't mean that this works for everybody. And of course the obvious arguements are still very valid: what if your power goes out? What if the servers are having issues and you just want to play single-player offline? I really hope Microsoft takes this issue into account before making their final decision regarding this.
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Sam Maxted Journalist / Community / Support 4 years ago
I'm just going to repost here what I said on Twitter:

@adam_orth If you don't understand people's objections to "always online" consoles, the games industry isn't for you.
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Meelad Sadat [a]list daily editorial director, Ayzenberg Group4 years ago
Let's assume Orth is just overworked and hasn't had a moment away from a screen or a sniff of non-city air in years... and feel bad for the guy.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 4 years ago
Always on sources for potential catastrophic failure:

ISP of consumer
Routing issues at the consumer end
3rd party routing quarrels when peering traffic
Server load
Perimeter Firewall packet/connection load
ISPs of service provider
Behavior of redundant data centers being exploited
Central places storing user authentication data
Exploits and packet sniffers targeted at a large quantity of unified always-on devices!

All that and more can stand in the way of you getting home, popping in your CoD disk and playing an offline game. In my opinion that is a risk a company should not take. Always on means the console will always listen to the information sent on a tbd port. It takes 30s in a firewall to find out which port it is. It might take a few days to break the encryption. The Sasser virus was good fun when your PC was still listening to your keyboard commands offline. Imagine the Sasser virus on an always-on console with no control over the OS. You won't even have the chance to disconnect it from the web to patch it locally.

Always on = insanity. Long before any customer's mental state comes into play. iPhone -> NOT always on for a reason. Can be patched via iTunes for a reason! Things are not at all what Microsoft claims them to be.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 4 years ago
Soooo, when sales for that NextBox tank compared to the 360 because NO ONE without a decent online connection can use it, will Microsoft #dealwithit by realizing they've shot themselves in the foot?

Or at LEAST offer up a CHOICE of an always online box OR an offline box with the option to go online if one has the means (and a decent connection?). It's not a hard thing to think about, ESPECIALLY with the truth being not EVERY current 360 owner uses Xbox Live or any of the other services the console offers. Some just want to play games, period.

My take is until the company offers up an official answer, always on is the thing they want and again, boy will the numbers show how bad of an idea that is once the early adopters and gamers who meet the requirement dry up.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Greg Wilcox on 6th April 2013 7:05am

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Tim Ogul Illustrator 4 years ago
I usually have an Internet connection, but from time to time Comcast messes the bed and I don't. I'd kind of like to be able to play my Xbox games even then. I like the idea of them trying to check for used games, and if they need to you "check in" a new game then that's fine, but it should definitely not work like an MMO or Sim City where if you can't log on then the game doesn't work.
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Josh Meier4 years ago
I still refuse to buy a smartphone because I have no need for it or the extra $30 a month to pay for the data package. So I generally don't have the internet with me everywhere I go.

If my phone gets shoddy service in an area I go to frequently, I don't just not buy a phone, I go to a carrier that DOES cover the areas I'm in most. The ignorance in his tweets, whether he was attempting to troll or not, is astronomical.

As for whether or not this has any indication of what the next XBOX will be like: I'm stuck on "wait and see" mode until I hear something official from Microsoft.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game4 years ago
If a connection is required for a service, like making calls, browsing the web, or multiplayer components, people are not going to cause an outcry. But they are not stupid. I can use my phone to play cut the rope, or as I do more regularly, read Kindle content with no connection. A phone is not always on as an arbitrary design choice made by a controlling exec team, and all smartphones have flight mode.

Not only that, mocking your customers on a public forum is plain idiotic, and most publicly traded corporations would end the process firing him within the next few weeks. He does realise the money his customers that he just mocked spend, and may ore may not continue to spend on Xbox are what pay his wages, right? Even if his point wasn't wrongheaded in the first place, the way he made it showed no respect to the customers.
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Anthony Gowland Consulting F2P Game Designer, Ant Workshop4 years ago
what if your power goes out?
Does your current gen console setup keep working when the power's out?
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Rodney Smith Developer 4 years ago
don't like surface? #dealwithit
don't like windows 8? #dealwithit

#dealwithit typical MS arrogance

I'll have a PS4 please! and you can stick Kinect!

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Rodney Smith on 6th April 2013 10:27am

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domination is the name of the game - in fighting to own the living room - MS found out that controlling the router or internet connection is key - in demanding a always connected console they hope this forces out the Skybox and GoogleTV option, and places their Netflicks box in contention.

the arrogance of MS and its executives is legendary and we can see from the backlash against the Wii-U that the PS4 and XB720 will have to improve the 'people skills' if they do not want the same fate!

rumor on the street is that the XB720 will have a three minute unconnected window, but will require constant connected during gaming - if true then the PC sector will win (micro-consoles). And that will place a number of high profile executives in hot water over their purported business strategy to win the game market!
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Marty Greenwell Software Developer 4 years ago
What a mess,

All Microsoft need to do is say our console is not going to require you to be always online.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game4 years ago
@Marty, unless the current plan is that it will, meaning they can't say that. The question then is will they listen and back down?
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Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus4 years ago
I'd say something about Adam Orth, but Pearson has me on probation. :(

But he's kind of right: people are whining and complaining, but the truth of the matter is that they will buy. Once a good game becomes exclusive to the system, they will buy. And really, Microsoft is great at getting exclusives; their whole release policy is "if you're exclusive elsewhere, we won't let you release. Ever." And even now, with the fact that it costs $60, people still flood Live.

I do predict that they will lose their top position in the market in the next generation. But I will also predict that 1) I wouldn't be surprised if I was wrong - sad, but not surprised - and 2) it might be irrelevant if this is console gaming's swan song.

EDIT: I am typing this from a MacBook, and can switch to any flavour of Linux I choose with no problems, so Microsoft's market arrogance has hurt it in the past.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Christopher Bowen on 6th April 2013 7:12pm

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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 4 years ago
But he's kind of right: people are whining and complaining, but the truth of the matter is that they will buy. Once a good game becomes exclusive to the system, they will buy.
Christopher, how can the unconnected/under-connected gamer buy something he can't use no matter how big the exclusives are? That's where the main anger lies here, period.

Sure, there are the idiot MS haters out there who have great connections, but love to glom onto anything negative about the company (hell, ANY game company) while still supporting them with a purchase (go figure). That said, you can't tell me someone living in an area with an ALWAYS crappy connection who just plays GAMES on their 360 currently is magically going to buy into an always on console and hope their internet gets better just because they want to play that big exclusive.

It won't get better for most in the worst areas and Orth's telling people to "#dealwithit" is perhaps the dumbest thing he could have done as a Microsoft employee. It also shows such a lack of understanding of a prime consumer concern (yes, it's another complaint from "the vocal minority") that it must be the company line (despite that "apology" from Major Nelson).

If Microsoft wants to push enforced evolution in the worst possible way and think that they'll be as successful as they were with the 360, they'll see the law of diminishing returns steamroll their profits faster than Patcher can whip out another wrong-filled column about the console "winning" the next generation.

This is yet another one of a few cases against always on consoles too many people in this industry seem to keep hoping goes away just because they don't have to #dealwithit on a regular basis. I say some of these folks need to live in another person's shoes in one of these lousy connected areas for a week and see how some the real world outside the tower works.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Greg Wilcox on 6th April 2013 10:24pm

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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 4 years ago
Ill "deal with it" by buying a PS4.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 8th April 2013 1:39pm

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Paul Jace Merchandiser 4 years ago
@Anthony---Replace "power" with "internet". Thats what I meant to say there.
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Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus4 years ago
@Greg - The kind of consumer Microsoft is aiming for isn't a console gamer who still hugs his Dreamcast. It's the "bros". The "bros" are painfully, pitifully mainstream. They run Windows PCs, play Halo on XBox Live with their frat buddies, They have parents who ask about that "Connect thing", and sisters who want to play Dance Central. And they all have other subscriptions; the mother has Netflix, the sister has iHeartRadio, and the bro has ESPN3.

These people don't give a crap about being always online. And they generally buy whatever is hyped to them. These are what Microsoft is aiming at. For their grand views, they could not care *less* about any game that isn't a 5m blockbuster. XBox Live Arcade? That's cute. XBLIG? Whatever. THe people they're aiming for really don't know - or care - just how badly they're being mistreated.

It's the same argument that Electronic Arts made earlier this week: we, on sites like this, are largely a vocal minority. We bitch and complain, but in reality, we're not the numbers. The bros are, and in mobile, it's their parents. Those people not only don't read most of what we write, but judging by my feedback, when they do happen upon it, they just call us sophomoric names anyway.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Christopher Bowen on 7th April 2013 8:47am

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John Bye Lead Designer, Future Games of London4 years ago
Given the problems they've had with piracy on Xbox 360, I could certainly understand Microsoft requiring you to be permanently connected to Xbox Live to authenticate games. MS already have a massive infrastructure in place for everything from Xbox Live to their Cloud stuff though, so you'd hope they'd be able to manage this better than EA, Blizzard and Nintendo. No doubt there will be some grumbling from hardcore gamers, and it's going to put a huge "kick me" sign on their back for hackers, but as long as the service is seamless and reliable, I suspect most people will suck it up and buy one anyway.

Their real problems are going to come if they ever have a major service outage or connection issues. Not being able to play online is a major inconvenience, especially as Xbox has positioned itself as the Call of Duty console. But if the console stops working entirely and can't even play single player games offline, that's going to raise hell if the service is ever down for more than a few hours.

I can't imagine them using this to block used games though, which would be far more likely to alienate the mass market audience. They were just saying a few days ago that their relationship with retailers is so important they're going to keep blocking publishers from releasing digital versions of their games until a couple of months after the retail release, despite Sony and Nintendo both offering same day digital releases and (in Sony's case) even digital pre-orders. If they're bending over backwards so far to keep retailers on side, I can't see them effectively declaring war on specialist retailers by stopping used sales.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game4 years ago
What would be better for Microsoft politically would be to build in the functionality, but allow publishers to use it or not. Let the decision and fallout lay with the people releasing each game.
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Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up4 years ago
You'll never please everyone with a games console...or a hoover, but that's what makes the market the market. Never mind always on, Xbox will be heading down the same path as Playstation, and Sega before them if Microsoft can't get a foothold in mobile computing and make the Xbox platform available across different devices.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 4 years ago
@Christopher: Oh, I know all that from years in retail, BUT should we accept this ongoing "bro" stupidity as the new" normal"? I'd hope not.

BTW, I wasn't talking about hugging a Dreamcast - there are a load of gamers who own current consoles and DON'T play online at all (and not because all of them don't want to). Since it seems they'll be screwed in the next generation by at least one company, some of these folks with money but crap internet will need something to play and will probably go elsewhere if they get the truth about what they need to know. And it won't be a gaming PC or mobile device (or anything that needs a speedy internet connection to get content unless it's from the free wi-fi at a mall or library somewhere) either...
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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 4 years ago
Christopher: you're absolutely right about the "worry about the mass-market only" attitude taken by companies such as EA and MS's Xbox division. And it's not always an unreasonable business choice.

But it's also a risky one, for two reasons. The first is that once you start dismissing any significant amount of customer feedback, you run the risk of developing a company culture that's going to start dismissing even the feedback you really need. The second is that you open wider the possibility of a more responsive company coming along and utterly eating your lunch, the way Apple did to Sony with the iPod vs. the Walkman.

I think that the most likely way things could go bad for MS is that the won't be able to change their attitude of "our way or the highway" when it comes to courting developers and Sony, with their new "let's give devs what they want" approach, will start scooping up more and more good games that won't appear on the Xbox platform, or will appear only they've met with a lot of success on other platforms.
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Stephan Schwabe Multichannelmanagement, Telefonica4 years ago
Its not helping them that ther is no clarification always on, is not a part of the XBOX-720.
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Justin Biddle Software Developer 4 years ago
To be honest I think "always online" would work if it had a grace period. So it's constantly online but if you're internet goes down it will still work for 3-7 days or whatever before an online check was mandatory. All of this happening quietly behind the scenes but with perhaps a warning message when only 24 hours was left. If they implemented it like this and made it clear to people how it worked I can see it being pretty much acceptable. However I do recognise that there would be a small percentage of users who have no internet access for which this method would be deemed unacceptable but perhaps that group is so small that microsoft don't mind losing them to the PS4.
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Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters4 years ago
@Christopher -
The kind of consumer Microsoft is aiming for isn't a console gamer who still hugs his Dreamcast. It's the "bros".
Probably true, but hardcore gamers are usually the early adopters who lay the foundations for the consumer base and spread awareness to their less techy/geeky friends, so really shouldn't be dismissed.
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James Prendergast Research Chemist 4 years ago
Let's see. Amount of times I've gone online with a console: between 3-5 across both 360 and PS3. Yeah, this isn't going to happen.

I like playing single player games. I like not having to listen or interact with obnoxious idiots on a service I'm paying for or even better yet on one I'm not paying for. This also raises questions in my mind about region locking and other functionality... Will buying a console in one territory and then moving house/location result in it being locked or banned from the network because of the new/incompatible IP address? If this continues then I'll probably be buying a PS4 this coming generation...
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This is why we use PR speak and community guys to speak to the public!
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Mihai Cozma Indie Games Developer 4 years ago
Always on is a requirement for Steam (with some grace periods I think), none seems to complain about it. I certainly don't mind it and I'm sure that will be a mechanism to bypass short connection problems.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 4 years ago
Mihai- Steam (and a few other download services0 have offline modes where you don't NEED to be online at all in order to play games or access content you've previously downloaded. Also, the PC gaming crowd need to realize that many console users are DIFFERENT in how they prefer their content.

At the end of the day, it's still more about the boatloads of people who CAN'T buy a new Xbox who currently own one and play offline because they have awful connectivity issues. Microspft is ignoring them and their money entirely, so it's going to be fun to watch how both sides react when all the news spills about exactly how their needs will be met.

Right now, MS is basically saying to them, "You don't NEED our new system because you're too (fill in the blank) to get a better connection. We don't care about you now, so go away - there's more money to be made from people who want all we have to sell them." Or something like that.

Microsoft seems to be mandating a few things here that aren't going to win over some core gamers who want ACTUAL choice in how (and what) they play. They want to be your ONLY box near the TV, they want to be your gaming system and they want you to suck it up and shut up about it if you buy in because, yeah, it's their party and once you pay, you're in for keeps.

I wonder now if a USED XextBox console can't be sold off at all because it will be tied to an account permanently through the serial number and account info... One more question that needs answering, I suppose...
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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 4 years ago
Another thing to keep in mind is that Steam has already self-selected for people with reasonably decent Internet connections. If you don't have a decent link that will let you download multi-gigabyte games, Steam isn't going to be very useful to you and you'll go buy games on disc instead of using Steam.

I wonder if the "always-on" requirement for the new Xbox isn't perhaps less stringent than we imagine from what we've heard so far. Are they really setting things up such that someone buys a new console and a game, takes them home, plugs the console in to their power outlet and television, inserts the game, and it tells them they can't play until they connect the box to the Internet? That's a pretty ludicrously poor customer experience.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 4 years ago
@Curt: amusingly enough... I had to get my Steam account at home on my crappy PC after buying a used retail PC game that I found out after all that hassle of downloading that couldn't play because it was one of those one time activation discs (a DUMB idea). After I was able to get my money back from the seller once I sent him back his useless game, I was stuck with that account until I finally got a laptop and could buy stuff using a wifi connection from a few local haunts. It's still not the ideal solution I'd prefer, but it's not a bad service overall if one has the bandwidth and likes that convenience.

I think Microsoft will cover themselves (sort of) during this press conference when they announce it's an online only system and basically make that the company line afterward. No doubt, there will need to be something all over the box saying a mandatory connection is needed, but there are ALWAYS those consumers who get that holiday list from someone who doesn't know and that ball of confusion spreads to more less educated consumers...

Eh, we'll see...
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 4 years ago
Hmmm... I wonder if Orth can now sue to get his old job back now that his comments were a wee bit too prophetic and it seems he was cut loose simply for letting the cat out of bag too soon...
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