Xbox always-online: Maybe it's not so terrible

Chris Morris explains that having a big company like Microsoft step up could make always-online more palatable for next-gen

Will the next Xbox continue the reign of success Microsoft has seen this generation or will it stumble Sony-style, losing momentum at a critical junction for console systems? The answer could lie in a single feature.

Kotaku recently reignited the rumor about the next Xbox requiring a constant connection to the Internet - and Microsoft Studios' creative director did nothing to put out that growing brushfire with his Twitter fiasco last week.

Will the next generation Xbox require an 'always-on' connection? There's nothing to base that on right now except for rumors and the echo chamber of the Internet. But, for the sake of argument alone, let's say that is an upcoming feature. Is it as bad as it seems?

Certainly, the recent history of mandatory Internet connections hasn't been a good one. Anyone who purchased Diablo III, SimCity, Defiance or, for that matter, any recent World of Warcraft expansion has lived the same story: Eager to play, they inserted their game disc - only to be unable to log onto the servers. It's a nightmare scenario for pretty much everyone involved - player, developer and PR/community person who has to do clean up work afterward.

What's staggering about this all-too-familiar scenario is its regularity. The video game industry has had the chance to prepare for these sorts of launches time and time again, yet constantly drops the ball.

"If we cannot provide the level of service appropriate and we continuously disappoint, we create continued ill will from customers"

Christian Svensson on failed always-online attempts

"As an industry, we needed [SimCity] to get it right," says Christian Svensson, Senior Vice President at Capcom Entertainment. "We needed Blizzard to get it right. And there are reasons that needed to happen for the sanctity of our revenue streams. ... Network based service models are crucial to our business moving forward. If we cannot provide the level of service appropriate and we continuously disappoint, we create continued ill will from customers. Even when there's a huge value to consumers ... every single time, it's going to be viewed with skepticism and waiting for people to get burnt."

While that logjam created by a big launch is one of the most-cited problems with the always-on model, it's not an insurmountable one.

"It's a money question," says Chris Early, VP of digital publishing at Ubisoft. "If you backed it up with Amazon servers, you could launch any game that we make today - completely digitally. There's enough server space and bandwidth to do that."

Of course, those servers cost money - and publishers aren't in a financial position to overestimate and miss, especially with investors watching them so closely these days. (Investors, it's worth noting, didn't seem to care about SimCity's problems. EA stock didn't suffer during the launch woes.)

Microsoft is in a slightly different position. It has the ability to make that gamble - and having launched a few big games of its own without incident, it has some expectations of what to look out for. Halo 4 and any recent Call of Duty debuted without any major hiccups in the multiplayer component - and expanding capacity to handle the single player element wouldn't be too challenging for the company.

Consider also that, even if the new Xbox does require a constant Internet connection, Microsoft will have plenty of time to study trends before it reaches a significant roadblock. The system will be supply constrained at launch, meaning roadblocks won't be a problem. Additionally, there's unlikely to be a game that has the same level of anticipation as a SimCity or Diablo, since it's economically infeasible for publishers. (That's why the holiday after a system's launch is typically much more exciting for players - the installed base has reached a point that publishers can fully devote resources to it.)

That gives Microsoft a chance to learn, like Valve did with Steam, and be ready.

"We face [as an industry], I think, the same problems as when people started to think about 'I have a home phone and I have this new cellular phone.' And who sat at home and used their cellular phone? Nobody did - because it was unreliable," says Early. "When you were home you picked up the phone. ... Now, some amount of time later, when the appropriate amount of investment has been made in the infrastructure, a lot of people don't have hard lines any more."

"Any potential cries of forum dwellers are unlikely to match the level of volume Microsoft's marketing machine will make during the ramp up to the new system"

The more troubling problem - and the one that seemingly doesn't have an answer right now - is what happens when someone's Internet goes out for more than a few minutes? Or, conversely, what about the people who live in rural areas, where Internet speeds are well below the national average?

While that audience makes up a minority of the potential buyers, their defenders are vocal - and could prove sufficiently loud to affect sales, though likely not on the scale they'd like to imagine.

Why's that? Well, despite the tempest in a teapot that was the SimCity or Diablo III launches, look at the sales numbers of both games. EA topped its expectations and Blizzard moved more than 12 million copies. Even with all the outrage that accompanied both of those games, they were massive successes. And any potential cries of forum dwellers are unlikely to match the level of volume Microsoft's marketing machine will make during the ramp up to the new system.

Of course, even if Microsoft launches with this feature, it can always switch course fairly easily. Should it sniff a consumer pushback that's growing beyond its ability to contain and control, it can easily fall back to the position Sony has established - pushing the choice (and, thus, the blame) back onto the publishers, while quietly offering them all the support they need.

To some, that might seem a victory, but when it comes to big titles, they're likely to see that always-on connection just the same.

That's not a roundabout way of saying "deal with it". (We've all seen the effects of that ludicrously condescending hashtag.) However, always-on DRM is unlikely to go away anytime soon. It's invasive and annoying for some consumers, but many, many more don't really care too much about it. Additionally, it helps publishers protect their IP - and regulate things like cheating much more easily.

It's a problem that's slowly getting better, as publishers try to work it out themselves. Maybe - just maybe - having a central player like Microsoft stepping in could speed up that learning process and make it palatable.

More stories

Phil Spencer "evaluating" Xbox relationship with Activision Blizzard following Kotick allegations

Microsoft's gaming leadership "disturbed and deeply troubled" by claims against Call of Duty publisher's CEO

By James Batchelor

Phil Spencer calls for industry to work on 'legal emulation'

Xbox boss says enabling people to continue playing titles they own "seems like a great North Star" for games companies

By James Batchelor

Latest comments (46)

Taylan Kay Game Designer / Programmer / Marketer 8 years ago
There are differences between an always online game and always online hardware. The critical period of a console's sales lifecycle is significantly longer than a franchise blockbuster, so an erosion of good will would be felt more acutely in sales over time. Simcity can survive with a Metacritic rating down the drain, thanks to pre-orders and day one purchases. A console (if it had such a rating) can't.

Simcity and Diablo did not have major competition to their franchises at the time of launch. XBox has PS4, not to mention other contenders like SteamBox and the resurgence of PC gaming. If Xbox had the slightest hiccup in this, I wouldn't be surprised to see PS4 vs Xbox ads a la Mac vs PC on Super Bowl.

A console without games to play on it is useless. Simcity and Diablo do not have the concern of having the support of other game developers. XBox does. A negative consumer reaction to one game because of always online hardware may impact the viability of the platform for all the other devs.

You're right though, it might be a feature they can later switch off if it doesn't work for them. If it's not too late by then.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Taylan Kay on 9th April 2013 4:45pm

4Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Alan Pierce Programmer, Digital Delight8 years ago
I think yes, it is a bad thing. Your article only takes into account the infrastructure of the verification servers, but not the end-users internet connection. If your internet goes down, you can't play a game you've paid for. Not a great situation at all.
18Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Jakub Mikyska CEO, Grip Digital8 years ago
Always-on requirement NextBox is every hacker's wet dream. It does not take much effort to remember that Microsoft as well as Sony had their troubles with hackers. Now, when putting the Xbox Live down, even if just for a few hours, also means that all the NextBoxes around the globe will go dead, that's just too attractive proposition for some people to let it go.

Microsoft is getting too cocky. That has worked well for Sony the last time, hasn't it? ;-)
10Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Show all comments (46)
Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus8 years ago
The first DDoS attack against Microsoft's servers - and it WILL occur, in the first week - will blow any positive thought out of the water.
13Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus8 years ago
Oh, and one more thing: always-on will render both the system, and every game, a ticking time bomb. If I want to, I can go home and play my wood grain Atari VCS right now. That thing is older than I am, and I'm 33. Once the online servers of the Durango go offline, that's it. Game over, literally. Not to mention each of the games.

I cannot fathom that we'd buy something with such obvious planned obsolescence built in. It's different from, say, an Apple product; technically, my iPhone 3G still works as intended.
8Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Rodney Smith Developer 8 years ago
always on for what? blocking secondhand games and firing terabytes of 'targeted' ads at you... who wants that?
12Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Mike Wells Writer 8 years ago
"Always on" is bound to come. Publishers want to protect revenues. Box makers need to encourage publishers to continue producing expensive, complex titles otherwise consoles offer no real value over other devices. The key is what does "always" mean. I live in a rural area. My broadband isn't great and I've no chance of cable (ever) or fibre (soon). But there aren't many times I turn my Xbox on and can't connect to Live. If the industry doesn't want to shoot itself in the foot it needs to do two things: make sure that the "always" requirement has enough flexibility that it isn't a problem for 99.999% of the people 99.999% of the time; and acknowledge the $$$ it will make from decimating the second-hand market by bringing launch prices down to what games are typically changing hands for a few weeks later.
5Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Rick Cody PBnGames-Board Member 8 years ago
In markets not in first-world countries, the Xbox 360 will probably stick around a lot longer should Microsoft make this decision. I don't think mandating an always online console would matter much in the major territories.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Josh Meier8 years ago
Odd, when I jumped into the WoW Cataclysm expansion a few years back, there were no problems at all with that transition (at least from my and my guild's experience). The thing here is that Blizzard has had plenty of time and money to dump specifically into keeping that one game running and was able to compensate. Now you could argue that Blizzard dropped the ball for Diablo 3 (spoiler: they did), but that was also the launch of a new game and not of an expansion. I'd imagine there's more to putting up new servers than there is to updating old servers.

The problem here is that we're now talking about hardware that is a giant paper weight when it's not connected to the internet. If I can't even play a single player game without being connected to the internet, I'm not even going to bother. I don't want to be forced to be online while I play games. If something happens and my internet dies I'm going to be mad if it kicks me out of my game.

If they're going to go through with this, the price of brand new games had better come down to compensate for the complete decimation of second hand games.
4Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 8 years ago
"If we cannot provide the level of service appropriate and we continuously disappoint, we create continued ill will from customers"

"Ill will" is already spreading pretty deep among the gaming community. As far as what I see on forums, articles and news related to this. Me.... well Ill put out purchasing this console and any console that has the always online requirment. Ive done so with few games like Diablo III and Sim City, and Capcoms Bionic Commando reArmed 2 and Final Fight. This might be the future but Ill avoid it as much as I can. Aside from that not everybody has a dependable internet connection, myself included. And CAPS is an issue from ISP that impose them. And what if the company goes bankrupt or they close that part of the company? Microsoft doesnt care about making games they just wanted to take a piece of the market away from SONY.

I think microsoft isnt focused on making a game machine or even concerned about the gamers. They are just out to make a box that can do everything including gaming. They initially just made the Xbox to take a piece of the market away from SONY. The people at Microsoft are just suits who see the monetary and business aspect of things. There objectives go beyond the gaming community to other things.

But like Apple this obsession with controlling there products has become bothersome, and uncomforatible. Before you bought a game, just like Vinyl record or cassette tape, or even a car and it was yours. You can use a product however you want, lend it, trade it.

But right now I have a whole huge music collection, that if I die I cant pass on to my son, simply because its illegal? True nothing keeps me from putting it on a harddrive or optical disc and passing it on. Apple even got rid of the opticle disc drive from there laptops and only has 2 USB ports. Virtually slowly making all there products designed so you have to aquire content, directly from them in a controlled enviroment.

The way this is going is that soon hardrives will cease to exist and everything you "own" will be stored on a cloud. In which case you buy something but they have it and control how you use it.

At the end of the day all this hindures and undermines the user expirience. this may be the norm in 20 or 30 years, but honestly I find myself alienating myself from these sort of products. So when it comes to a point where I feel "oppressed" or threatened from using these products because I feel im breaking some law or copy right, Im honestly deciding I will stop supporting them or purchasing them. Im not gonna pay money for something someone else really owns, And right now it may not seem like a big deal.

But I feel all these mechanisms to control these products in the manner they are doing interfere with the very nature of how humans socialize, share and interact with each other in a free manner. Now humans will do it, but in a way were these large corperations like Apple and Microsoft deam fit to there purposes. I find that sooner or later it will become oppressive and in a snese will take away much of what is human nature.

Ive already expirienced The story of commander Shpard and Solid Snake, ive expirineced some of the best games in history and Im happy about it. But ive come to accept that one day, Ill have to detach myself from anything that goes against human nature. I do graphic design I illustrate I do music. I guess its all for the better. I can move on to create my own stuff. At least I have that to fall back on.

Remember im talking about how things can turn out in the long term 20 or 30 years from now if they continue as they are going. As these corporations exert more control over products I enjoy and spend hard earned cash to buy and support... I start to feel alienated and less inclined to spend money on them. And Ive accepted the fact that maybe one day ill have to stop. Its like buying a car only to park it in someone elses garage.

Not only that, You buy something, through a license term and agreement and the company can change them as they see fit. Thats is not what i agreed on when I bought it... so yeah the consumer has the lower end of the straw. It the consumer who is screwed... so I guess the only way to win is to stop consuming...

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 9th April 2013 5:33pm

2Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Nick McCrea Gentleman, Pocket Starship8 years ago
@Rick Cody

It does matter, even in major cities in first-world countries. I currently have a fault in my supposedly top-tier FTTC connection. It's been patchy for over a week now, with regular disconnects. Wireless conditions vary even when broadband is up, and not everyone lives in a nice Wifi friendly house. I happily get along with DRM; I'm no DRM activist, so long as the level of intrusion to genuine customers (i.e. me) is manageable. But an always-on requirement is a non-trivial impediment with absolutely zero benefit to me (however it's spun), a total deal-breaker.

It's a little bit like Apple saying you can only listen to your iTunes library wben you're online. How on earth could you justify that to a genuine customer?

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Nick McCrea on 9th April 2013 5:23pm

4Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Craig Page El Presidente, Awesome Enterprises8 years ago
The worst possible problem for always-on is the company goes bankrupt, and all your games become unplayable. Microsoft is still very profitable, but I would never buy a PS4 if it too forced you to connect to their servers to do anything.
5Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game8 years ago
"and acknowledge the $$$ it will make from decimating the second-hand market by bringing launch prices down to what games are typically changing hands for a few weeks later"
If games launched at 30, that may be the incentive people need. Alternatively they could try to use it to keep games at 45 for longer.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Axel Cushing Freelance Writer 8 years ago
Oh where to begin?

Those massive sales numbers for both SimCity and Diablo III, as Taylan pointed out, were largely due to pre-orders and day one sales. Diablo III in particular was heavily pre-ordered by the fanboys who ignored the "echo chamber" regarding the art style change and the real money auction house. When your error message becomes an Internet meme right up there with "an arrow to the knee," you know that there's problems.

SimCity's great sin is that the executives are swearing up and down it's not DRM, but you've got an engineer from EA/Maxis informing Rock Paper Shotgun that there's absolutely no game data, no sim calculations, nothing going through that connection that is an actual part of the game. Combined with the exploration in Debug Mode of how thoroughly gimped EA made this game, and suddenly that second "Worst Company In America" award from The Consumerist seems less like a fit of consumer pique and more like reality rudely intruding on Riccitiello and Moore's fantasy.

And yes, while infrastructure investments are highly desirable and do eventually get made, thinking that Cox, Comcast, CenturyLink, Time Warner Cable, and the other broadband providers are going to run fiber out to the back of beyond just to make Microsoft happy is laughable. Every broadband provider out there is so tight with a nickel, the buffalo screams. I think of small spots on the map that barely warrant the designation of "hamlet", with populations numbering in the low dozens, and I know that every last one of them could scream till they're blue in the face that they want some fiber out there, and not a single strand would get put down. Why? Because those providers are trying to do the exact same thing Microsoft is: squeeze the last possible cent out of every user they can. Terms like "public interest" and "community good" are mere catchphrases in quarterly reports which are dedicated to "shareholder value" and "maximum return on investment." If there's no profit in a venture, not just a break even proposition, they won't do it.

Yes, Microsoft could backpedal later on and "turn off" the feature, which doesn't necessarily preclude crackers from figuring out how to turn it back on again. The smart move would be to not create the feature in the first place. The market is speaking, and they think the idea sucks.
3Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 8 years ago
@Christopher: You took the words right out of my mouth. There WILL be a hack at some point because this has probably made the usual suspects (who have nothing better to do than cause trouble) ticked off enough to probably attempt something within the first week this new system goes on sale. I don't even want to imagine the nightmare scenario that occurs when consumers who bought a $500 paperweight try to return it to the shops and are told that they can't because of some line buried in the EULA that forces them to go through Microsoft support and wait while things are straightened out.

Unless the company has some secret plan in the works to make sure everyone who wants to connect CAN connect and play day one with no hitches (and has that EVER happened with a simple AAA game launch with a mere tens of thousands to millions trying to log on? Not that I can recall), it's going to be an interesting launch to watch. Or not watch, as I'll be playing something on a different system...
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Sandy Lockie Games Designer, Preloaded8 years ago
This may be slightly unrelated, but I wonder how many controllers an 'always online' device would support and whether offline multi-player would become even rarer? For me, that would be a massive shame, 4 player local multiplayer is still one of the most fun ways to play games.
5Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Kevin Patterson musician 8 years ago
As someone who mostly plays single player games, I really don't need a always online console. I like the idea of cloud saves, and watching others play games, etc, but I don't NEED that, thats all extra to just having a console to play games.
I sometimes take my xbox with me on trips where I don't have constant access to an internet connection, and would miss being able to do so if always online is truly a requirement.
I generally play my Xbox on a 27inch monitor right in front of me, if the next xbox requires kinect for every game, am I going to be able to actually use it? This is something I have been concerned with, as I dont have the room in my current setup for a Kinect.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 8 years ago
No matter how many words people write about always online, nobody mentions existing always online devices. That in itself is a powerful statement.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Richard DeBarry Programmer 8 years ago
This really affects people who have no internet connection in places other than their homes. What about people who install them in their cars for their kids? In campers? RVs, Boats, etc.? What's next? Built in 4G and Xbox data plans for mobile use?
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Craig Bamford Journalist 8 years ago
"Sanctity of our revenue streams"?
That's, uh...that's a new one on me.
Anyway, this all begs the question. Why on earth should consumers ever go along with this? There doesn't seem to be anything in it for them.

Come to think of it, there doesn't seem to be much in it for creators, either, "sanctity" aside. The Diablo 3 and SimCity examples are actually very instructive: they had huge sales, yes, but that only means that there were a LOT of intensely dissatisfied customers. Diablo is almost certainly damaged as an IP, and it's quite likely that SimCity will be as well. Diablo 3's always-on trick didn't even really pay off for Blizzard; the auction houses are widely seen as a gameplay-damaging "mistake" that Blizzard has admitted they'd turn off if they could.

We can't let the short-term sales of a single game overshadow damage to an entire IP. That's the mistake that Activision made with Guitar Hero (and, quite possibly, with CoD): squeezing out short-term revenue that ultimately damaged the long-term potential of key IPs. Blizzard isn't exactly overflowing with IPs in the first place, so the Diablo debacle is a big deal for them.

What's next? Skylanders? Starcraft? Assassin's Creed? Mass Effect? How many key IPs need to be cut off in their prime?
7Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
I dont like where this all leads to, Always connected and with kinect basically watching you, You walk in a room, and boom , adds pop up, it will basically know someone is there, and that is just the least of it.

These consoles are going to be great for gaming pc rig sales, I know the more I read about these next gen consoles the more I'm leaning toward using my money to buy a new pc gaming rig.

Consoles are approaching the hassle barrier, in that they sound like they will become a " hassle". Sorry dont need my hobby making my life worse.

Edited 5 times. Last edit by Todd Weidner on 9th April 2013 10:09pm

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Alexandros Gekas Co- Founder, Editor, Ragequit.gr8 years ago
I clicked on this article expecting to find out why always-on will not be so terrible for the consumer. I'm still waiting.
9Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Joel Hruska Analyst/Journalist 8 years ago
"Sanctity of our revenue streams" is a doozy. No wonder so many game industry executives sound so...sanctimonious.

I'm not interested in an always-on console because I'm not interested in someone else completely controlling, from power-on, what my device can do.

If I stop paying AT&T, my cellular service goes away. I can still use my phone as a media player, streaming device, gaming platform, and flashlight. If I sign up for a VoIP service, I can have voice calling back again. I bought my phone for a variety of tasks, only two of which (cellular data, cellular phone calls) require AT&T's network.

But if I buy a console, I buy it to play games first. In an environment where Sony and Microsoft are neck-and-neck for next-gen titles and experiences, I'm going to go with the company that better guarantees my right to game when, how, and in the manner I see fit. With the Xbox Durango already reportedly behind the PS4 on raw hardware specs, I don't see what MS thinks it's going to offer to gamers this time around.

Specs are far from everything. Price compensates for a lot, and developers target multiple platforms, as Sony learned. But weaker specs combined with no used games and an always-on model? That's a death knell. (At least for me).

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Joel Hruska on 9th April 2013 9:43pm

2Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Rob Craig Instructor / Writer 8 years ago
Couple thoughts about us 'rural folk'. Quoted ... "While that audience makes up a minority of the potential buyers, their defenders are vocal - and could prove sufficiently loud to affect sales, though likely not on the scale they'd like to imagine." In a 2 year old research study I did about internet connectivity across the US, it was clear that the numbers of those with a less than 1Mb/s connection are "higher than you would like to imagine". These people are unable to stream Netflix, YouTube, and find it takes days to pull games like Tomb Raider and BioShock Infinite through Steam. Online gaming works occasionally as long as no one else is on their home LAN's. At least in the US, we have serious internet infrastructure issues. Look at the research and reports on the topic, and please ignore the fluffed National Broadband Map.

To beat that point no longer, consider WHY would a nextgen console developer (not to mention a game developer) ink in such a requirement in there design docs if not greed and control? Obsolence of gaming software and clearly upcoming hardware is something older gamers consider as important. Many have wrestled with this issue over deciding whether to buy into pure digital distro. What happens when the servers die? The gaming consumers have put a lot of faith in Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Steam ,etc ... already. Perhaps it's through this that confidence has the big shots telling people to quit complaining and just drink the kool-aid. I chose to wait and see.
2Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game8 years ago
I thing GoG is going to be getting a lot more of my money.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Andrew Goodchild on 9th April 2013 10:30pm

1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Matthew Bennett 3D Engine developer, Sitedesk8 years ago
Ignoring all the stuff about internet connections and other things (which are all well and relevant by the way) with any always online system (whether that is DRM or like in this case, the hardware/platform itself) you have to consider one thing:
Do gamers trust that the company supplying the service, in this case, Microsoft, to provide that service to a reliable and reasonable enough standard to be considered viable?
My answer is No. They don't.
Even if we lived in a perfect world without internet outages or power outages. You just need to take a look at the first week of Sim City - it was, for all intensive purposes, a disaster. It destroyed any desire I had to play the game after the issues caused by the insistence of an always online service which offers no alternative if you don't get the go-ahead from their servers.

This is by far not the first example of always online systems that have made these same mistakes. We (the Developers) are just creating another cog in an engine that can jam and until we get to a point where our servers are perfect, crash-less, master-works of software engineering and can handle any ludicrous number of players all attempting to request a ticket at once; - Always online solutions in systems that simply do not need it will only provide another technical weak point for our games as well as another expense which may or may not pay off.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Luke Stephenson Designer 8 years ago
At the end of the day, I don't think "It might still be profitable for Microsoft" is a great way to convince consumers that Always-On is not terrible. To suggest that "people who would have problems are in the minority" is probably not much comfort to that minority.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Roberto Dillon Associate Professor, James Cook University8 years ago
Always online is a deal breaker for me. I don't want to depend on an internet connection and on servers upon which I have no control whatsoever. These can be shutdown anytime and prevent me to play, it doesn't matter whether now or in 20 years time, games I bought and still want to enjoy. As simple as that.

I guess I'll keep playing my 360 games offline (as well as my games on older and trustworthy "always offline" consoles which I still love) and indie DRM PC games for a long time to come.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Roberto Dillon on 10th April 2013 2:35am

1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
John Hoang Game Tester 8 years ago
First off, I agree that always-online will become "the way of the world"...eventually. With that said, when I got my first smartphone I hated the fact that I had to get a data plan, but at some point, if I wanted the features of that device with ANY carrier, I had to accept the fact that it would be at a premium. I work in retail and my opinion of the general public is very low when it comes to product knowledge. Back in the day when someone came in to buy a HDTV, most people were expecting HD out of the box.(minus OTA) But in reality there were many sources for HD that they would have to invest in to get the best picture for their new set.(HD set top boxes from cable/satellite companies, blurays, not to mention the correct cables to connect it all...etc) More often than not people thought they could just pop in a DVD and that would be HD cause it was displayed on their new HDTV. My point is that when M$ launches this always-on console, the grandmas and non nerds of the world will not be aware of this feature. This will cause massive frustration and M$'s customer support will be ringing off the hook day one.

Now for devils advocate. I am positive that a calculating company such as M$ has stats on this current gen of xbox live users. I am sure they have the numbers of who is already always online with their single/multiplayer games. You take that number and calculate who would migrate to the next gen because of exclusives such as Halo/GoW/Cod(early dlc), then you take into account people who buy games online from xbla/games on demand and you if do the math right you could have a rough estimate of how many always-on console sales. And if that number is significant enough to negate any losses from people who don't buy the system, then applied with their new business model, they would have a "successful" launch. And when I refer to new business model, I am referring to building a console and selling at slim to no profit, whereas in the past consoles have been sold with nextgen hardware unsurpassed by pc and taking a loss and depending on software sales to make up for it. (You can thank Nintendo for paving the way for this business model.)

IF I was M$ I would have multiple SKUs and let the free market decide if they are ready to go into the next level of console development. I would have a SKU costing $400 that let you play offline that came with bluray drive. Then I would have a second SKU that costs $300 with always online without bluray and so you would have to download all your games(like steam). I'd also give a $5-$10 discount for games when they are downloaded. Packaging and shipping savings should be passed down to the users. If you are a gamer like me, you'd pick the cheaper SKU without hesitation because you could care less about always-on. But if you're without internet, then you will just have to pay a premium to have the bluray and hard copy of the game with offline gameplay. There should be incentives to migrate people to always-on.

I would say at some point the numbers would show more people got the always-on system than the latter. And if the numbers show the reverse, it would be no problem to stop production of the always-on SKU. There are ways to make this not a PR nightmare if M$ does it right. There are ways to make this a buzz rather than a buzz kill feature. Hope steambox is the always-on system I am describing.
2Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Craig Burkey Software Engineer 8 years ago
What about parents that prefer that their children don't have internet connected devices in their bedroom?

If the Kinect rumors are true too Microsoft would be pushing an always online webcam enabled device into the bedroom of Millions of Children.
4Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Mark Burns Programmer, Codemasters8 years ago
Why's that? Well, despite the tempest in a teapot that was the SimCity or Diablo III launches, look at the sales numbers of both games. EA topped its expectations and Blizzard moved more than 12 million copies. Even with all the outrage that accompanied both of those games, they were massive successes.
I'd be curious to know what proportion of those sales were from people who attempted to obtain and were refused a refund.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
John Hoang Game Tester 8 years ago
Does anyone know the next big game that will have always-on DRM? The always-on DRM has been implemented on big titles as far I know. And so far each execution has been unsuccessful as far as week 1 goes. What I am getting at is that other smaller titles I'm sure have always-on DRM, but there doesn't seem to be a big outcry of anger from people because perhaps the servers never crashed for those games day one. This makes me feel like people are actually fine with the underlining always-on DRM if developers/publishers don't fudge it up on day one. I actually preordered Diablo III, but when the first day I tried playing it, the servers were crazy laggy. So I waited a few days and the problem seemed to be resolved.

It's hard for me to imagine life without internet these days. So it's even harder to imagine people getting mad (on the internet) about a NEW console that requires internet connection. I would understand if a patch came out and turned all 360s into an alway-on device, but to be outraged at something that they don't own or are forced to own, is quite 1st world spoiled problems. People used to complain about DLC and how it should just be part of the game and devs shouldn't charge for it. But honestly people, you don't have to buy it. You can tell them off with your wallet. Businesses only understand one language and it is $$$. If others are communicating to them with $$$, then they will continue the pattern. I hate american idol, but apparently a lot of people watch it so I can't get it off the air. So I watch something else. People act like M$ is the government and whatever M$ decides they are stuck. Just stop with the complaints about stuff you don't have to buy. This isn't insurance or healthcare. You make your own decisions and businesses have to listen to the majority to survive. That is capitalism.


Edited 1 times. Last edit by John Hoang on 10th April 2013 10:09am

1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Agree with Chris and Rodney. Wait till DDOS hit - it wont just be an annoyance, it will destroy the business model completely. Hackers will delight in taking down and blocking the Xbox infrastructure.

And why bother with "online required"? Two main reasons - authentication of games, and advertising. Imagine playing a game, only for an ad to pop-up. Either watch the ad, or pay to have it vanish. Or join Xbox Live Gold.

Assuming this is all true, I'll definitely be voting with my wallet ... and not giving MS a cent. I really enjoy my 360, but ONLY for playing disc-based games. I don't touch the dashboard, apps, music, movies, Xbox Live, multiplayer or anything else. I *just* want to play the disc based games I have missed. Nothing else.

I doubt even Microsoft could be this stupid or arrogant (none of this has been confirmed yet - it might ALL be fake) - but this is the company that released Windows 8.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Emily Rose Artist 8 years ago
PS4 is looking more and more appealing by the second.
2Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Richard Westmoreland Senior Game Designer, Codemasters Birmingham8 years ago
It really does depend on what they can offer to customers to justify it. If it's simply an inconvenience (to some) because MS want to protect publisher money, then I can see it being very unpopular.

If there's some amazing features which require it, then all may be forgiven.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Andrew Coyle8 years ago
Yeah. A PS4 with an Xbox 360 controller. Sounds like a win.

However, I will wait until Microsoft actually announce the machine rather than get in a slather over rumours.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Stefan Pettersson Specialist Consultant, Fat Tuna8 years ago
I don't see the problem.

How many times has your tv stopped working because of connection problems, regardless if using satellite or cable?

Always on is not a problem. The few, albeit extremely vocal haters, calling to arms against Microsoft on this greatly overestimate their value. I don't think that many of them are Xbox Live users today either, so why should Microsoft even care?

On the other side we've got the games industry who will, mostly, love Microsoft for halting piracy and stopping second hand sales of games. Some will scream about distribution and patching costs but, honestly, that's nothing new for retail anywhere. Retail need to make money too, regardless if they're Amazon, Steam, HMW, Play, Apple, Microsoft etc.

My only two concerns with always on is the camera, don't want that to be hacked, and what happens the day Microsoft turns off the servers? Politicians need to makes laws that forces digital content providers to unlock online verifications making stuff playabale even after the servers have closed.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Stefan Pettersson on 10th April 2013 2:21pm

3Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Michael Benfield Senior Designer, Codemasters Birmingham8 years ago
It will be interesting to see how consumers react when the big publishers start releasing games only on the Xbox as they know they will get paid for every sale rather than getting paid for maybe one in every ten with second hand sales taking the rest (as it currently is).

Of course Sony can't afford to allow second hand games on the PS4 either. Those subsidized consoles aren't going to pay back their manufacturing costs when retailers take all the profit from second hand sales.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Michael Benfield on 10th April 2013 4:58pm

1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Leo Wakelin Community & Support Manager, Fatshark8 years ago
I'm going to jump on the defensive, but the last 2 WoW expansions have been seamlessly launched. In both figurative and literal senses. :)
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 8 years ago
Well, Leo... WoW is MEANT to be played online, so jump all you want (mind the gap)...
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Craig Bamford Journalist 8 years ago
These are console games, Stefan. Piracy is a marginal concern.

And as for second-hand sales, you DO understand that resale value increases the price that consumers are willing to pay, right? If you are only willing to spend a net $40 on a particular entertainment, and the $20 resale value that justified your $60 game purchase is taken away, you aren't going to buy the $60 game. No, you'll go spend your money somewhere else.

(Why so many people seem to think that consumers have unlimited cash, in THESE times of all times, is beyond me.)
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 8 years ago
Are you a hacker in need of a publicity stunt? Why not hack Xbox Live, the soon to be largest network of unified hardware and software with a webcam attached. Watch Kim Jong Un play Call of Duty with his generals. Watch the Obama play Dance Central with his family. Watch the chief of the CIA watch you watching him in a game with no name from Tim Schaefer.

Xbox Live, or how I stopped whining about my privacy and started living it like a rock star.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
John Bye Lead Designer, Freejam8 years ago
Craig - "These are console games, Stefan. Piracy is a marginal concern"
Actually, piracy seems to be a major concern for Microsoft. As early as 2009 this news report has them blocking up to 600,000 Xbox 360s from connecting to Live because they'd been modified to play pirated games, and they've had regular mass bannings since then, often taking place around the release of major, widely pirated games such as Halo, Gears of War and Call of Duty.

I can't find figures for 2012, but these figures for 2011 show some of the biggest Xbox 360 games of the year being downloaded 700,000 - 900,000 times from Bit Torrent alone, and those are all games that were only released a couple of months before the end of the year. The fact that the #5 most pirated game was Kinect Sports 2 shows it's probably not just hardcore gamers doing this either.

Of course, only a fraction of those people would have bought the game if they couldn't pirate it, and the relative ease of pirating games on Xbox 360 (and Microsoft's habit of blocking modded consoles from Live) may well have contributed to sales of the console. But it's certainly going to be on Microsoft's mind, and is probably a major motivator for any always on requirement they may be planning.

Blocking second hand sales seems more doubtful to me though. It would be commercial suicide if Sony didn't follow suit, and it would hurt a lot of the specialist retailers that Microsoft keeps saying are really important to them.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 8 years ago
Blocking second hand sales seems more doubtful to me though. It would be commercial suicide if Sony didn't follow suit,
I'm not so sure that it would be commercial suicide.

We know that vendors that don't allow resale can not only work but even be quite popular because we have the example of Steam. And we also see that this can work with other vendors (possibly including retailers) because Steam does so with their Steam codes. And actually, we do see this even on consoles to some extent for DLC and some of the smaller games that are only available via Live or PSN.

So the real question is not could they do it, but what would they have to change in order to make it acceptable to and even liked by consumers?

One obvious thing to consider would be lower prices, at least for some parts of the products' life span. Game are as expensive on Steam as anywhere else at initial release, but after six months or so they tend to be a lot cheaper, especially when they go on sale. It's not unusual for me to buy an older game on steam for about the same or even less than the price I'd pay for a used physical copy.

Another is dealing with large downloads. This has an easy enough technical fix: sell (very cheaply) a disc with the game on it, but allow it to be played only by those who have the code. If a download is impractical, just go to the shop, pay a dollar for the disc, and you're set. This might also help in trying to reach out to retailers, since it drives people into their shops and they might also be able to sell a code along with the disc.

And last, but far from least, the obvious way to move towards this world while avoiding screams from those who hate the concept is to run the whole thing in parallel with standard physical media that can be traded, which is pretty much what Sony is already doing with the Vita. That of course brings in its own problems, such as the issues with DLC.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Stefan Pettersson Specialist Consultant, Fat Tuna8 years ago
@ Craig Bamford,
Second hand sales are often more expensive than buying the game new on sales, or after price reduction. Price drops from 45 Euros to 15-20 Euros usually takes around 3 months, at least in Sweden and UK.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Stefan Pettersson on 15th April 2013 3:06pm

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply

Sign in to contribute

Need an account? Register now.