The Next Xbox May Have Always-Online Requirement

The rumormill is a-churning away on this piece of news:

“Unless something has changed recently,” one of the sources told us over email, “Durango consumer units must have an active internet connection to be used.”

Durango is the codename for the next-gen Xbox.

“If there isn’t a connection, no games or apps can be started,” the source continued. “If the connection is interrupted then after a period of time–currently three minutes, if I remember correctly–the game/app is suspended and the network troubleshooter started.”

Lending a sort of credence to the entire affair, and once again proving that people become drooling morons on Twitter, is this series of Tweets from the Microsoft Creative Director, Adam Orth. I will go ahead and transcribe them here instead of just posting pictures of tweets like the dozen lazy websites I checked before realizing that no one else was going to do it:

Sorry, I don’t get the drama around having an “always on” console. Every device now is “always on”. That’s the world we live in. #dealwithit

I want every device to be “always on”.

Alex Wells: Off the top of my head I know 5 people who own 360’s who current have no access to the internet. They would be screwed.

@TheonlyAlexW Those people should definitely get with the time and get the internet. It’s awesome.

Manveerheir: Did you learn nothing from Diablo III or SimCity? You know some people’s internet goes out right? Deal with it is a shitty reason.

@manveerheir Electricity goes out too.

Sometimes the electricity goes out. I will not purchase a vacuum cleaner.

The mobile reception in the area I live in is spotty and unreliable. I will not buy a mobile phone.

Microsoft apologized for the tweets by someone “not a spokesman for Microsoft” a day later.

Personally, I feel this is one of those rumors stupid enough to be true. Microsoft is already requiring the Kinect to be running the entire time the Xbox 720 is on, because somehow it’s important to Microsoft for there to be a camera trained on your living room the entire time you are playing Halo 5. Besides, this is not even the first time we have heard about this – here is an article back in February from an insider saying that Xbox games will require an online activation code and installation to the HD, thereby making the disc worthless to anyone else. It is not much of a leap to go from online activation keys to always-online.

Lost in all of this, of course, is what possible benefit there is to the consumer. Always-Online is not a feature, no matter how hard EA’s COO spins it, it’s a restriction. You have to be online to pay an MMO, or PlanetSide 2, or whatever other multiplayer game, yes, but that is because those individuals are not in your house. The single-player campaign or indie game or whatever is in your house and doesn’t require outside intervention except arbitrarily. Remember the SimCity fiasco? There were zero server-side calculations, or at least calculations that needed to be sent out to EA’s bank of super-computers (…lol) to process. Even if you could argue that Leaderboards or cloud saving were worthwhile features, no rational arguments were given as to why they could not simply have been optional.

Adam Orth’s analogy with cell phones is particularly instructive in regards to these corporate drones’ idiotic thought processes. Does your smartphone simply shut down and become unusable the moment you lose coverage? Or can you continue playing Angry Birds or taking photos or listening to music you saved to the device? Whether I am always-online already or not, there is no benefit to the requirement.

In any case, I cannot possibly imagine a better advertisement for the PS4 than the next Xbox coming out with an always-online requirement. Will it sway a majority of people away from the Xbox? Probably not. But as the margins in the console business continue getting slimmer, perhaps there will be enough losses that these anti-consumer practices will stop making their way out of the fevered wet dreams of CFOs everywhere.

And if not, well, there is always the $99 Ouya, right?

Posted on April 8, 2013, in Commentary and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. Wow, I’m surprised he sent those tweets out after we all witnessed the Sim City debacle. I would think Microsoft would really be hurting sales with an always online console but then again I thought people wouldn’t pay for Xbox Live when 360 launched and look how that turned out. Maybe that’s the line of thinking from the suits.

    Personally, for the first time I’m not really excited about the new consoles. I bought a PS3 near launch but I don’t see that happening this time around. Especially with titles like the Gran Turismo 6, GTA 5 and Last of Us all coming out on PS3 shortly before PS4 launch.


  2. While those tweets are rude and commercially inadvisable, I do think the underlying point is true. In a very short time from now there will be no offline mode for most aspects of “normal” life and the great majority of individuals being born into and growing up in that world will not want it any other way.

    I’m in my 50s and most of my assumptions about how life would and should be lived have been challenged and largely overturned pretty much on a decade-by-decade basis. Yes, it’s entirely possible to opt out of many aspects of technological and societal change simply by refusing to participate but doing so doesn’t change the direction of travel for everyone else, most of whom are seeing as benefits the very same things you might be seeing as disadvantages.

    I would be quite surprised to see any devices offering digital entertainment or information, be it games, video, music, sport, news, whatever, offer much in the way of a meaningful offline mode in the future except and unless being “offline” is their specific U.S.P.


    • I’m not sure the underlying point is true. People accept that the vacuum will not work if the power is off, because the power is what makes the vacuum work. Similarly, no one minds that WoW is always-online, because that is the way it is designed and would be a lousy game offline. But Diablo 3? I’d wager most people played it in a single playerish manner anyway. There was no design reason not to allow offline play, nor was there any design benefit from it. A restriction with no design benefit sounds like regression.


    • The thing about inevitable progress is that it can, in fact, fall off the track rather easily. It is 2013… and where are all the high-speed trains in the United States? Why are all the telecoms moving away from unlimited bandwidth and instead implementing bandwidth caps? Why are there ISP monopolies in much of the US, or duopolies if you’re lucky?

      As of September 2012, this site notes that 90% of US households with computers have broadband. Sounds good, right? When you look at the graphic though, only 52% of households with less than $30k income have the internet at all. Only 78% of those between $30k-50k have internet.

      While that might continue increasing (up to a point), it still doesn’t change the calculus of “what benefit do you derive from always-online requirements?” Or perhaps more importantly: how is an always-online game console going to work with bandwidth caps? Or slow/over-used connections for that matter?


      • You should live in France ;-) We have the high-speed train all over the country and more are building ! We have the unlimited bandwidth on Internet, and now we also have unlimited data and phone on our cellphone.
        But this is quite a smaller country than USA !


      • It would not surprise me if the internal rationale for always-on had as much to do with trying to force people into Live social network stuff as with digital rights.

        I’m all but certain there is going to be a push-back on ‘online life’ in general. Not abandonment, but a cultural correction, and if we are lucky it might come as part of a larger re-examination of the way we do capitalism.


    • What I really had in mind was more the way that most government services in the UK are moving online. There’s been some discussion on whether this is going to lock out some of the people most likely to need to use them but largely it seems to be going ahead unchallenged. Given that the government has set amazingly aggressive and ambitious targets for Broadband rollout, my feeling is that the intention is that if you want to access government services after 2015 you will be expected to use the internet and there may well not be any alternative provided.

      Full details of the targets and progress on them here

      We will end up with different situations in different parts of the world where this is concerned, I’m sure, but in Europe we appear to be charging ahead into a full-on digital future.


  3. After initially having an open mind, the always online requirement completely ruined Diablo 3 for me. Diablo 3 was almost a fantastic game…or rather it was a fantastic game with some unnecessary features that eliminated most of the fun. Had they simply made online optional (as well as the tragically ill-thought out auction house) I’d probably still be playing it.

    So, why not give us the option? I mean, can anyone give a single benefit of requiring an online connection to play a single player game?

    This isn’t coming from a fear of change and progression perspective. I’m all for having the online option and love my online games (when they are made to be played online). I just have yet to see the benefit of playing a single player game online, but I have experienced a long list of negatives.


  4. Rather than force everyone online they should sell games stripped down to just the single player campaign for a reduced price. Both types of consumers are happy and you would probably combat piracy more effectively than forcing people online.

    Lets face the facts, it doesn’t matter if you force people online, pirates will find away around it. I garauntee pirates will have this new console flashed and running offline at some point. At that point you have a similar issue that Apple had with jailbroken iPhones. People might do it just to be able to play offline and then end up pirating software because its so easy.


  5. I’m not sure why none of the ‘Always Online’ brigade have ever looked at Steam with its Offline mode.

    It has all of the advantages but none of the disadvantages. Surely a ‘no-brainer’ if ever there was one.


    • Exactly! I’m not opposed to the technology, I’m opposed to the binary (and arbitrary) restriction. I have 20 indie games I can play on Steam even when the internet is down.


  6. This could be one of the worst ideas ever, then again, most of the “new generations” have grown up with the idea of a 24/7 “web connection” on their minds … all that is left is to wait and see.

    (Maybe this video could bring some light on this matter, from an “old school” gamer perspective: )


  7. Now after which I will stumble across a post like this and I am going to recall that there really are nevertheless useful pages on a web. ^_^. Thanks.


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