Today’s Xbox One is a far cry from the always-online Xbox One of the disastrous launch event – an event orchestrated by financiers and business people rather than games people, it seemed. In an effort to win back the fans the pendulum swung back and rapid changes were made. Many of these were for the best.
Many, but not all. Let’s be clear – there was much in that original concept that was good, and would have benefitted gamers if only it had been presented properly.
Let’s look at always-online. The requirement that your console would have to ‘phone home’ once per day to function was clearly ill-judged. What about servicemen overseas? What about those with spotty Internet connections? For those consumers, their consoles would effectively brick until a connection was restored. More than ill-judged, it was positively anti-consumer. An effort by the suits to control every aspect of how we use our consoles.
Fast forward to today. I’ll wager the vast majority of Xbox Ones (and PlayStation 4s, and Wii Us, for that matter) connect automatically to the Internet, and Microsoft’s (or Sony’s, or Nintendo’s) servers, every time they boot up. There will be a significant proportion, too, who have their consoles in instant-on mode, silently watchful black boxes periodically logging in and downloading software even as we sleep or are engaged elsewhere.
In every one of those cases – as far as the faceless financiers are concerned – and in every way that matters, this is as good as the always-online future threatened. Those who railed against every aspect of an always-online imposition but who now use their consoles this way should take a long hard look at themselves. Those who were too blinkered to see the potential but could only look to the past, who just wanted the same as before only newer, have damaged the Xbox brand and continue to tarnish the reputation of all those who love this hobby.
The benefits of a connected world should have been set out at the start, rather than pushed upon a confused and disappointed audience. Let’s look at what this connected console world gives us today. Immensely popular games like Destiny, or The Division, simply wouldn’t be possible without a constant connection to the Internet. The much-anticipated Quantum Break – from Alan Wake developers Remedy, probably one of the most consumer experience-focused developers of all time – will make extensive use of a connection. In Quantum Break the live-action story elements of the game will be streamed, different scenes seamlessly stitched together to deliver a story that perfectly matches in-game choices. Uniquely, Quantum Break shows us what a non-connected world would be like – choosing to download rather than stream these segments will mean a ridiculous 75 gig download.
There’s a section of the gaming community who fears change, who rails against the new and different, who tilts at windmills. Gaming is a medium that has the potential to deliver experiences of greater worth and depth than any other. Gaming is a medium that, more than any other, drives forward the pace of consumer hardware development. Why, then, are some so fearful of change?
Instead of regressing, of hiding behind excuses of poor internet connections or fears of governmental interference, we should embrace change. We should demand that our services keep up with the aspirations of the most forward looking developers, and not decry those aspirations because our services fail.
Recently, Critical Gamer railed against always-online, citing the episodic Hitman reboot as a symptom of all that’s underhand and anti-consumer about today’s industry.
Demanding that your players stay online is a fantastic way of harvesting a gargantuan amount of data on a daily basis (and if it acts like DRM, what a happy accident), but a less fantastic way of keeping your customers happy.
~ Critical Gamer.
Sadly, the article reads as nothing more than the ravings of a luddite audience unwilling to accept that change is inevitable, change is necessary and change is the only way improvements will be made. Our consoles are infinitely more flexible, infinitely more useful and – if Crackdown‘s technical demo is anything to go by – almost infinitely more powerful when connected. Why would we not support any developer who is willing to take risks to move us further down that path?
Nothing worthwhile ever came from playing it safe, from treading the middle ground.
Let’s not play safe. Let’s demand more.