Why Always-Online Could Kill XBox

Before the PS4 was officially announced in New York City in February, there were plenty of rumours floating around that both Sony and Microsoft were considering some form of DRM system in their next console. Theories ranged from having games tied to individual consoles or accounts (essentially killing the second hand market), to the more extreme idea that consoles would require a constant internet connection in order for games to run on the system (wether that be single player or otherwise).

There was no mention of DRM during the PS4 event, and after the announcement Sony were at pains to state that used games would work on their next console, essentially ruling out the idea of having games tied to specific accounts or consoles.

It seemed like a victory for common sense, after all if you kill the trade-in industry, you take away a lot of peoples ability to invest in new games by trading in their old ones. It also made people hopeful that Microsoft would follow suit with their next generation console, surely the XBox bigwigs would realise that forcing such draconian DRM onto their customers, especially in the face of Sony’s more relaxed attitude, would simply result in a mass migration from the American company to the Playstation brand?

Well, in case the story passed you by, it appears that this is exactly what Microsoft are planning with their next console. After rumours surfaced that the next XBox would be always online, Adam Orth, who was at the time the Creative Director at Microsoft Studios, let loose on Twitter with a torrent of badly judged posts, seemingly in defence of an always online system.

adam orth tweetsUnsurprisingly, Microsoft and Mr Orth soon parted ways, with XBox Live’s Major Nelson posting this apology –

“We apologize for the inappropriate comments made by an employee on Twitter yesterday. 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.”

While no official announcement has been made by Microsoft pertaining to console DRM systems, It strikes me as astonishing that a company of the size and success of Microsoft could even consider something as unpopular and potentially damaging  to their business as an always online console. XBL, just like the PSN, is not immune to down time, and just a few hours of in-operability could seriously harm their user base if, as the technology is rumoured to do, everybody was left unable to play their games.

It might well have seemed like a good idea at the time, especially if the opposition were considering doing the same, but it would be foolish of Sony or Microsoft to back themselves into a corner by not making contingency plans in the event that their opposite number did not go ahead with an always online system.

We haven’t even got to the fact that there are plenty of people out there who still don’t have Internet, or have extremely unreliable connections. Hell, there are gamers out there who still play their HD console games on Standard Definition Cathode Ray Tube TV’s. To release a console that potentially cuts out swathes of people who would otherwise be potential customers is ill advised and, worse than that, just plain bad business.

Hopefully the delay in any announcement regarding the “NextBox”¬† is an indicator that, if they were planning an always online console, they might be hastily changing their plans.

Thank god for plan B eh?

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