Here’s a fun story that’s being passed around the net. And by “fun story” I mean I think someone’s probably preparing a letter of resignation as we speak. Microsoft Studios creative director Adam Orth not only sees the concept of an “always-on” console as the natural progression of next-gen, but thinks anyone who is opposed to the idea should simply get over it. In his own words, via a personal Twitter account that is, as of now, blocked to any but approved followers, Orth stated that, “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.” Now, those statements alone would probably anger a few fanboys, but it certainly wouldn’t have caused legions of NeoGAF users to flock like seagulls to an unattended basket of chicken fingers. Oh no, their rage was stirred by the subsequent comments Orth made in response to people voicing legitimate concerns as rebuttal. The entirety of his remarks can be found on the NeoGAF link above, or otherwise this small excerpt here, for the specific purposes of this article.
I’d like to focus on the responses made by senior game designer at BioWare Manveer Heir. In what I initially assumed to be Orth simply trolling the masses, his response to Heir’s mentioning of lessons learned in regards to the recent Diablo III and SimCity DRM fiascoes, Orth simply replied that, “Electricity goes out too.” Let me be clear, his response to unstable internet connections and overcrowded servers causing games to be rendered unusable was that electricity goes out too; which I can only hypothesis is his way of listing other possible reasons for games to be rendered unplayable. Can you see why I thought this might be a joke? The brazen absurdity of the response is so bad it’s comical. To make matters even worse for himself, Manveer then asked about places where high-speed internet is simply not available, or otherwise hard to come by. In response, Orth proclaimed, I imagine whilst swimming in a vault full of gold coins a la Scrooge McDuck, “Why on earth would I live there?” Astounding ignorance, or sarcastic jesting? You be the judge.
The rest of the exchange has already been covered to death on every other game site out there, including our own, so I want to just pass along a few of my own thoughts in regards to Microsoft’s decisions going forward. Whether or not the Next Xbox will require an always-on internet connection just to function or will block used games or any other claims made thus far are still basically rumors. Sure, developers have been working with Durango kits for a few months now, some even longer, so they may have seen these features being implemented, but that doesn’t mean they will adequately reflect the final consumer product. These are simply the parameters within which Microsoft is constructing the console. For the record, Sony’s PS4 is also capable of implementing always-on functionality and they’ve had patents approved for unique ways of blocking used games as well. The only difference is Sony has already announced their console and said that these features will not be used when the console launches. What I’m getting at is: Until Microsoft gets on stage either this month or at E3 and tells us straight up that the Next Xbox will require a constant connection to the internet, it’s frankly a non-issue. Sure, Orth’s comments are either incredibly ignorant or incredibly out of place, but the subsequent backlash of folks already deciding to jump ship and purchase a PS4 is as absurd a reaction as his statements. Both consoles will be arriving by the end of this year, of that I’m certain, so there’s no reason to have already made up a decision to praise or condemn one console over another before all the cards are in play.
To that end, I find it hard to believe Microsoft would go ahead with plans to force an always-on model for the Next Xbox. If for some reason they were unaware of the general gaming audience’s feelings about DRM before, they certainly know it now; and for them to even stand a chance in the next-gen console race, their console has to be as open and accessible as the PS4. I don’t think I have to explain that many places in the US alone, let alone across the globe, have less-than-stellar internet speeds. America in particular has a serious issue with limited bandwidth and minimal high-speed connectivity, and I doubt Microsoft would gamble on our country making any serious upgrades within the next year that would make their always-on decision seem more viable. But as I said, all this discussion is for naught until we actually have a concrete announcement concerning the specifics of the Next Xbox. All we can do in the meantime is let Microsoft know we’re not okay with the decision and hope they’re smart enough to make the right call.
UPDATE: In light of the incident gathering major press on mainstream news sites such as CNET, Microsoft has decided to issue the following statement concerning Orth’s comments. This information comes courtesy of Major Nelson’s blog: “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.” Unfortunately, Microsoft has opted to remain coy about the issue, unwilling to let even a small detail about the Next Xbox’s functionality leak out for the sake of saving face. Basically, they’re sorry that Orth ran his mouth and made the PS4 look like such an appetizing course, but not sorry enough to come out and say that always-on functionality isn’t still on the table.
What do you folks have to say about all this? What’s your stance on always-on DRM and the like? And what of Orth’s comments? Is he totally out of line, or can you find some sense in his reasoning? share your thoughts in the comments below.