By BlazeHedgehog 32 Comments
Above is a conversation between Adam Orth, a "creative director" at Microsoft, and Manveer Heir, one of Bioware's Senior Game Designers. Today, Kotaku reported that two sources in the game industry reaffirmed that yes, Microsoft's next console will require an always-on internet connection. If more than a few minutes pass without a connection, it will immediately block the user from doing anything else on the console except run network diagnostics. This lines up with a previous rumor that the next Xbox will also block used games - from the sounds of it, each game purchased will be dumped to a HDD and registered exclusively to that system over the internet, preventing resale without a costly/time-consuming re-licensing process (sort of like what Xbox Live Arcade games do now).
This, obviously, sucks. Not just for what happened to games like Sim City and Diablo III - singleplayer-focused games that could not be played at each of their respected launches because of connectivity issues - but just because internet connectivity still is not at a point where this makes sense.
Adam Orth took the defensive, using the excuse that "Sometimes, the electricity goes out, so I guess I won't buy this vacuum." I don't know about you, but my internet goes out a hell of a lot more than my electricity does. For a period of more than a year around 2008, my connection slowly worsened until the internet was literally unusable - and my ISP's solution was mainly to shrug their shoulders at me during most of the process. Switching me off of traditional wires and on to fiber optic helped the issue, but the stability of that connection has also been gradually deteriorating as well - just this morning the internet was down for nearly half an hour. And that doesn't even begin to hold a candle to the two-week period I was without internet access in 2011 because my ISP had a database glitch that found us getting our account with them unexpectedly terminated. I can only imagine what it must be like to live somewhere my connection won't suddenly be dropped in the middle of the night for no reason.
Thankfully, with some rare exceptions, when I don't have internet access, I still have entertainment. I still had electricity, I still had Direct TV service, hell, even my phone still worked, even if a sub-service of that did not. But most importantly, 75% of the games I currently own are completely functional without an internet connection.
Don't get me wrong, it makes sense that internet features would not work if there wasn't an internet. When I did not have internet access, it was perfectly understandable that I would not be able to play Counter-Strike or Halo Multiplayer. What didn't make sense is when I tried booting up Serious Sam: The First Encounter HD, a game that can be played offline in singleplayer. With no internet to connect to, Serious Sam would simply crash to the desktop. No error message about connectivity problems, it would simply crash like any other piece of Windows software crashes. I was mystified; I thought something was wrong with the game itself. Surprise: Once the internet came back, the game went back to working as if there was nothing wrong.
I don't want to live in a world where even when I'm playing by myself, I'm always connected to everybody else. A feature like Autolog in Need for Speed is a great idea, but just because it can't update a leaderboard is not an excuse to block me from playing the game at all. Contrary to popular belief, I can actually have fun with a game even when I'm not being constantly reminded that I'm +0:02 seconds behind my friends.
But then again, it was never about me having fun, now was it? This is the internet, where you're guilty until proven innocent. The internet, where you don't own anything, you simply "license" it (and even have to pay again just to renew your "license"). The internet, where "connectivity is the future" is a convenient place to stash your bad ideas.
For the two weeks my internet was down, a large portion of my gaming time was spent in, oddly enough, Unreal Tournament 2004. Despite being a game focused on online-multiplayer, the game really doesn't care whether or not you have an internet connection - if you feel like playing by yourself, there's a robust list of modes populated by some of the most intelligent deathmatch bots in any game. One of the reasons Epic poured so much effort in to giving 2007's Unreal Tournament 3 a robust singleplayer component was because they discovered that more than half of their customers have never connected to an internet game. Even though by all accounts, Unreal Tournament is a franchise built almost exclusively to be played online, there is a significant group of people who do not.
"Everything's always connected" is a poor excuse for not planning around what happens when there is no connection. I've played Diablo II without an online auction house. I've played Sim City 2000 without trading with internet-neighbors. I can, and have, lived without those features. Nowhere has anybody said "requiring a constant internet connection is a selling point to me." At that point, the intent of a constantly-connected network becomes crystal clear: Game developers think I am not to be trusted, because, even though I've done nothing wrong, I am probably a criminal, and therefore must be under constant supervision for criminal activity. For all of the hand-waving and reassuring, this is at the heart of all "always connected" schemes: controlling and monitoring the user in increasingly heavy-handed ways. If you aren't connected to the network, then you can't be monitored or advertised to or whatever - so they force a connection, even when it's not completely necessary.
It will be very interesting to see how this all ends up shaking out in the end. I would be lying if I did not say I want Microsoft to fall flat on their face over this - but everybody assumed the exact same thing when they announced they would be charging for Xbox Live Gold subscriptions, too. Microsoft has a lot of very experienced people who are great at making things that are just under the threshold of being too annoying to use - just annoying enough to complain about.
Let's hope that's not the case this time.