Connected against your will

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.

32 Comments
32 Comments
Edited by The_Laughing_Man
Posted by Phatmac

You do have a choice. You don't have to buy it. Buy a top notch PC or PS4 instead.

Posted by BlazeHedgehog

@the_laughing_man: I'm guessing it doesn't identify in the forums when something is posted as a blog, then? Thanks for the link, though.

Posted by jdh5153

I agree with this guy. The internet is pretty much like electricity, it's always on, it's supposed to be that way. If your internet goes out you can go the fuck outside for 10 minutes.

My internet has been on 24/7 for over a year without a single outage, and I'm not even in a big city....People just always find something to cry and bitch about and the world goes on.

The world is an always connected world. The people who bitch about this are the people who still don't own smartphones and want to be all like "um fuck the internet, I'm too cool for the internet"

Posted by Hunter5024

This pretty much sums up my feelings exactly. I don't have that big of a problem with games choosing to always be online, because sometimes thats the best way to realize the developers vision for the user experience. However a console requiring this doesn't really seem like it could offer any benefit. It sounds pretty blatantly anti consumer.

Edited by BlazeHedgehog

@jdh5153 said:

I agree with this guy. The internet is pretty much like electricity, it's always on, it's supposed to be that way. If your internet goes out you can go the fuck outside for 10 minutes.

My internet has been on 24/7 for over a year without a single outage, and I'm not even in a big city....People just always find something to cry and bitch about and the world goes on.

The world is an always connected world. The people who bitch about this are the people who still don't own smartphones and want to be all like "um fuck the internet, I'm too cool for the internet"

But not everybody has internet that's always available, or always stable. You're making a LOT of boneheaded assumptions about people you don't actually know because you've obviously never been in that situation yourself.

Like the bold text says: "Always connected is not excuse for not planning around what happens when there is no connection."

I should not be locked out of playing a singleplayer game just because it can't connect to a leaderboard database. There are decades of games before this where leaderboard databases didn't even matter, it was about the games themselves. Yes, having ubiquitous internet connectivity in a game is a great idea, but it's not always critical to the operation of a game, and pretending that it is critical is where this argument falls apart. Couching it in "This is the waaaave of the future" is just an easy way to get people to swallow a bitter pill. Because, well, gosh, I want to be part of the future, too! The future's cool! Or at least, it should be.

We are not at a point where I can say, "Diablo III is unplayable without an internet connection, and I can't imagine the game if it wasn't online". But Blizzard sure wants to force that ideal upon us. And if they want people to be more receptive to this concept, they CAN'T be forcing it on us, because that's how people end up hating things even if they are beneficial down the road.

This is a hamfisted way to solve a problem that to a lot of consumers doesn't even exist.

Edited by jimmyfenix

deal with it

Posted by BlazeHedgehog

deal with it

Why don't YOU deal with it? Why am I the one who is dealing with it?

Posted by jimmyfenix

@jimmyfenix said:

deal with it

Why don't YOU deal with it? Why am I the one who is dealing with it?

i dont have electricity so i can use my vacuum cleaner

Edited by BlazeHedgehog

@blazehedgehog said:

@jimmyfenix said:

deal with it

Why don't YOU deal with it? Why am I the one who is dealing with it?

i dont have electricity so i can use my vacuum cleaner

Stupid new-fangled wifi powered vaccums ruining my videogames.

Posted by Humanity

I read the new XBOX shoots out chains that force you to play it for large spans of time and shocks you if you don't purchase all DLC for your games.

Posted by Hailinel

@humanity said:

I read the new XBOX shoots out chains that force you to play it for large spans of time and shocks you if you don't purchase all DLC for your games.

I heard that if you ever sever the connection, Microsoft will murder your family.

Online
Posted by Humanity

@hailinel said:

@humanity said:

I read the new XBOX shoots out chains that force you to play it for large spans of time and shocks you if you don't purchase all DLC for your games.

I heard that if you ever sever the connection, Microsoft will murder your family.

It just goes to show that Microsoft is really serious about gaming!

Edited by Brodehouse

Microsoft really getting ahead on good PR.

It positively amazing how much this reflects 2005. Here is one company who lost big and is super hungry to turn it around, saying all the right things, ready to fuck shit up... And here is the imperious old lord of the last gen, lazily waving his hand out of his slave carried litter, when someone asks what the people will play, they respond "let them play DLC".

Posted by Bogitt

The always connected thing seems pretty dumb to me, if i buy a game i want to play it however the hell i want to play it, not how someone else has decided i should.

Posted by Ezakael

Well written post and I could not agree more with what you have said. I live in Canada, which is pretty much a third world country internet wise so I cannot afford to have anything that forces me to be online always. Not to mention such a thing doesn't have any real benefit to the consumer. These corporations really only want more control over their user base and that's it. Whats sad is this probably isn't going to hurt their sales enough to make them change their minds. So we're stuck with it for good if it indeed turns out to be the truth.

Posted by believer258

@jdh5153 said:

I agree with this guy. The internet is pretty much like electricity, it's always on, it's supposed to be that way. If your internet goes out you can go the fuck outside for 10 minutes.

My internet has been on 24/7 for over a year without a single outage, and I'm not even in a big city....People just always find something to cry and bitch about and the world goes on.

The world is an always connected world. The people who bitch about this are the people who still don't own smartphones and want to be all like "um fuck the internet, I'm too cool for the internet"

You don't think that the idea matters in principle at least? There is no single electronic device that forces you to be connected to use any features of it. At least, not that I know of. You could play Snake and mess with the options on old Nokia cellphones if they weren't connected, so don't bring phones up.

The "always connected world" thing only exists in the fantasies of those that have dependable fast internet connections and corporations who think that "always connected" means "I can advertise to you whenever I want and you've gotta see it no matter what". Most of the people in this world aren't always online with all of their devices. My Xbox, when I was still playing it, wasn't always online, sometimes because I just didn't feel like seeing all of the advertisements thrown at me.

For the record, if all of the cell towers in the world suddenly stopped functioning for some reason, you could still play music and games and movies with your smartphone. You could still connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot and browse the web. It seems like you won't be able to do anything but test your network options with your Xbox if these rumors are true.

Edited by MikkaQ

<p>That's dumb. I like consoles cause they're relatively portable when compared to PCs, and you could take them anywhere to have games in a pinch. Couldn't do that here. Ugh I want a good new console so I can free my PC for more important shit. Guess the PS4 will be my main and the new Xbox will be for the occasional exclusive. Kinda like opposite of how it was during this gen.</p>

Edited by BlazeHedgehog

The "always connected world" thing only exists in the fantasies of those that have dependable fast internet connections and corporations who think that "always connected" means "I can advertise to you whenever I want and you've gotta see it no matter what". Most of the people in this world aren't always online with all of their devices. My Xbox, when I was still playing it, wasn't always online, sometimes because I just didn't feel like seeing all of the advertisements thrown at me.

I often wonder how many gigabytes of bandwidth I've thrown in to the garbage by just letting my Xbox idle on the dashboard while it constantly streams in looping video advertisements. I can't imagine what that's like with strict bandwidth caps.

Posted by Vinny_Says

So you're telling me that Microsoft, the company that has been able to keep such a tight lid on anything related to the durango even this close to the launch of their biggest competitor, somehow just let some dude tweet that....

I'll just wait until there is some concrete information from the source.

Posted by ShaggE

@jdh5153 said:

I agree with this guy. The internet is pretty much like electricity, it's always on, it's supposed to be that way. If your internet goes out you can go the fuck outside for 10 minutes.

My internet has been on 24/7 for over a year without a single outage, and I'm not even in a big city....People just always find something to cry and bitch about and the world goes on.

The world is an always connected world. The people who bitch about this are the people who still don't own smartphones and want to be all like "um fuck the internet, I'm too cool for the internet"

"If I don't have the problem, then anybody who does is making it up".

Wow... I get that people post things without thinking sometimes, but were you even awake?

Online
Edited by EXTomar

Well no this is not pretty much like electricity. A lot of the devices you have don't need Microsoft Power to work but this box will need to talk to Microsoft servers or "no go". A lot of your devices can lose power and come back like nothing happened. What will happen with this box if service disappears for a 3 minutes? For a generic PC, when it looses internet connection it can go on and be used for other things. How much will this new box be useful when unable to reach Microsoft's servers even if it isn't using them?

The Internet is more than the service to your house. Your hardware can break. Their service can break (lol at the couple of times Microsoft cause their own outage by forgetting to renew and reissue their SSL certs). The ISP can have crappy service and response time. The "backbone" can be under stress from shenanigans causing intermittent outages. I'm not knocking US Internet service but I think people are overestimating how reliable it is where residential service is way less than "nine nines" or even as remotely as reliable as electricity. By state and federal regulations the power company is supposed to keep your power on where "it is mostly up" isn't allowed. Comcast or Time Warner or whoever might get back to you sometime next week where they may or may not figure out why your connection to Amazon Instant or Netflix keeps dropping let alone why you can't stay connected to some game.

Posted by ProfessorEss

It is what it is.

They'll make their decisions. Then I'll make mine accordingly.

Edited by BlazeHedgehog

So you're telling me that Microsoft, the company that has been able to keep such a tight lid on anything related to the durango even this close to the launch of their biggest competitor, somehow just let some dude tweet that....

I'll just wait until there is some concrete information from the source.

He didn't really confirm anything out loud, he simply said he doesn't know what the big deal would be. "Always On" internet DRM has been a hot button issue as of late - it's not like Microsoft are the only ones guilty, and if anything, previous experiences with this tech is what's leading the charge against such a feature.

It is what it is.

C'mon, don't do that.

Posted by EXTomar

But ProfessorEss is right. Some people are comfortable with the idea and who am I to get in their way? If they are okay with an always online system that behaves differently when disconnected then that is their prerogative.

Edited by SirOptimusPrime

I'm not going to lie, I was more offended by his comment in the last tweet. If I was ever thinking of buying a new Xbox, that guy's terrible looking-down-the-nose attitude about smaller places (and those two cities aren't even that "small town") is the actual worst and makes me think otherwise. Fuck those people right in the eye.

edit: the English language is hard, yo.

Online
Edited by ProfessorEss

@blazehedgehog said:

@professoress said:

It is what it is.

C'mon, don't do that.

Sorry, don't do what? You mean don't wait until all the details are out, weigh the pros and cons against the price and make a decision then?

I'm confised, why do have I have to decide between "buying day one" or "wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole" based purely on whether it's always online or not?

Edited by BlazeHedgehog

@blazehedgehog said:

@professoress said:

It is what it is.

C'mon, don't do that.

Sorry, don't do what? You mean don't wait until all the details are out, weigh the pros and cons against the price and make a decision then?

I'm confised, why do have I have to decide between "buying day one" or "wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole" based purely on whether it's always online or not?

"It is what it is" is like the worst phrase ever, though. You aren't saying anything when you say that.

Posted by CrossTheAtlantic

Impressive, thoughtful and tactful. Whoa, what a dick.

Edited by McGhee

I am starting to really enjoy the idea of watching Microsoft crash and burn on this one. They need to be taken down a notch.

Posted by Video_Game_King

@phatmac said:

You do have a choice. You don't have to buy it. Buy a top notch PC or PS4 instead.

But what happens if/when more developers begin adopting this model?

Edited by jsnyder82

My internet IS always-on, so it probably wouldn't affect me. But I can definitely understand why this is a bad idea, seeing as how not everybody has a stable internet connection.

But what bothers me most about this guy is the "Why on Earth would I live there" remark. Seriously, what a fucking douchebag. I can't stand those people that get an air of superiority about themselves just because they live in a heavily populated area. It's just fuckin' snobbishness.