Why Always Online is a Huge Mistake for Microsoft

I wouldn’t normally comment on the media circus surrounding the next generation of consoles – because to be honest I don’t really care that much – but some news from the Microsoft camp late last week got me all hot under the collar. The all-but-confirmed news that the Xbox 720 (or ‘Durango’ or whatever they decide to call it) will be ‘always online’ had me staring at my web browser in dumbfounded amazement.

I love this artist's impression of the Xbox 720 controller. Sadly I couldn't find the source of the image, but whoever you are. WELL DONE.
I love this artist’s impression of the Xbox 720 controller. Sadly I couldn’t find the source of the image, but whoever you are. WELL DONE.

Although it hasn’t been officially confirmed, this ‘always online’ business means that it’s highly likely that if your next-gen Xbox isn’t connected to the internet, you simply won’t be able to play any games, as you’ll need to be connected so that the Microsoft servers can verify that the game you’re playing is genuine and not a pirate copy. It also seems to indicate that any games you buy might be tied to your Xbox Live account, which means that second-hand games won’t work.

This still hasn’t been officially confirmed by Microsoft of course: the ‘always online’ rumour seems now to be genuine, but we still don’t know whether Microsoft will go the whole hog and restrict the content you’re ‘allowed’ to use. However, it does seem like they’re heading down a dark alley of not-goodness.

The disastrous launches of Diablo III and SimCity have proven that forcing players to connect to a potentially creaky server just to play the game is a not good idea, so to base a whole console around this concept seems to be asking for trouble. What if the network goes down, as happened after the PlayStation Network was hacked? What if your internet connection goes down? What if you’re moving house and can’t get connected for a month? What if you live in a rural area with limited or no broadband? In any of these cases will your shiny new next-gen Xbox be reduced to the status of an expensive under-TV ornament?

Likewise, effectively ‘banning’ the sale of second-hand games by making them unplayable seems foolhardy in the extreme. The thinking seems to be that publishers and manufacturers are ‘losing’ sales every time someone buys a second-hand game, when this is clearly not the case. I buy second-hand games, but I also buy new ones when something particularly special catches my eye. If I couldn’t buy those second-hand games because they wouldn’t work, I wouldn’t just buy the new equivalent – I couldn’t afford it for a start. In the end, players just wouldn’t be able to play as wide a range of games as they do now, which is bad news for everyone.

Second-hand games are an easy way to get into a series: you might buy the first couple of Assassin’s Creed games, for example, which gets you into the series enough to buy the third game new when it comes out. Or you might borrow a game from a friend and like it enough to buy the sequel. If Microsoft decides that games have to be tied to a single Xbox account, both of those options disappear.

Then there’s the potential impact on games stores: in the UK, a huge chunk of GAME’s sales are derived from the second-hand market, so without that they’ll more than likely go under. Again.

It seems even more bizarre that Microsoft might go down this route when Sony have confirmed that the PlayStation 4 WON’T restrict secondhand content or require an internet connection. In light of this, it would be absolute madness if Microsoft decided to restrict what their users could play, and I for one would veer towards purchasing a PlayStation 4 for this very reason.

Although, to be honest, I’m pretty happy with my Wii U and my enormous backlog of games for now, thanks very much.