The Always Online Issue is About Choice, Not Just Connectivity

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The report we’re talking about came from Kotaku, who’s source claims that unless something has changed within the last couple weeks, Microsoft is still planning on making their console always online.  More than that, according to the report, you have to be connected to the internet, just to START a game, and keep playing it.  And if your connection drops, you’ve got three minutes before the console suspends the game and is unable to play it.  It this turns out to be true (which with all the persistent rumors for well over the past year, it’s looking more and more true), gamers with spotty internet connections could find themselves without the ability to play or even operate their new console. 

The internet and gamers have been pretty vocal in their disdain for this idea, but the Microsoft camp has been very quiet on the issue…until yesterday that is.  After the latest report came in, the Microsoft Creative Director Adam Orth took to his twitter account to defend the concept by saying:

Orth Tweet

While the company won’t confirm any plans on the upcoming Xbox, the fact that Orth has come out to defend the idea seems like a confirmation of some sort.  I mean, if it’s not happening, why would he say anything at all?  The problem here, though, isn’t about always-online, it’s about Orth’s really shitty attitude about it. 

Seriously, telling your potential (and current) customers to ‘deal with it’ isn’t the best way to sell your new product.  On top of that, it shows just how disconnected he, and perhaps the whole company, is in regards to this issue.  It gets worse, just check out these other tweets he sent out:

Electricity Goes out Tweet

So now, he’s not only telling people to get over it, he’s being rather dickish about it and is borderline mocking gamers for what many believe to be a big deal.  Telling people to ‘get with the times’ is just plain rude, because despite what he may think, not everyone can get the internet.  Orth just doesn’t seem to get it.  The problem with always-online has nothing to do with the technology, but everything to do with giving people a choice in the matter.  As has been aptly demonstrated with the SimCity fiasco, the always-online model of play has a lot of issues.  People expect, and rightly so, that if they spend their hard-earned money on something, they’ll be able to use it, or at least have the OPTION of using it whenever they want to. 

While some gamers are always connected to the internet (I am actually), that doesn’t necessarily mean they want to be at all times.  Who hasn’t experienced moving into a new house and having to wait days before getting your cable or internet hooked up?  What do you do to kill time (you know, besides unpacking)? You play some games and get lost in another world.  If you’re forced to have an online connection just to start up a game, then that option is gone from you as well. 

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Besides that, even gamers who are connected don’t always choose to play online.  I know it’s crazy to think, but for the most part, I don’t play games online with other people.  I enjoy my single player experiences, and very rarely do I feel the need to play a game with someone over the internet.  In point of fact, not all of my consoles are connected to the internet (including my Xbox) because I never use the connectivity features and I don’t see the need to go through the setup process.  I know I’m not alone in that feeling, and there are gamers who only have the internet connected to their computers in their households. 

These are points that directly relate to choice.  I CHOOSE to not have certain consoles on the internet.  Other gamers CHOOSE to only have certain devices connected.  It’s not necessarily about the ability to do so, but the feelings of the individual gamer and consumer.  Crazy as it may seem, some people also choose to not have smart-phones, but regular cell phones.  Not everyone in the world wants the same thing, which is why giving consumers options has already resulted in better sales.  Hell, isn’t that the whole reason Microsoft originally sold TWO versions of the 360 (one with a hard drive and one without)?  So that gamers could choose which one they wanted?

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Orth’s other argument seems even more ridiculous.  The idea about electricity going out, so I won’t buy a vacuum cleaner is like comparing apples to oranges.  It’s a childish argument in which he equates technical issues to ones created specifically by a company.  When the power goes out in a house, that can be due to a number of reasons, many of which are beyond anyone’s control (i.e. weather).  But when your server connection is lost and you can’t play your game, because the console requires you to be online…that’s an artificially generated problem.  That’s a totally avoidable situation because if the company hadn’t designed the console to be that way, you’d still be playing your game just fine. 

It’s not like a vacuum can work without electricity.  That’s a necessary function of the technology.  But, as has been proven over the last few decades of gaming, consoles do NOT need the internet to operate, unless the company decides to do so.  The cell phone comment is the same thing.  Spotty connection is a technical limitation and sure, you won’t be able to use it during that time period.  However, if you’re cell phone reception is directly related to the company who provides you service, then more than likely you’re going to just switch to another business.  Essentially, Orth just made the best argument for why a consumer should choose another console. 

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Of course, this is still all speculation, but Orth’s comments shows just how disconnected he is with the issue at hand.  Always-online is about giving players the choice in how they want to play the games they spend money on.  This is why so many people were excited with PS4’s announcement.  Sure it can be always-online, if you choose to play that way, but it doesn’t have to be.  Choice is what drives consumers and sales, not just for the games industry, but for just about everything.  Just walk down the chips aisle at your local grocery store and you can see exactly what I’m talking about. 

I sincerely hope Orth’s comments don’t reflect the rest of Microsoft.  He is just one employee afterall, but considering he’s the Creative Director, he’s a very important employee and has a lot of say-so.  That’s what concerns me most.  I worry that Microsoft is really that out of touch with gamers and what we all want.  It’s not about being offline or online, it’s about being able to make that decision on our own.

Supposedly Microsoft is set to unveil the new console during an event this month, though that hasn’t been confirmed.  At the very least, we’ll know something by E3, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

-Jordan