The Fifth Column: Do You Rango?
Now that the PS4 launch has faded into distant Internet memory we can focus our laser-like Goldfish memory on the other next gen contender, codenamed Durango. We do not have any official information on the spec of the new Xbox console, because no one at Microsoft is authorised to speak about it on the record. There are however a number of rumours floating about from alleged reliable sources and the one juicy bit of speculation appears to be the ‘always on Internet connection’ requirement.
This bit of rumour mongering has been swirling about for some time but got some unexpected traction when Adam Orth, a Creative Director at Microsoft decided to weigh-in with his five cents. As a senior Microsoft staffer, his comments could certainly have been a bit more balanced as regards the Internet connection rumours. After his comments hit the mainstream media, his Twitter account was locked down, so it is safe to say that we will not be hearing from him in a hurry. The bottom line of course is that his ill conceived comments do not constitute any proof that the next Xbox will require an ‘always on’ Internet connection in order to function.
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Thus far however the rumours about the new Xbox have not been very comforting. There was an initial story that the Durango would not allow second hand games to be played on it, taken in combination with the Internet requirement, it would appear that Microsoft’s primary goals are to promote the sale of new games to the detriment of the second hand market and to use DRM in order protect their intellectual property. Once again none of this has been verified but let’s play the ‘what if it is true game’.
As good consumers we are left with a choice. The Xbox is not the only game in town. We already know when the PS4 is landing and we can rush out the door and drop our pre-order in order to show Microsoft the middle finger. In addition to the usual suspects in the mainstream console market, there is the Ouya which will be available at retail stores in June this year. From the most recent feedback it appears that the Ouya still needs a bit of tweaking and fine tuning in order to be fighting fit on the release day. A few of the initial reviews have not been very positive but there is still time for these concerns to be addressed.
Even if you are not a fan of the Open Source Ouya console, you could take a look at nVidia’s Project Shield. It’s a nifty device which allows you to play games on the move, as well as allowing you to stream games from your PC to your TV. Project Shield has the added bonus of allowing you to access games from both Steam and the Google Play Store. It also has a higher hardware spec than the Ouya which would be ideal if you are more Hardcore rather than Casual with your gaming.
Now that we have covered the ‘what if’ part of our program let’s move swiftly to the ‘why would they?’ section. As has been mentioned by a number of commentators, everyone does not have a reliable, high speed Internet connection in their home. Attempts to manage DRM via a persistent Internet connection have failed dismally in the past, Electronic Arts and Ubisoft are the most recent examples of such failures. Another compelling argument is that the second hand game market is extremely lucrative to game retailers. Would Microsoft risk alienating a critical retail channel in order to boost the sale of new games? Given that digital game distribution is not yet the primary distribution channel on the Xbox, Microsoft has a lot to lose if they attempt to cut off revenue to their retail partners.
My two cents is that the truth may lie somewhere in the middle. I think that the next Xbox will use a form of DRM that will require an Internet connection. I doubt that the connection will have to be persistent. I also doubt that the Xbox will be unworkable without an Internet connection. The history of draconian DRM mechanisms are littered with unhappy endings, think of EA and their Sim City debacle. If Microsoft attempts to enforce something similar with the new Xbox, I do think that the console is doomed to fail. As regards second hand games, I doubt that they will be blocked because the impact on retailers will be too great. With all this rumour and speculation going around, it would be great if Microsoft released an official statement and laid it all to rest. If the rumours do turn out to be true, you can always exercise your freedom of choice, spend your cash on one of the other next gen contenders. Given the high failure rate of the Xbox 360, perhaps the Penny Arcade guys are right when they say that the next Xbox will be ‘always on…’ and this most likely means ‘always on fire’.