Life, The Universe, And Gaming: A Comprehensive Critique Of The Xbox One
This is probably the most intimidating and difficult column I’ve done in my two years plus, of doing this. It’s E3 week, nobody actually cares that much about everything else, all eyes are squarely focused on what Microsoft and Sony are going to be showing during their press conferences later tonight (at the time of publishing) — there’s also those other press conferences from Electronic Arts, Ubisoft and the like, but mostly it’s just Microsoft and Sony that people are lining up to see — and I’m going to try and talk about my thoughts on Microsoft’s Xbox One.
I don’t know, hey. The next generation of consoles… we held it up for so long as something that was coming, like winter to a Stark, and we could not wait to see what we got next from the great manufacturers. Who would have thought that the week before E3 would be quite possibly the most tumultuous, confusing and possibly depressing time of the year, as far as gaming goes. Who would have thought that it would get so heated that almost the entire gaming community joined hands and became united in their single, focused hatred of the policies introduced by Microsoft with their upcoming Xbox One.
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I know I didn’t.
At present time, I stand very much on my own in a field of green, watching angry hordes of gamers ready to burn and pillage everything I hold dear because I seem to be one of the very few people who not only likes the Xbox One, but would not mind owning one and using one in future. And I’m going to try and use this column to explain that it’s not because I’m a fanboy, or blind to what is going on, or anything else. In fact, I am acutely aware of certain negatives to maintaining this stance, and I am not going to stand up and foolishly proclaim everyone on the internet to be incorrect in their judgement of the new console. No. So hear me out, okay? Let’s take a long, detailed stroll through all the finer points of the Xbox One, with its recent news, and then I’ll explain my points of view.
Just so we’re clear, before I even began with this column, I checked out the videos of Jim Sterling, Angry Joe, Total Biscuit and more, so that I was absolutely one hundred percent sure that, a) I was not going to be repeating myself for no reason, and b) There was nothing I had overlooked in my judgement of the console. Now there is some required reading for this column, but I’m going to link each specific aspect of the Connectivity, Licensing and Privacy Features article so that we can keep coherency along the course of what I am going to talk about.
Right, let’s begin.
This part of the article deals with how the console connects to the internet, why it connects to the internet and what it means for you as gamers. I’m going to be focusing the majority of my discussion on this point because it’s been the one that’s created by far, the most uproar, and it is for me, the one part that really brings a destitute frown. So expect some words in anger and some words in defence, where I feel it is necessary to do so.
Do you know, right at the top, on the very first point it begins with simply: “Because every Xbox One owner has a broadband connection”. FUCKING NO. Every Xbox One owner will be forced to have a broadband connection, sure enough, because you retards made it so. Because having a wireless internet line, as many, many current console gamers do, will no longer be enough. And should you fall outside of places with established first-world connectivity, tough. Should you be in said places and experience connectivity issues, tough. Because after all, every Xbox One owner has a broadband connection…
“After signing in and installing, you can play any of your games from any Xbox One because a digital copy of your game is stored on your console and in the cloud.” – Now here is a neat feature that we could do with. This immediately solves the issue of disc scratching and the like, because all you need the disc for is installing your game, and then you can keep it away. Very much like with many PC games of today, this is a feature I can get on board with, because it means my discs last longer and accidentally bumping my console will not result in, well, if you’ve done it before, you know what I’m talking about. Disc porridge, basically.
“Microsoft has created a global network of more than 300,000 Xbox Live and Windows Azure servers.” – Yes, but not all of these servers are going to contain the data for your profile and games, meaning if a cluster of servers goes down, and those are the ones supporting your locale, then you are effectively screwed and cannot participate online, which is made worse by the following.
“With Xbox One you can game offline for up to 24 hours on your primary console, or one hour if you are logged on to a separate console accessing your library. Offline gaming is not possible after these prescribed times until you re-establish a connection, but you can still watch live TV and enjoy Blu-ray and DVD movies.” – This… is troubling. See what this basically means is that if you purchase a game with your hard-earned money, which means not second-hand or anything else — read: You have PAID FOR THE GAME — then you still don’t technically own that game. You are simply licensing it, the same way Steam currently licenses games on PC, where you can download infinite backups of that version digitally but only as long as Steam is up and functioning. The compensation for this is that Steam regularly has sales and drops prices on its games so that it’s worth buying a license, over owning your games. Also, you can go offline if you so desire. In my last column, I expressed my thoughts on licensing versus ownership but in essence, I am fully for the idea of ownership. And this is not ownership.
Make no mistake, and I know it sounds a little conspiracy theorist but prove to me that the gaming industry can be trusted and I will back down from this argument, one day if Microsoft decides to shut everything down and close the servers, that’s that. We’re done. We won’t be able to play a damn thing on our consoles. In five years from now, if I want to put on my Xbox 360 and play Gears of War 3 with some friends, I can do that. Offline, obviously. With the Xbox, that is currently possible. But with the Xbox One… I mean, no, you just can’t. And that’s a huge, huge problem for everyone.
Just last Friday, we experienced a temporary internet outage across the country. If you were gaming at a friend’s house on an Xbox One, that was your gaming session done. If that outage lasted a little longer, chances are your friend would have suffered as well. Sim City and Diablo III have already proven that online authentication servers cannot be trusted to always effortlessly handle everything, so why should we treat Microsoft any differently in this respect? The simple truth of this particular change is that it is an anti-consumerist control mechanism, introduced not because, as they say, they want to keep things up to date and persistent, but because they want to own you and your gaming collection and there is absolutely fuck all that you can do about it. And I’m sorry, but I cannot stand for that, as much as I do want an Xbox One of my own, some day. As it stands, Microsoft are shooting themselves in the foot with this one, but we’ll come back to talking about this later.
This part of the article deals with the licensing of Xbox One games and who exactly gets to use the games you own. For the most part, it details permissions and access rights of either those who also use your console, or those who are a part of your family. For example, if you buy Gears of War and want to play co-op with a sibling, or parent. (In which case, you have a cool parent.)
“Your friends and family, your guests and acquaintances get unlimited access to all of your games. Anyone can play your games on your console–regardless of whether you are logged in or their relationship to you.” – Well this is pretty neat, isn’t it? The inference here is of course that they can play games using their own profiles, which means that if my friend wants to play, say, the new Mass Effect, they need only come over to my place and try it out. Sure it’s a bit of an inconvenience which goes against the idea of leisurely console gaming, but I’ll bet people on Steam would kill for this kind of connectivity. And then it goes even further…
“Up to ten members of your family can log in and play from your shared games library on any Xbox One. Just like today, a family member can play your copy of Forza Motorsport at a friend’s house. Only now, they will see not just Forza, but all of your shared games. You can always play your games, and any one of your family members can be playing from your shared library at a given time. — How is this a bad thing? People are raving on like lunatics about this because they’re saying you don’t know whether it will count specific gamertags, or how it will track who is a family member and so on, and fair play to you guys, we don’t know enough about this just yet, but since when did we get so negative as to always assume the worst like that? This sounds like a fucking awesome idea. Yes it’s a little retarded because Microsoft are basically saying, “Hey! You can play games with your family now, too!” I mean, when wasn’t this already a thing? But consider that now you might be able to have two people simultaneously playing a game for its full experience, on separate consoles. All because they are family members playing a game on your list of shared games. Imagine the potential here, for a moment, before you stoop to criticising the manufacturer’s silliness.
“Xbox One is designed so game publishers can enable you to give your disc-based games to your friends. There are no fees charged as part of these transfers. There are two requirements: you can only give them to people who have been on your friends list for at least 30 days and each game can only be given once.” – Here’s where it gets problematic once again. There’s two big issues here. The first, and most obvious one, is that Microsoft is pointing the finger at publishers and making them out to be the bad people. But Microsoft, you designed these systems as part of an agreement with publishers and retailers. And you know who wasn’t consulted about this one? That’s right, the consumers. And we’re the ones who are going to get fucked by this.
As much as I am okay with abolishing the second-hand market for the most part if it means we get the likes of Steam sales and other incentives to purchase brand new, as much as I want to see online passes disappear into the history books, if it means I now cede my rights to ownership to publishers, then abso-fucking-lutely not.
The second issue I derive from this statement is quite simply based on the long-standing argument that retailers make most of their money from second-hand. Okay, so now second-hand is taking a hit. Furthermore, gaming rental is completely dead with the next generation. So now what? Where will they be recuperating all those lost profits? Oh, right. Primary retail. Brand new games. And what choice will consumers have if these prices are hiked up? That’s right! Absolutely none whatsoever. It’s either pay for it, or download your games online, and from experience with current Xbox LIVE infrastructure, that’s not always a safe bet. Especially when games released five years ago are still retailing for release day prices. This is a huge, huge problem for consumers, and putting our faith in publishers… I mean, that’s just not going to end well.
This one is for all those paranoid parrots who harbour concerns over their privacy, with relation to Kinect and its connectivity being a functional requirement. I admit that I don’t quite understand why Microsoft are doing this, with my only possible explanation perhaps being that they are afraid of how many Kinects they’d sell separately, or conversely, this method allows them standardisation across all consoles. But then if people can just switch them off, what’s the point?
“If you don’t want the Kinect sensor on while playing games or enjoying your entertainment, you can pause Kinect. To turn off your Xbox One, just say “Xbox Off.” When the system is off, it’s only listening for the single voice command — “Xbox On,” and you can even turn that feature off too.” – That’s perfect. What’s the problem here? You can turn off Kinect if you want to, by pausing it, and you can carry on your merry way. If it’s really starting to intimidate you (the way this column intimidates me) then just place a piece of paper over the camera, you conspiracy theorist.
“You can play games or enjoy applications that use data, such as videos, photos, facial expressions, heart rate and more, but this data will not leave your Xbox One without your explicit permission.” – My only worry here is that the Xbox One will lose some functionality if you don’t actually give it explicit permission, as they say. I can very realistically see Microsoft saying something along the lines of, “You want to play Dance Central? You’ll have to enable full access permissions first.” And then what? It’s either you turn it on, or you leave it off and play something else. That is a very real possibility however it is just a possible scenario and not actually a thing just yet, and until it is, what we can take away from this is that the Kinect is not being forced on you. And again, all this really begs is the question of why the unit is then forced on you at purchase. Why, Microsoft, why?
Now we come to the part where I can just go wild and talk, for a bit, about what I think about the Xbox One, given all of these things.
First and foremost, I think it’s pertinent to start off by saying that Microsoft is a marketing powerhouse. They didn’t get to being one of the biggest and most successful companies in the world by simple strong-arm tactics and forcing users to make do with what is offered to them. Sure enough it is Microsoft’s at times questionable practices that have led to Apple’s rising successes, but that’s not entirely the truth. You still cannot refute the marketing mastery that Microsoft possesses.
They did, after all, convince the world that Halo was a game worth playing.
A lot of times you will hear industry insiders claiming that gamers don’t understand the industry, that we don’t know how it all works, and so when we criticise certain business practices then we’re doing so without the full knowledge of what is going on. And yet that doesn’t somehow stop me from making certain conclusions of said business practices. Why? Because experience with the games industry has taught us some valuable lessons. We can make deductions based on patterns. For example, when always-online servers have proven to be dysfunctional, we are within our rights to assume that the same could happen here, with this daily authentication bullshit. As much as I can stand on ceremony and claim that we all realistically have internet that we use on a daily basis, I’m going on a “What if?” scenario. And you just know that pro-consumerist groups such as Anonymous and LulzSec are going to be hacking their way onto the Xbox One version of Xbox LIVE, just to prove a point to Microsoft. To that extent, I might warn everyone to not put on any personal details, for at least the first year of the console’s lifespan.
Another thing that really annoys me is, the way the response from gamers is going, you would swear that the Xbox One is not going to do all of the things that the Xbox 360 already does. Okay, sure, we can’t play borrowed games on the Xbox One, I’ll get to that, but you know what? We can bloody well still play games. This obsession with exclusives… I mean, it’s so segregationist and silly. Sony has a fucktonne of exclusives right now because they are primarily targeting gamers with their new console, but they’re also offering a whole bunch of sharing options. Those sharing options already exist in some form on the Xbox 360, yet the Xbox One is getting criticism for not being more like the PS4. Why? Because it doesn’t have the same number of exclusives and because TV. Yeah, sure, it’s not only a gaming console, now. But do you realise how old you sound when you say that? Here, let me explain with a meme:
That is how you sound. That is how the world interprets you. That is what we’re basically doing, right now. We are an old guard who are too used to ‘the old way’ and we are resisting the change that is inevitable. That happens, fair enough. So it’s not to say this is entirely new to the world. But I will grant that it was a nicer time when our gaming consoles did not iterate with more restrictions than enhancements. I previously defended the new Microsoft console for favouring refinement over reinvention, and I will defend it again. I think the Xbox 360 controller is perfect. I think that the console as a whole is ideal. I have not had an issue with it, apart from the disc scratching which can be annoying, but even then, only if the console is bumped while it’s on. Why criticise the Xbox One for not changing drastically when it can do so much already? Or rather, why criticise it for targeting another market entirely? That of the TV and media consumer.
How dumb do you think Microsoft are, exactly?
I mean sure enough, they gave us Windows 8, but do you think they would intentionally alienate an entire segment of their market? Even if they are targeting a different market with the Xbox One, they know that the Xbox One is not a full-on media device if people don’t buy it for gaming. After all, people have Smart TVs. People have Blu-Ray players. Why would they need the Xbox One? Its primary selling point is, was and will always be the gaming. Microsoft must surely know this, so why are we assuming that they’ve gone and lost it? Sure enough, they will try to get away with as much as they can, but what if that’s not the long and short of it?
The criticism that I can get on board with is that of the always online system. I think that system is base-level control and no amount of PR and marketing mumbo-jumbo (can’t believe I just used that phrase) can possibly explain it away. But this always online system. This form of authentication. This licensing tool. Because that’s what it is. This reeks of publishers trying to get their way. Make no mistake, the gaming industry is a three-way monopoly between manufacturers of consoles, game publishers and game retailers. It’s why regardless of how much one complains about the other, they always work together. You will get publisher sales on Xbox LIVE or PSN, you will get pre-order exclusives at certain retailers. And so on. They look after each other, at the cost of the consumer.
If this always online system is present at release, sure enough I’m going to feel a right git for supporting the Xbox One so vehemently only to have it make me bend over and send a long “fuck you” straight up my puckered sphincter (imagery, hey?) but for the moment, I can’t help but feel that this isn’t all she wrote. We still don’t even know what Sony is planning with the PS4. If it allows for offline play and doesn’t have the second-hand management systems in place on the Xbox One, then surely the PS4 has won the next-gen console war already?
Microsoft cannot possibly hope to compete, they’d be shooting themselves in the foot, so this could explain why they’re going a different route with their media focus. And yet even if you possess all the hubris in the world, you have got to know better than that. Surely. So what don’t we know, right now? What is Microsoft banking on happening with the PS4 that would result in no clear winner for the next-gen console war? Are Sony fans just not considering this, or do they think that Microsoft is so infinitely sure of itself that it would market itself into a hole, this way? Microsoft. The marketing maestros themselves. Please…
All of that said, suddenly we understand better, why Electronic Arts did away with their online passes — although fuck if I don’t take full advantage of that on the current generation of consoles — or why Electronic Arts refused to develop for the Wii U, and the irony of it all is:
(My word, I love Sudden Clarity Clarence memes.) Maybe that’s all it really is, here? Nintendo were the good guys all along, and their insistence on allowing used games and not requiring gamers to always be online, while still developing a console that can handle mainstream gaming has granted them no favour with the greedy trifecta of manufacturers, publishers and retailers. Maybe this is why people are selling their Wii U consoles for next to nothing, and virtually no games are coming out for the ill-fated console.
And yet we ignore it and focus on the two douchebags, Microsoft and Sony.
I sincerely wish it wasn’t the case. And sure enough, after tonight’s E3 press conferences (at the time of publishing) we might well know a lot more that will once again tip the scales in either direction, between the PS4 and the Xbox One, but as it stands, well, you’ve heard the collected thoughts of my mind regarding all of this. I want the Xbox One to succeed. I want it to do well. And that’s mostly because I remember how well the Xbox 360 did in its first few years. I remember a time when people were calling it for the PS3, already declaring it a massive failure, and then I remember EA buying BioWare and Microsoft bringing out Project Natal and from there, it just all went to pot. And deep down, I desire some equilibrium. If you’re a fan of Muse, or you’ve heard Unsustainable before (this one’s for you) then you might have a decent idea of what I’m talking about here.
Microsoft, I want so badly to believe in you but right now you are making that really difficult for me. I don’t mind if you go after TV viewers, I don’t mind if you turn my gaming console into a multimedia device, I don’t even mind if you slap ESPN and Skype logos all over the place, just please, I’m begging you, reconsider this always-online daily activation bullshit and I am yours.
Because if you don’t, and it’s very likely that you won’t, then Sony has already won the next-gen console war, I’m afraid.