The Challenges Facing an ‘Always-On’ Console

It’s been a hot topic of discussion since early March, when rumours surfaced that the new Xbox, often referred to as the “Xbox 720,” would feature an “always-on” system requiring gamers to have an internet connection in order to play. Nothing perpetuated the probability of […]
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It’s been a hot topic of discussion since early March, when rumours surfaced that the new Xbox, often referred to as the “Xbox 720,” would feature an “always-on” system requiring gamers to have an internet connection in order to play. Nothing perpetuated the probability of an always-on system until Adam Orth, Microsoft Studios Creative Director, tweeted: “I don’t get the drama around having an “always on” console” earlier this month.

A back-and-forth exchange over the social network exposed gamers to a possible insight on how Microsoft plans to handle DRM with its next consoles, and the feedback hasn’t been good. Only a few weeks ago, Electronic Arts went under fire for always-on requirements for SimCity, a feature that caused server overloads and shutdowns that kept people from playing the game at all. It was Electronic Theatre Imagea gaffe so catastrophic to Electronic Arts that it landed them Consumerist’s Worst Company in America award for the second consecutive year.

So Mr. Orth, what is the drama around having an always-on console? Enough to convince you to buy a PlayStation.

The Servers Can’t Handle It

We already have two epic examples of server failures when games insist on using an internet service provider for a required connection. The first happened when Blizzard released Diablo III requiring an Internet connection to play, even in single-player mode. The videogame went live in 2012 and players were left staring at an error message for hours.

The example with SimCity is even worse. Servers were so overwhelmed that no one could log in for days, leaving frustrated gamers demanding refunds from Electronic Arts and getting promptly denied. Microsoft certainly has the ability to build servers that can handle the traffic from potential Xbox traffic, but that doesn’t guarantee that they will.

PlayStation 4 Won’t Be Always-On

In a move that could potentially thrust Sony past Xbox’s unstoppable dynasty, developers behind the new PlayStation officially announced thatElectronic Theatre Image the console will not be always-on stating they understand some gamers like to play offline by themselves. Given the above circumstances, even the most devoted Xbox gamers could make the jump from Microsoft to Sony if an always-on technology is enforced.

Some of Us are Anti-Social

Social networking has almost completely engulfed gaming today – Xbox LIVE, multiplayer, making friends online – these are all features millions of gamers love. But not all of us. Some of us just want to pop in Dead Space, turn off the lights and play in complete silence and solitude. The option to play socially online is great, but the ability to switch offline remains important to many gamers.

Don’t Be Fooled, It’s all About Piracy

Electronic Arts tried to tout SimCity‘s always-on requirement as an amazing new way to play with your friends and grow communities with neighbouring cities, and maybe somewhere in the labs of Maxis that was one developer’s goal. But requiring an internet connection to play a videogame or console comes right down to piracy. By requiring you to be online at all times, the videogame or console’s developers know whether or not you’re really purchased the videogame or are playing with a counterfeited copy. Xbox LIVE can already do this, but with a required connection, Microsoft could catch even more offenders.

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