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Next Xbox: Is Always-On Functionality All Bad?


Microsoft needs to hurry up and confirm its new multimedia gaming system, the Xbox 720 (or Xbox 3 or Durango or whatever have you). Why? Because similar to gossip around Windows Blue early on, things are getting pretty wild when it comes to speculation regarding always-on DRM, used gaming abilities and other related issues.

IF Microsoft goes with an always-on policy for its next Xbox console, there are some strong negatives here. There are also some positives hidden underneath. So let’s talk about that for a bit, shall we? Let’s start with the biggest ‘negatives’ in regards to the next Xbox always being on.

Always-On Xbox: Cons

Not everyone has high-speed Internet: I know it’s hard to believe. Even in developed countries in Europe, North America, Asia and elsewhere, some people still use dial-up or only have Internet access through their smartphone.

As tablets and smartphones become more commonplace, many folks are turning to cellular connections and cutting the cable/DSL cord at home.

If you don’t want/need a powerful laptop or desktop, you might have no need for home Internet. It seems like a pretty big pain in the ass to pay for online connectivity in your home if your only device using it is the Xbox.

There is also the concern about if you have high-speed Internet but it goes down for whatever reason. The main time I seem to play my console systems or even PC games is when the Internet is out of commission for a little while. I would personally hate the idea of my expensive console pretty much just being a shiny brick when my net connection is down.

Concerns about used games: Just yesterday, Nowgamer published an article where they claim that a source close to Xing’s interactive managing director has unofficially confirmed the next Xbox 720 will not only require always-on but will also have DRM that could make it so used games are a thing of the past.

While I’d take this assertion with a grain of salt, it is something to think seriously about. In a perfect scenario, maybe Microsoft would only require you to ‘register’ your game once and lock it to the console, where it would install and not require the disc to play. Then if you didn’t want it anymore and wished to sell it, you could simply ‘de-register’ it and it would remove all the files from your system, making it a clean disc copy that could then be resold.

In a nightmare scenario, Microsoft locks the game to your system and checks every time you play. It can be delocked and so there is no reselling it if you decide the purchase wasn’t a good one.

Just the idea: With SimCity have server issues because many of the game’s elements where in the cloud, you might feel that a time could come when the next Halo isn’t playable the day or even week you buy it because the single-player campaign (for those of us that actually play it) requires you to be online and the servers are bogged down.

We are no doubt moving to a computing future that fully lives in the cloud, and that’s means an “always on” lifestyle. Some of us aren’t ready to make that change right now, however.

Always-On Xbox: Pros

Is always on DRM all doom and gloom? Not necessarily. There could be positive aspects as well.

Better online integration: Xbox Live is already an immersive experience with plenty to do, but allowing it to go fully to the cloud for save files, social interaction and other elements could make the experience even better.

Even single-player games could be enhanced with social features and perhaps even the ability for friends to jump in and ‘help’ a little. Though some of us (myself included) like single-player experiences where we are truly left alone to handle ourselves.

An always updated experience: In its lifespan, the Xbox 360’s software has changed so dramatically (multiple times) that you almost feel like a late-2005 Xbox 360 and that same Xbox 360 today are two different systems with the addition of tons of apps and other experiences that weren’t there from day one.

With an always-on experience, your console could turn itself on to pre-fetch these changes and ensure that you always have the latest software. That means you won’t turn on your console, go on live and then find you have to wait to play because you need to download some patch first.

No need for them pesky discs: With always-on DRM, you could just install your game from the disc and then archive it for later. That means no need to worry about discs when it is time to play your favorite Xbox title.

How often aren’t we online? For the vast majority of us, we log into our PS3 Network or Xbox Live the second we start our console even if we aren’t planning on playing multiplayer, heading to the store, or doing anything else that requires an online experience.

Not to mention so many of us use our consoles as a multimedia gateway almost more than we do for gaming, from movies to music and even television.

Going always-on doesn’t seem like a huge stretch in this case and makes us more open to receiving messages and other social data from our friends and family.

Summing it all up…

In short, there are a few positive reasons to give in to an always-on Xbox, but do they outweigh the negatives? While I personally am leaning towards “no”, it really depends on your own personal feelings. For some people, the idea might not be perfect, but it wouldn’t be a deal breaker either.

Others would absolutely say that if Xbox goes down this path, they aren’t interested. Ultimately I feel that Microsoft will evaluate the opinion of its gaming and multimedia-viewing audience before doing anything too drastic, but you never know.

How do you feel about the always-on Xbox? Would you still buy one or not?

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About Andrew Grush

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  1. I don’t think there is any pro to always-on DRM. It is designed to take away freedom.

    My XBOX hasn’t been online since 2009. I don’t care about XBOX Live or multiplayer gaming, and would have to buy a Wi-Fi adapter in order to use it.

  2. None of the “pros” you listed require the Xbox to be “always on”.

  3. Liukangstoupee

    Pros that may not necessarily be pros of can be done without AO-DRM:

    Better online integration: How does the AO-drm help this at all? you can have this achieved without the AO-drm simply by activating it only when you are logged on XBL.

    Always updated experience: Convience, yes but not always for the better. A buggy update can cause a world of hurt, and Microsoft does not have a cleansheet when it comes to updates(Windows is a perfect example). The Pros may outweigh the cons, still the option to enable and disable this feature is something consumers will be more thankful for.

    No More Pesky Disc: Might come as a surprise to some, but many gamers actually prefer having a physical copy to load off of. Take the instance that a console broke down and you needed to replace the hardware. Replace the console and the gamer is back in the game. Also what about players lending or taking a game to a friend’s house to play?

    How often aren’t we online: Well ask the wonderful people that Adam Orth offended, that’s your answer.

    Ultimately, The option of being always on is a good idea, but to force people to always be on will only upset potential consumers when they don’t have dedicated internet.

  4. Bahamut Dragons

    Better Onlne Integration: Shouldn’t the player be allowed to decide how “online” he is? Sometimes I don’t want to chat with people, and I certainly don’t use twitter or facebook in any meaningful way.

    Always updated experience: Worst part of this generation of gaming. It makes for sloppy programming, day 1 patches and all kinds of bull* which were only the exception in the previous era of gaming, not the norm. It gives publishers an out and if the game doesn’t sell, they don’t have to invest in providing a good experience for people who actually bought the game.

    No need for pesky disks: Steam has online authentication, yet games remain playable offline.

    How often arn’t we online: Sure, but I get to choose to be or not. I get to choose my visibility. A decision like always online DRM is against player’s choice.

  5. Let’s not forget to mention the potential of cloud computing so not just social interactions take place in the cloud but actually computation sharing the heavy lifting with the console. It is in its early stages now but when you look at MS starting XBL in 2001 they are a company that plans for the future.

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