Sometimes I feel like somebodys watchin me…
Courtesy Will Greenwald, PC Magazine
Microsoft’s big Xbox One reveal showed off a lot of new features coming to the console. However, underneath many of those features are limitations that have had gamers worried about the next generation of consoles for months. Expanded Kinect features, cloud computing aspects, and the ability to install retail games completely to the hard drive sound great for users, but the technology that makes them tick and how Microsoft will implement them signals a dark future for gamers who want to control what they buy and use.
Microsoft has been hesistant to give specific details about how these features will be implemented, but between bits of information Microsoft let slip toWired and Polygon, and Kotaku’s recent interview with Microsoft vice president Phil Harrison, it doesn’t look good, and confirms some fears I’ve had for over a year.
The good news is you won’t have to be online all the time to play single-player games. The bad news is you’ll have to get online regularly to use the Xbox One at all. In fact, even if you only want to play single-player games, you need to sign on to Xbox Live about once a day, Harrison told Kotaku.
After Harrison let that detail slip, Microsoft tried to walk it back and said it was just a "potential scenario." Well, it’s the "potential scenario" we’ve been fearing since the start of the always-on rumors.
Here’s the trick: logging in once an hour, day, or week is always on. Effectively, it means you have to maintain a reliable connection to regularly sign on to Xbox Live. It doesn’t matter if you only play single player games and it really doesn’t matter if your Internet connection is spotty. If you can’t phone Microsoft with your Xbox One every day (or any other length of time in a "potential scenario"), you can’t play.
It gets better. According to Wired, used games are limited with online verification. That means you can’t readily find a second-hand game, or trade it to a friend, or do anything with it without paying a fee through Microsoft. Once again, something you buy is limited and controlled by the manufacturer even after you pay money for it. And, once again, it relies on an online connection to work at all. The Xbox One will "enable customers to trade and resell used games," but only through Microsoft’s system. Trading between friends? Might have to pay a fee. Buying used games from game stores? Might have to pay a fee. Want to play a used game in a few years when the Xbox Four is announced? Tough to say if it will be possible.
After the last console generation, we’ve become used to the lack of backwards compatibility. The Wii U and 3DS soldier on with Wii and DS game compatibility, but the PS3 can’t play PS2 games anymore (at least not ones you physically own and don’t want to buy again from the store), and the Xbox 360 can’t play more than a handful of original Xbox games.
Sure, we can still buy the older systems and play games on there. But requiring a digital transaction to make even current-generation games work blows that completely away without the possibility of it coming back. When Microsoft stops supporting the Xbox One connection and trading features, and it will eventually do just that, say goodbye to playingany game from that generation. How do we know that’s in the cards? Try to play the original Halo or Halo 2 online. You can’t, because the Xbox Live servers for those games no longer run. You can buy Halo Anniversary Edition and play it on the Xbox 360, but that still requires you to buy the game again when you already have Halo. We can’t count on Microsoft maintaining the servers that run these services in perpetuity.
What happens after they go down? Your game collection is worthless. Flea markets and eBay sales? Plastic junk without even nostalgia value. Your favorite games? Nothing more than coasters and locked up files. That is the result of needing to log on regularly and ask permission to trade games. If you want to play older games, you’re going to have to buy them again in whatever form the few they bother to update take for the new system.
Then there’s the Kinect. Feature-wise, I have hope for the Kinect being useful and pleasant to use. However, I also fear it like I fear anything that sits in my apartment, watching and listening to me at all times. If you want to use the Xbox One, you have to use the Kinect. According to Polygon, it will always be listening. You can’t disconnect it. You can’t turn it off. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And if you use your Xbox One for watching TV, it will be watching you whenever you’re in your living room. The features might be handy, but the features don’t have any opt out; the only way to get the Kinect to not watch and listen to you is to turn the Xbox One off.
The Xbox One seems like a huge upgrade to the Xbox 360 in features, but it also seems like a huge downgrade in freedom. Choices will be ripped out of gamers’ hands.