Tuesday, 9 April 2013

An always online console is mad

We're at that stage in the cycle of videogames where the old consoles will soon be surpassed by the next generation.

Or, are we?

The PS4 looks like a swankier PS3, although there's not a huge amount of innovation. The Xbox720/Durango/Nextbox looks like it might, perhaps, be the most deranged marketing decision since Gerald Ratner decided to make a witty speech.

Speculation is rife that the next Microsoft console offering (due to be unveiled in May) will have a unique feature. Unfortunately, that feature is rumoured to be the necessity of always being online.

There's been a lot written about this, and here's a concise summary (apologies if I missed off any obvious points):
An always online system with a camera is very 1984
If your connection is even slightly dodgy you'll never be able to play for more than a few minutes
If the online infrastructure at Microsoft's end is less than perfect then when *they* have a problem *you* won't be able to play
When the Xbox1080 comes out there's every chance the 720 online infrastructure will be axed and you won't be able to play
It could mean that new games come with a code needed to enable play, verified online, killing the whole second hand games market for the Xbox
Huge areas of the world, even including First World countries, have either no internet or patchy internet, severely limiting the potential market
The PS4 has the same sort of hardware and has been confirmed not to need a permanent internet connection

Now, excepting the Mega Drive I've had Playstations, so the odds always were I'd be looking at Sony's console first anyway. But if the PS4 had always-online and the Xbox didn't, I'd either not buy a console or, more likely, go for the Xbox. My desktop has a pretty solid connection but my console's wireless is ropey. If I needed always-online now it'd make playing videogames frustrating to the point at which I'd just stop.

Then there's the issue of subscription. Again, this is not confirmed (or denied), but I've heard that there will be two versions of the Xbox1984 available. For $500 you'll be able to buy the console. For $300, the console, but on a subscription basis (presumably meaning you pay X dollars every so often to get it to work, and because it needs an online connection [possibly] if you don't buy they can deny you whatever online thingummyjig enables the console to work and play games).

Jim Sterling, of the Escapist's Jimquisition, had a very good rant about SimCity for its similar approach to online connectivity and the efforts of the industry to shift from selling a product to selling a subscription or a service, which entails repeatedly charging people for things they already own.

When I was a kid cartoons were much better, but in addition to that there were two big game companies: Sega and Nintendo. Nintendo has ducked out of the battle to an extent and ploughed its own furrow and Sega's Dreamcast/Saturn failure ended its console creation. Neither Sony nor Microsoft have a God-given right to own the market, and I'm hoping that if one has always-online as a requirement and one does not then the former has bloody awful sales and gets crushed by the latter.


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