Looks like the next Xbox console will play games both offline and online after all
Microsoft is scheduled to reveal the next Xbox console (codenamed Durango) in two weeks’ time on May 21st. The announcement of the reveal event marks the first time the console maker has publicly acknowledged the existence of the upcoming system. Still, the gaming industry has known about the next Xbox for quite some time now thanks to the usual steady trickle of leaks and rumors.
One of those rumors that we haven’t addressed here at Windows Phone Central is that the new console would require an internet connection in order to function. We’ll expand on that rumor in just a bit. The new rumor (which I take for truth) is that the next Xbox will not require an always-on internet connection after all. Thank goodness!
Always on what?
Image courtesy of Penny Arcade
The original rumor about the new console requiring an internet connection in order to function stems from a report from Edge Magazine in February, though less credible whisperings existed even before that. Edge is a highly respected publication, so their sureness about the requirement basically swayed the gaming media at large into a similar sureness.
The core conceit behind the always-online requirement is that games would not be playable in the absence of an internet connection. The reason that would be desirable is obvious: it would likely shut out the used game market and make a significant dent in software piracy as well. Game makers make no profit from the sale of used games (unless the used software purchaser also buys DLC such as online passes or map packs), so there has long been interest in curbing or locking out used game sales entirely.
While we can understand why Microsoft and publishers would want next Xbox owners to have an internet connection and to hinder used game sales, that rumored requirement always seemed like a big mistake.
First off, used game retailer Game Stop would be very unlikely to support a console for which they couldn’t sell used software. Exclude a key retail partner like GameStop and your console’s chances of success drop exponentially – as SEGA once discovered when they alienated another retailer back in the Sega Saturn days.
Even more importantly, you can’t count on every console gamer actually having home internet access. Sure, most of us here in America and Europe do, but we can’t say the same for people living in rural areas or the inhabitants of many other nations. And even if gamers have access to the net, what happens if their internet connections or the Xbox Live servers drop? Online-only PC games like The Sims and World of Warcraft simply become unplayable during those downtimes.
Attitudes towards the potential requirement varied depending on one’s home internet situation and other factors – one of our own staff noted that he always has a connection when using his Xbox 360 anyway. But make no mistake, the requirement would lock out some potential customers and dissuade others. All of that would in turn give the Playstation 4 a significant advantage over Microsoft’s offering.
Fears about the Durango’s always-on requirement culminated when Adam Orth, a Creative Director within Microsoft made some rather insensitive comments about the objections towards the “always-on” requirement. A public outcry followed, Microsoft quickly apologized, and the next week Orth (also an outspoken critic of the Halo franchise) left the company.
Jump ahead a month and the PR fiasco over those tweets now looks to have a massive silver lining. Today, Ars Technica published an internal email sent to full-time Microsoft employees working on the new Xbox. It states:
The email contradicts Edge’s initial report about the always-on requirement, but it doesn’t mean the previous report was in error. Rather, the PR fiasco following Orth’s Twitter comments seems to have inspired a change of policy within Microsoft. After all, you don’t send out an email to remind employees about a policy that has already been in place for months. This level-headed policy must be new.
In fact, Kotaku claims that internal factions within Microsoft have long been in contention over the Durango’s internet requirement. One side (the one that has at least a modicum of understanding of the console gaming industry) does not want the requirement, while another side wants it. Previously, the always on camp reigned supreme, but clearer heads eventually prevailed.
The warring factions explanation doesn’t surprise me a bit; I’ve long contended that “Internal politics and competing divisions are probably the single greatest obstacle Microsoft faces going forward.”
Up next: a rosy future?
The new Xbox won't be always online, but these memes will always be fun.
If we take that internal email as gospel, the news that the next Xbox won’t require a persistent internet connection can only be good. Yes, some of the new system’s features will require access to the internet, just like the Xbox 360 and every other modern console. But the core gaming functionality, movie disc playback, and cable TV functions will work with or without the internet.
Speaking of gaming functionality, let’s look at that phrase “playing a single player game.” You could jump to conclusions and interpret that as meaning the Durango won’t support split-screen or offline multiplayer games. But that would be really silly.
Instead, let’s assume that the email writer thinks of games with that ‘single player = offline, multiplayer = online’ divide that non-gamers sometimes believe. There is literally no reason that local multiplayer will be eliminated or require an online connection given that single-player games won’t require such a connection.
That said, Ars Technica does raise the question of whether next Xbox games could require an internet connection during installation but not during gameplay. See, another one of those persistent rumors that everybody believes is that the system won’t play games directly from the disc. Instead, installation will be mandatory.
That could be a downer for people looking to jump straight into gameplay after unwrapping a shiny new game, assuming installation won’t end up as a background process like it will on Playstation 4. But either way, mandatory installation is a step forward compared to the Xbox 360. Because the 360 comes with or without a hard drive, developers could never count on users actually having a hard drive. That limited how much games could actually take advantage of the hard drive and sometimes caused incompatibility problems (as Halo Reach suffered when played without a hard drive at launch).
We’ll learn some of the details behind game installation and online features during the official next Xbox reveal on May 21st. You can bet that Microsoft will state whether games can be played offline either during the conference or a subsequent interview that week. Check back with us on the 21st for our coverage of the reveal!
Update: Sadly, the source proved incorrect. The Xbox One does require an internet connection.
Source: Ars Technica via Kotaku. Next Xbox Mockup image from Yanko Design.
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Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!
And he wasn't anybody high up or important within Microsoft, so he likely wasn't privvy to the information anyway.
It makes no sense that Microsoft would change a pretty fundamental aspect of their console this late in the game (they must be almost 100% done by now). I don't buy the argument that a company doesn't send reminder emails about policy - most Microsoft employees would not know anything about the new Xbox, and this could easily be setting the record straight so everybody is on the same page.
If Microsoft changed their tune after the outcry - good (but how could they be so dumb in the first place to require live Internet connection to do offline things like a single-player game?)
Certainly from a literal interpretation he does not mention Internet connectivity AT ALL specifically. If he meant always online he could have said that.
If the online/offline functionality is all handled at an OS level I don't believe a creative director would necessarily know about the final plans - since games would possibly not actively have to handle anything.
It comes down to what is most plausible to me. I may be wrong, but the tweets (which don't specify Internet), and the sheer unbelievability that Xbox would need a live Internet connection to work AT ALL, and the closeness to release make it implausible that Microsoft have changed their mind and reversed a major decision.
We don't have the facts. Can we reliably infer from tweets that he was talking about online connectivity when he never specifically mentioned it? Can we even be sure the original rumours were based in fact? Is this email memo even legit?
We'll find out soon if the online requirement is real, but we'll probably never know of what plans they had before that.
Flipping something like this isn't just a matter of flipping a bit from "on" to "off" - changing something core to the system like this, especially when other teams and other companies are involved, didn't just happen in the last few months because of some user feedback. Things that big rarely change that quickly in engineering (I say that as an engineer myself).
Here's some information from an alleged "insider" that indicates the opposite of what's stated here. This was posted on 4/17. I'm more likely to believe this guy (given the incredibly detailed specs and architecture details from the same source) than I am this article. I'm all over the insider info you guys get for Windows Phone, but I think you've missed here on the Xbox side... http://www.vgleaks.com/rumor-durango-leaks-analyzed-by-anonymous-source-pastebin-doc/
You are not required to be connected to the internet in order to play Durango games and MS were NEVER considering doing such a thing. Now please, just read that last sentence over and over again until it sinks in. Done? Good.
And yes, a "leaked" memo stating that "even single player games" are available offline is absolutely necasary. Why would they waste a bunch of time at the conference talking about something that should have been fairly clear.
However, I hope they move heavy towards a digital store. Steam is a shining example of why this is good. I get games at heavily discounted prices just a few weeks after launch often times whereas consoles can only go to used game stores and till pay more than Steam sales. I'd love to see used games die in favor of a good online service with awesome sales.
It's just the way our society as a whole is moving. You don't have to like it but it's not going to change it. 10 years from now physical media will be dead. If it takes that long.
It's very easy to catch deals for "newish" games if you pay attention and don't need to have it on release day. Or you can wait a year and get it for super cheap.
Games aren't investments (with the rare exception of very old game that had limited release, etc) they ALWAYS go down in value. Gamers with smaller budgets are going to have to learn how to adjust their consumption because physical media is going to go away.
I'm still not understanding the point you are trying to make. When people got to the movies or a concert or go out to dinner are people angrily parting with their money? You don't get to "repeat" those experiences. You can pay to enjoy them on a seperate occasion though. What about renting a movie from red box, or iTunes, or subscribing to Netflix or Spotify???
Big box retailers have bigger issues to worry about than whether they are going to sell game consoles in the future (like competing with Amazon.com etc). It is possible to sell and distribute hardware without a big box retailer (ever order anything online before?). More difficult yes but not impossible and it will only get easier in the future.
Also let's ignore the success of download only Steam and the rise of mobile games while we are at because nobody is used to paying for games that they can't trade in...
Cry all you want, and enjoy your recycling program while it last, because there is NOTHING you can do to stop progress. Physical dics will become a niche product in the next decade.
Yes big budget game still come out on disc so they are available to people without good internet connections. If you actually read my comments you'll notice that I said its going to be quite a few years until disc based releasedsare the exception rather than the rule. More people will get better internet over time.
To answer your question "If all games went to streaming where would you buy a console?"
You would buy it directly from MS or Sony websites, Amazon, and possible the online versions of the brick-and-mortar stores you mentioned. Seriously, did you know that people can pay for goods from their computer and have them delieverd to their front door! Consider it magic...
There is another case where brick and mortor can't hold consoles hostage if there are no physical game discs taking up shelf space.
Tablets are typically a 30% profit.
Think a bit. If you were a CEO would you give up shelf space without making profit?
On another note shelf space for games is advertisement. You can't beat that type of advertisement.
The topic of the discussion turned toward B & M getting a cut of all software sold on disc!!!!!
B&M don't see dime one if somebody decides to buy a $.99 app from iTunes or Google Play.
Why would B&M stop getting a cut of anything sold in their stores, including consoles? Nobody actually said that in the thread, you need to slow down and actually READ.
It's like trying to talk to DELL.
I want the new console to have 100% downloadable games, not a select few.
I also don't mind the always on if it was very effective against robbing bit torrenting theives. Sock it to em.
I think the last time I went into a store to buy a CD, Steve Jobs was messing around with Next machines. Good riddance.
Stop making generalisations for everyone. If you don't like physical media, then fine. That's your choice. As you can see, some of us prefer physical media and that's the reason it's still around.
See the part about the 360 SoC (which has come up a number of times).
MS is huge and unless you were in the know at Xbos, you probably didn't know the policy regarding "always on." So it's highly likely that in the shadow of the upcoming Xbox reveal, Microsoft sent out the memo to set the mood cause undoubtedly people were asking questions given the big upcoming date.
I think Orth leaving is proof that he had no idea what he was talking about. if his twitter was gospel, then he theoretically shouldn't have left since he was only telling the truth. instead he was spreading rumors and gossip on the internet about something he truly didn't know about.
Again, Microsoft "leaking" this memo isn't proof that the policy changed. If anything they were just reiterating a policy about a very important product that's about to be announced and didn't want the already false rumors to get ahead of it. Sorry, but I find it extremely difficult to believe that they'd remove a feature for a product that's about to be announced. We've seen how slow they've been to fix Windows 8 and implement features into Windows Phone. Do you really think they'd have time to change the infrastructure of the next Xbox and alert all game developers and publishers in the matter of 1-2 months? Highly doubt it. It was never meant to be a system that's always on.
I for one would definitely buy it if it supported keyboad/mouse setup; I am a PC gamer and there is just no way I am switching to a controller setup.
Plus it would enable RTS games to be made on the console, not to mention better FPS gameplay.
I could see the next Xbox always being turned on especially with Kinect. The result would be like what you see in movies where someone walks into the room and the device says hello, etc... :)
That being said, I believe the console will have the "capability" of being always online for various extra features. The system will have a "low power" mode for when you turn off the system, it will still somehow be online. " For what?", you may ask....well, it's so that you can communicate with your console remotely. Out at work and glimpse the latest hot game or DLC? Put it to download. That's right, by the time you get home, instead of waiting for your content to download, it will already be on your HDD and ready to play. Personally I can't wait for the 21st.
I'm sure they played with it and came up with what they saw as the best implementation of it. And then they weigh up the pros and the cons and come to a decision. And it obvious that the pros just don't beat the cons.
And all the reporting of "It will be always on" was done before they weighed up the pros and cons and came to a decision.
It's a good argument that there are fundermental high level flaws with always on that they need an answer to before they even think about making a prototype - a decent percentage of the audience has no internet or bad internet, how will it work for them? But, a company Microsoft's side can afford to invest in some prototypes.
I do at my work, all the time. People tend to forget policies and do their own thing.