New Xbox Console Preview: The E3 Primer
Hostile To The Consumer?
Of course, you don’t really give a damn what’s under the hood, right? You’re more interested in whether or not the new Xbox is going to work the way you’d like it to work. It’s for that reason that the subject of the most intense discussion are dueling rumors that with the new Xbox, Microsoft plans to force an absolutely painful transition on customers, and one with an indefensible price tag to boot.
Rumors are consistent that the system won’t be cheap. According to multiple reports, it will likely set gamers back to the tune of five hundred dollars. Quite frankly, in this economy, and considering the prior example of PLaystation 3, that is stunning hubris.
And what does one get for their $500.00? First, a system that requires Kinect in order to operate. But whatever Microsoft claims, if this requirement makes it into the consumer version of the console, it is almost certainly related to a disturbing patent Microsoft filed in 2012, bearing the Orwellian title “Content Distribution Regulation by Viewing User“.
Described in the patent filing as a “consumer detector,” the system would allow “content providers to regulate the presentation of content on a per-user-view basis”. In other words, Netflix, or whichever video-rental service you choose, could enable your Xbox to count the number of people you’ve invited over to watch the latest episode of Justified. If they’ve determined the total number of your friends exceeds the maximum allowed by their content license agreement, playback could be halted while the user is forced to purchase additional licenses.
If that doesn’t sound bad enough, another feature consistently verified by leaks is that games must be saved to the hard drive in order to play, as discs will not actually be read by the optical sensor. Though players may begin playing during installation, and the hard drive is rumored to be huge, this requirement is less about maximum functionality and more about an extensive DRM regimen, perhaps the most invasive ever conceived.
According to numerous sources, the new console will require players to maintain a constant internet connection in order to function. This configuration is apparently described as “Always On, Always Connected” in internal documents, and other leaks and documents indicate the company’s official position is that the requirement is a bonus for consumers, allowing automatic updates and patches, even if the device is powered down.
However, the claim that the always-connected requirement is a mere feature rather than an invasive DRM scheme is undermined by reports that the always-online requirement would extend to every single feature, including playing single player games installed from the disc, watching your dvds and blu-rays, and even accessing the hard drive. Worse, according to leaked specs, the console will automatically boot players out of any game or application, without auto-save, if an Internet connection is interrupted for more than three minutes.
If that wasn’t bad enough, other rumors claim that the the console will also require a subscription to Xbox Live, meaning that players are being forced to maintain two technologically distinct financial obligations on top of having already shelled out more than $500.00. Quite frankly, this is such astonishing hubris and failure to understand the gaming community or the amount of hardship the current economy will allow people to tolerate that it borders on fiction. Our first reaction is to reject the notion out of hand.
Unfortunately, Microsoft has refused to comment officially on the matter. However, the company continues to leak like a sieve, with conflicting reports of system features, but never any outright denial that the system will require persistent Internet in order to work. Paul Thurrott of Windows IT Pro, for example, claims to know from sources connected to the system’s deveopment that the requirement “isn’t as Draconian as many seem to believe”. At best, some sources claim that the system only allows individual developers to release games that require persistent internet, but will not otherwise require it. Note that none of the people disputing the totality of the online requirement dispute other rumors, like the Xbox Live requirement.
A scheme which allows game developers to spring DRM on law abiding players is bad enough, but one as far reaching as most sources claim Microsoft is cooking up would be disastrous and, I believe, an argument against purchase. (This is especially true after taking into account the fact that Sony will not be including a similar requirement in Playstation 4). We will be paying close attention to the official unveiling, during which we’ll finally learn if Microsoft has that level of contempt for its customers.