Note: This is an editorial. The writer’s opinions do not necessarily represent the editors’ of ScreenInvasion.com
Earlier today, Microsoft finally put an end to many nagging questions about the Xbox One in terms of its online requirements, used games sales, cloud storage, and Kinect integration by releasing a detailed explanation of its features. Read it first, then come back. I have to applaud them on their forthright news release that answers every question I had during our coverage of the Xbox One reveal. Why they didn’t release this 2 1/2 weeks ago is beyond me, but I’m happy they finally finished putting out all those nagging PR fires by throwing a fresh splash of rancid gasoline on their fledgling console’s already tarnished reputation.
If you don’t want to read this entire article and my oh-so-detailed analysis of the Xbox One information, I’ll sum it up for you: don’t buy an Xbox One. Not until they make some serious design changes. Normally, I wouldn’t make such sweeping declarations before a console is even released, but after learning straight from the dark lords themselves, Microsoft’s black box is now a big, dumb, slightly menacing cave troll that needs an internet connection or it can’t smash hobbits.
Here is a brief list of the lovely “features” Xbox One has planned for you (via Reddit):
This is not a console.
Remember when you could just buy a game, go home, plop it in your system, and just, you know, play it if the internet was out? Or when you were done with it, trade it in or gift it to a friend? Or even lend a copy to your friend so they could try it out? Or even take it to their place and play it together?
That time has passed for Microsoft. All of those actions listed above will no longer be available on the new Xbox One. None of them. This sudden shift towards a compartmentalized, rigidly defined play environment is especially ironic considering their first Xbox was popularized by Halo LAN parties: a possibility only built by in-person social interaction.
But wasn’t that always the case with consoles? They create their own ecosystems with highly specialized rituals, communities, and exclusive games. The paradigm shift here is that you are no longer a game disc owner, you are a game disc licensee. That’s never happened before with physical media in game consoles. You don’t physically own anything, Microsoft is just giving you permission to play it (sometimes) in a sharply controlled environment. That little piece of plastic you’re holding is just permission. The social aspect of gaming, in Microsoft’s world, needs to exist entirely online. No more sharing. No more gifting (not really). No more casual game sessions with friends in their living rooms. No more control over your game disc. Welcome to your new digital ghetto: your own living room.
What greatly troubles me about this horseshit is that Microsoft is slowly squeezing how and when and where we can enjoy their games into a smaller and smaller space. The real irony is that the internet almost always pushes us into a more open platform for software, and that Microsoft’s commitment is to online gaming is stiflingly obtuse. Microsoft simply doesn’t want you to be connected in a way that they don’t approve. They want those dollars. They’re subtly telling us what type of person they want to buy their console: an upper middle-class family with a stable internet and cable connection, that has little interest in social interaction outside of a special, exclusive network. Sorry, poors. Sorry, weird Europeans and internationals. No soup for you.
The need to connect to the internet every 24 hours is Microsoft’s internal compromise. They wanted always-online because they can data-mine the fuck out of your playtime (especially with Kinect always watching), present you with more and more advertisements (preferably in-game), and finally crush homebrew games and the spectre of piracy. Waffling on this decision, Microsoft has created a mutant version that scientifically reduces the amount of anger over always-on DRM, an anti-piracy measure that has no success stories. They’ve done it in such a way that the minimal amount of people will be pissed off about their DRM. That’s what this is, DRM. Don’t call it anything else. It’s DRM. It’s not the corporate-speak of “connectivity”. It’s DRM.
These changes fly in the face of over 30 years of console convention: that when you bought a physical copy of a game, you could do with it what you wanted (other than copying it for commercial gain). They’re hoping that their cloud services will overshadow this very limiting restriction. But not for an actual, physical disc I bought from a store. This isn’t a console anymore, it’s a license machine. I’ve honestly never seen this before in console gaming: every single “feature” they highlight is actually a restriction.
Their response: deal with it.
The worst of PC gaming, none of the benefits
The benefit of console gaming are simplicity and portability. I can buy a game in a store and play it on my console the same day. I could pack up my console and take it elsewhere, like a party. I don’t have to worry about tech specs or finicky installs. I could resell my games when I was done with them. It’s just supposed to work: no muss, no fuss. However, on my PC, I can’t do a lot of that. Hardware can vastly range in price and assembly takes homework. Games can be erratic in performance. Console ports generally suck.
I’ll ask the question, why don’t I care about licensing or many of these issues on my PC with Steam? Since Steam has over 70% of the digital market, and Microsoft is trying to emulate this in console form, let’s compare the two in terms of digital content:
- Steam is 100% free to install.
- Steam is totally digital. Even when I activate a game disc that requires Steam, I no longer need the disc. Steam treats both game media equally.
- Steam allows me to play on any computer that has Steam and the game installed with almost no restrictions. The only restriction is that I can’t have two copies of the game running at the same time.
- Steam supports backwards compatibility. My games from Win XP and Vista will work, even most games from DOS.
- I have never had to pay for multiplayer on Steam. Not once. Not ever. Some games require subscriptions, but this is on a game-by-game basis, like MMO’s. Steam also does not charge a dime for dedicated servers.
- Steam only requires me to be online to activate a game purchase ONCE. Then it is activated forever. I can play offline anytime I want for as long as I want.
- Your Steam library, since it is a license system, can be ported to any hardware setup that supports it. It is independent of the hard drive.
- It inherently supports hardware upgrades, like larger hard drives, memory upgrades, or new GPU’s. Downside: I’m adding cost to the system.
- Steam has steep sales every single day. Low prices mean I care less about not having a physical disc, which can be destroyed or lost.
- Devs can also set their own prices on Steam and update as much as they want (for free).
- Steam has a robust library of free-to-play games and smaller titles for budget gamers. XBLA is on the way out.
- I can’t gift any of my games to someone unless I set it as a “gift” during the original purchase. However, I could just go to their place and install Steam and the game. They could try it for free and see if they liked it.
- If sent as a gift, the Steam game can be re-gifted, if not redeemed, an infinite number of times.
- Steam does not require a camera to be in my living room at all times. Microsoft has stated you will be able to control what info is sent out and how it operates. We’ll see.
Why is this so hard for Microsoft to do? If they want to go cloud-gaming, which is fine with me, they need to be fully committed to the idea. Xbox One takes all the negative aspects of PC licensing with Steam and none of the good stuff (like inexpensive games, flexible hardware and an entire history of gaming). It limits your games to one console, limits gifting, removes hardware upgrades entirely, and charges a paywall for multiplayer. If you have a disc, you are screwed. It’s never been a better time to go PC. That, or buy a PS4 if it’s not a complete clusterfuck. Or you could buy a WiiU. Stop laughing.
If the Xbox One had been completely digital, cloud-based gaming platform, I would have been pretty okay, especially with the gifting aspect (which in terms of a digital sale, is actually more generous than Steam). I would not have been okay with the one-a-day piracy check or a creepy spy camera, but I can stomach no rentals, no used game sales outside of their “preferred retailers” if I feel like I get equal convenience in return. But I’m not going to put up with this when I buy a disc on a console. Those rules are different. Not when I have to hoof it to Walmart, brave the sweaty crowds of mouth-breathers, and buy an actual disc with my cash. That disc is mine and I can do with it what I will. My advice to you is to not buy this console until Microsoft makes some sincere changes to its policies on its disc-based media. Consoles are supposed to be easy, plop and play, and unencumbered with the restrictions of an online world, but no more. The Xbox One has revealed itself to be flat out anti-gamer at its core.
It’s a new brave world, ladies and gentlemen.