For those of you not in the loop so far today (and good morning to you!), Adam Orth, Creative Director at Microsoft Studios, has opened his mouth with a series of cringe-worthy gaffes regarding the online capabilities and requirements of gaming. Ranging from dodgy analogies to being downright offensive to entire cities and communities, feet are firmly wedged in mouths, and thanks to the wonders of screenshots, the proof is there for all to see, no matter how much he locks down his Twitter account.
My worry is this - Adam Orth is the first figure from Microsoft to go public with these sentiments, but he's certainly not going to be the only one who feels this way.
Don't get me wrong - I agree with Orth in principle. I would love to see a point at which every digital device I own is capable of being online all the time. In some respects, this is already the case - my telephone works as a jack-of-all-trades device with a persistent connection to a cellular data plan, my house is fitted with Gigabit cabling and 5GHz wi-fi (because I'm a techie and these things matter, dammit!), and at work, business-class broadband is available so I can get on with my job efficiently. For a lot of what I do, not being online is sometimes a burden.
However, there is a fundamental difference between the devices I own having the capability to be always-online, and the devices I own being hamstrung by the fact that they aren't online. In the case of the former, being connected to the Internet is a benefit. The latter makes it a requirement, and one that's not always easy to fulfil.
This is a concept that's easy to grasp for many - when Diablo 3's always-online requirement was first announced, a large portion of the player-base shunned it. One of the comments I heard that resonated most with me was, "What about people who want to play on trains, or flights, with laptops?". After all, a lot of mid-range and higher laptops have discrete graphics cards and enough processing power to push the same pixels as their desktop counterparts - there's no doubt that these laptops have the capability to play Diablo 3. Thanks to the DRM, however, the process was crippled, and the desires of commuters and travelers to get their click-fest on was crushed.
The underlying problem is one of service. As it stands, broadband is not as ubiquitous as it will be in 5 years' time. By 2018, I fully expect rollouts of super-fast broadband to have swept across the developed world, providing much greater coverage and capability. However, this is not 2018 - it's 2013, and as it stands, "broadband for all" is still a pipe dream. Two examples cited by Manveer Heir (Adam Orth's "friend") are Janesville, Wisconsin and Blacksburg, Virginia. Census data shows that over 100,000 people live in these two towns alone. Two towns that (from what I understand) wouldn't be able to utilise anything that included an always-online component.
These will not be the only two towns that have shoddy Internet connections in the USA, and certainly not the only two towns in the world.
By mandating an Internet connection, a company's product artificially limits its target audience and alienates the potential userbase.
I'll say it again - by mandating an Internet connection, a company's product artificially limits its target audience and alienates the potential userbase. This is a decision that stops people buying your product.
Yet a man whose JOB it is to get those NextBoxes in to the hands of people, is brushing off large portions of the global population as if they don't matter. Some people may say, "But he's only one of the creative heads! He doesn't have anything to do with sales!". That's bullshit. If the NextBox doesn't sell well, he loses his job. So do a lot of other people - PR, HR, marketing, testing, research and development... if a product bombs and consumers don't buy it, people get laid off. In the case of a multi-billion-dollar industry counting on tens of millions of customers, a lot of people get laid off.
The really sad part of it all is, everyone at Xbox HQ knows this. The failings of Blizzard, Ubisoft and EA have all been too big to go un-noticed. Always-online DRM hurts consumers. Moving the goalposts and attaching it to hardware instead of software isn't going to change that.
All Adam Orth did today was open his mouth and let us know that there are some people at Microsoft Studios oblivious to the obvious. The cat is out of the bag, and ironically, thanks to the permanence of the Internet, it's not going back in any time soon. #dealwithit