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The always-online Xbox, the bad idea the industry needs?


”When a forest grows too wild, a purging fire is inevitable and natural.”

That is a line spoken by Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson) in 2005’s Batman Begins. I like it because I think it applies to the impending future of the video game industry pretty well. Over the last decade, roughly, the video game industry has grown tremendously and some would argue that it has even grown too much for its own good. With all of the development studios recently being shut down and companies losing money, it seems like the “purging fire” has already begun. Now while some of the recent hardships of the industry could be equated to small campfires gone unattended, the potential next generation Xbox could be the catalyst that turns this into a full blown forest fire that would make Smokey the Bear himself shit his pants.

And I have to be perfectly honest; I’m kind of looking forward to it.

Maybe I just want to watch the world burn or something, who knows

For those of you who aren’t up to date on current gaming events; there have been rumors floating around for a while now (from a multitude of websites) that the next generation Xbox system (Nextbox/Xbox 720) will be an “always-online” system, and also potentially prevent use of used-games. Pardon me for not directly linking you to a few of these articles, I’m just going to treat you like adults and assume you know how to use Google. In short you’ll need to have a persistent internet connection in order to start up or continuously play your future Xbox games, similar to what Diablo III or SimCity have done (or any MMORPG). Factor in these rumors with the recent “joking” comments from Microsoft Studios creative director Adam Orth and it sure sounds like the internet is a requirement for your future Xbox gaming needs.

Most people are obviously inclined to talk about all of the bad that will come from an always-online Xbox; such as what happens if your internet connection goes out, what about ISP data caps, what will happen to the used game market, what if you live in an area that simply has poor internet speeds or no internet at all. I, however, am trying to look at all of the positive that can come from one of the major systems going all-in on an always-online console.

No, I am not about to defend an always-online Xbox. The positive I’m referring to is that this might be a great opportunity to purge a great deal of bad things from the gaming industry all at once; in essence to nuke the entire site from orbit (it’s the only way to be sure).

Yep! Looks good to me, so who wants a pizza guys?

An internet-required Xbox will likely be a polarizing item in the industry, especially if there are other non-internet-required systems available on the market (the Wii-U and PlayStation 4). The big time publishers that claw for every coin will probably embrace an always-online anti-used-game system, claiming that it embraces the future and combats against things like piracy (even though it doesn’t). I’m not going to beat around the bush; I’m talking about the EAs, Activisions, and Capcoms of the world. While these big time companies will obviously still accept the non-always-online counterparts they’ll probably put forth an extra effort to sing praises and put emphasis on the Nextbox (to a certain degree they already do that with the Xbox 360).

Meanwhile, smaller publishers and developers who might not be as supportive of such practices (the people I politely refer to as “people with common sense”) could flock to the more consumer friendly options. This would also include the indie game market, which in general seems to have already fled Microsoft in favor of the PC world. The PlayStation 4 seems to be trying to appeal to the indie market as well, so that would also be a potential nice landing pad for them.

Therefore, on the side of embracing the always-online Xbox future we’d have the EAs & Activisions of the world, while on the other side we have… well, most of the other people who aren’t actively trying to ruin the industry. Obviously opinions differ on whether or not you consider EA/Activision/Capcom/etc the “bane of gaming”, but I’m just running on the “common belief” standard with this. Hopefully, you can see where I’m starting to go with this. Assuming the malignant tumors of the industry go all-in on the consumer-inconvenient console (which seems like a logical marriage) then what happens if the Nextbox doesn’t exactly set the world on fire sales wise, or what if consumers simply reject the system?

At least the next console war will be shorter, right?

There are a large amount of hardships that a system like this potential Nextbox would face especially up against more consumer-friendly options. For one, consumers might flat out not want to own a system that comes with an internet-required option as well as the hidden cost of the $60 required for Xbox Live. If the no-used-game rumor ends up being true, that could make the system even harder to sell to consumers given how many people seem to take advantage of the used game market. Obviously there will be some people who buy the system regardless of its downsides (just like there are still people who pay money to watch Resident Evil movies), but there’s still a lot of educated consumers you’d need to sell this game to.

An Xbox that doesn’t play used games would also face hardships from retailers who may refuse to stock the system, or at least do what they can to discourage consumers from purchasing it. Stores that benefit from reselling used games (the Gamestops and Best Buys of the world) I doubt would be thrilled at the idea of selling a system that has the potential to cannibalize the store's own income. Remember the PSPGo? That was essentially a non-used game system, look at how well that went.

If you want to look at the class half full, there can definitely be positives to be found from an always-online Xbox. Just look at the things I listed above, if the entities that are contributing to the downfall of the industry embrace a system that itself might fall flat on its face when it hits store shelves then we could essentially destroy multiple birds with one very mighty stone. Obviously I don’t like the idea of people losing their jobs because of a system flopping or the industry crashing, but to be honest something like this needs to happen. The long prophesized second crash of the gaming industry is more or less inevitable, but optimistically we could witness the crash in one clean and organized ball of fire.

I wasn't always online, but f*ck used games right! Wait... why wont you sell me!?

At the very least an always-online / anti-used-game console could be looked at as a great opportunity for gamers to put their foot down and take a stand against bullshit of this nature. Gamers can stomach varying degrees of crap from the industry, whether it be things like online passes or DLC, but a system like the rumored Nextbox is something that has both immediate high costs as well as long term costs, and these are things I can’t imagine that even the average gamer is willing to tolerate.

Voting with your wallet does work. If the rumored Nextbox does become a reality and you want no part of it, then take your money elsewhere. The implementation of such an obviously consumer-inconvenient system and its subsequent rejection would be something that would most likely alter the future of the video game industry, as the big companies would then know there are limits to what they can attempt. I know a lot of gamers don’t even want to see this rumored system become a reality, however sometimes things need to get worse before they can get better.
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About Sephzillaone of us since 9:27 AM on 07.15.2008

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Who am I? I'm a guy who plays video games, talks way too much about comics and movies, likes Godzilla and Robocop. Why should you read my blog? Because when I write I have fun, make up bullshit lists, and when I do get a little serious with some blogs I try to be insightful and use resources and facts to try and back up my opinion as much as I can. And if you don't follow my blog, I'll send you a picture of a sad kitten who wants some love.

Also, I tend to debate a lot and get up on a soapbox a bit from time to time. I like to debate for the sake of debating and I tend to find it fun to get other peoples perspectives on things, and sometimes I like to play devil's advocate a bit just for the sake of it. Basically, don't take me so serious sometimes even if it seems like I am being serious.

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