It’s been an interesting past couple of days, that much is for sure. And it’s only going to get more interesting as E3 approaches.
As many of you know, Microsoft officially introduced us to the Xbox 360 successor, which they have decided to call the Xbox One. Most of the introduction event was dedicated to what the Xbox One will be—an all-in-one entertainment system—and what kinds of new features it will offer. What they did not show much of was actual video games (saving that for E3 next month), and what they did not cover were the biggest questions potential customers wanted to know: will the new system block used games, and will it require you to always be connected to the internet to use it.
The company has been peppered with questions since then, and though it sounded at first like the system would not always have to be on and used games would not be blocked, now no one seems to have a clue what’s truth and what’s still up in the air.
So here’s where things stand now:
Instead of the straight forward no, it does not always have to be be on answer we got after the event yesterday, now there’s been word that while you don’t always have to be connected to play games or watch Blu-rays, it will require a connection to the internet due to the heavy reliance on the Cloud. What this means exactly is to be determined, but it sounds like you’ll at least need to connect from time to time, which isn’t unexpected or unrealistic.
Here’s what Microsoft corporate vice president Phil Harrison said when asked the “always on” question by Wired (an interview worth reading for answers…or perhaps more confusion):
“So, there is a lot of anxiety about “what if my Internet connection goes down” and you don’t have connectivity for a period of time. There are a host of features which will be usable without an Internet connection “” watching movies, playing certain single player games”¦ all of which will operate offline. We expect most of the more advanced experiences, like online multiplayer games, or games which have a lot of connected features”¦ those games won’t operate if you don’t have an Internet connection. We designed the system to take advantage of a connection to the cloud, and all that that means. But no, it’s not required that you are connected all the time, every second of every day.”
As for used games, no, the system will not “block” them from working. That would just be silly. But that does not mean there won’t be some kind of restriction to used games. One of the ways many people (myself included) thought they could effectively block used games without blatantly blocking them, would be to institute a small activation fee, very similarly to the Electronic Arts Online Pass that we’ve seen other publishers inherit, which required you to enter a code if you wanted to use a game’s multiplayer offerings. We recently found out that EA was suspiciously ending the Online Pass, which led to speculation that the new consoles might introduce a similar system for all games. Nothing is official yet—again, Microsoft is dancing the dance—but if true do not be fooled, this would be just as bad as blocking used games. No more buying used and no more GameFly subscription—not without paying extra to activate it.
The main reason for this would be money. It always is. But another reason appears to be that the Xbox One instantly begins installing games when you start playing them. You don’t need to do it manually anymore, and even better, you’ll reportedly be able to play installed games without the disc in your console like you do now. But when a game is installed on your console, it will also fuse itself to your Gamertag, making it yours and only yours and very likely meaning an activation fee for others who want to play it.
If this all turns out to be fact, the big question mark will be borrowing or letting friends borrow games. Because of the Cloud, your games will be available on anyone’s Xbox One…if you download them. How this works, however, is not exactly clear. You’ll likely have the option of signing into your Gamertag on other consoles and playing games that way, but it’s unknown if you can allow a friend to download a game after you’ve played it remotely, and continue to play your own games on your own console.
This will all make the storage an interesting adventure as well. A 500GB hard drive sounds huge (the Xbox 360 began with 20GBs and that was crazy big at the time), but with the size and graphics of new games and their instantly being installed on your system, that space could go quickly. Also worth note, is that because they’re relying heavily on the Cloud, your 500GB hard drive is not one you can remove and replace, as you’ve been able to do with previous systems, including the 250GB one. The problem with this is that not everyone trusts going full digital and relying on things like this magical Cloud. People like to hold things in their hands and they like to have control. So while it’s good we at least still have physical games, it sounds like Microsoft is taking away a great deal of control and forcing you to play games their way instead of yours. And that’s no good.
With each passing hour and each new tweak to what the new consoles will or will not do/offer, it feels increasingly like we’ll simply not know for sure until someone gets their hands on it and tells us with a straight and pointy dagger of truth what is what. And because of this, I turn things over to the Coen Brothers’ dark comedy—and the inspiration for the headline of this article—A Serious Man.