I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while but just haven’t had the time. As I write this, Xbox Live is suffering from yet another outage as its users are unable to sign-in. By now many of you know that several rumors are indicating that Microsoft’s next console will be “always online”. For those of you that don’t know what that is, it means that for you to play games on your console, you have to maintain a constant connection to the internet. What happens when you lose internet connection varies depending on how things are set up, it could be anything from falling back to the game’s home screen and having to reconnect from a recently saved point or you could lose the last hour of your gameplay. The concept behind “always online” is that it will help combat piracy and all that but at an obvious cost. The worse your internet connection, the more trouble you are going to have trying to play your favorite games in this type of setup.
It would be easy to use something like today’s outage to argue why “always online” is a bad thing but it’s really only one of several reasons why its a bad idea. To me the biggest reason is that it adds no value to the consumer. There is no benefit that you will get from it, more than likely it will become the bane of your existence. The next reason is that its more trouble than its worth. It inconveniences customers and I’m sorry but a dirty little secret is that it won’t help stop piracy as much as they say. Here’s the cold hard fact, if people want to play a game and they don’t want to pay for it then they aren’t going to do that, but that’s not 99% of people. 99% of people have neither the know how nor the motivation to want to steal games. Most of us are more than happy to pay for the game’s we play even if we aren’t willing to pay full price. In those cases, we usually wait till it goes on sale or we can find a used copy somewhere. With that said, “always online” on a console in particular is overkill, its like using a baseball bat to squash an ant.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, average internet speeds in America and the majority of the world aren’t anywhere near as high and stable as they would need to be for “always online” to be truly feasible, let alone even remotely a good idea. The Xbox Live outage today, the PSN outages we’ve seen in the past, the best thing about them was that you could still hop online and play your single player games. If this was an “always online” console generation then right now Xbox Live gamers would be down for the count, no matter if they were trying to play online or if they were enjoying the favorite single player game. Everyone would be down.
As an IT guy, the concept of high availability is paramount in my job. In a nutshell, high availability means that a system has to be resilient to the point where it’s rarely unavailable. Certain types of infrastructures present you with a situation where having to account for high availability is required. Making a console “always online” is a case of unnecessary adding a point of failure to your system architecture and creating another component that must be highly available. It will require more money and infrastructure to manage and more than likely the cost will be passed to the consumer. In addition, because the “always online” feature is a prerequisite for playing any game or accessing any service, the consequences for service outages and/or degradation go through the roof. In today’s world, not every Xbox player is extremely upset by the fact that Live is down but a large portion are. If the system was “always online” then every Live customer would be down. The scale and complexity of the problem is much different.
The outrage that Microsoft is going to get about this latest outage, in the middle of a Call Of Duty Double XP weekend no less should be a warning. To be fair, at this point Microsoft has not officially confirmed these rumors and this might all be for not. Let’s hope that is the case because if Microsoft goes down this path already knowing that Sony has decided otherwise is going to be catastrophic for them. I don’t care what anyone says, mark my words, if the next Xbox is “always online” then Sony will win going away, it won’t be a competition. If Microsoft thinks that brand loyalty will be enough they are mistaken because at the end of the day quality, reliability and availability matter. The first time Microsoft had an extended outage where the next Xbox basically became a glorified paperweight, people would murmur. Every time after that, people would start to wonder why they are putting up with it and soon after they would make the leap to PS4. With computer systems, outages are an unavoidable part of the business but you try to limit the points of failure, not add them. To be clear I’m not hating on the Xbox, if the PS4 had been “always online” and the next Xbox wasn’t, I would have probably switched sides, that’s how bad of an idea I think it is and I’ve been a PlayStation guy from the PSOne. As I said I’m a PlayStation guy but come on Microsoft don’t just give it to Sony.
So that’s my rant on the whole possibility of the next Xbox being “always online” and now I want to hear from you. In particular I want to hear from current Xbox 360 owners, if Microsoft’s next console requires you to have a constant internet connection will that affect whether or not your purchase it? To everyone else, what do you think about “always online” in general, do you not really care or do you have a serious issue with it? Hit up the comments and let’s talk about this.