At the end of last week, Microsoft creative director Adam Orth was caught having a discussion on Twitter with another game developer about the rumours that the Xbox One would require an always-on internet connection to function. His thought on the matter? Players should simply “deal with it.” Since this has been a hot topic lately, the Internet was quickly whipped into a blind rage, failing to realise that Orth was likely satirically arguing with a personal buddy, and that they were joking around. Calm down, Internet.
First, a recap. Rumours have been swirling around for a while now that Microsoft’s upcoming console – the Xbox One or NextBox depending on how punny you are – would require an always-on Internet connection in order for the console to play games. Yes, even if the games have absolutely no online features whatsoever.
The speculated reasons for this tactic come in two schools of thought. One branch assumes that Microsoft wants to deploy an always-on methodology in order to secretly curb the sale of used games, since an always-on connection would make it easy to identify a used game through the use of online authorisation. The other branch assumes Microsoft simply wants to have stronger DRM, and always-on DRM is currently the toughest nut to crack.
Microsoft has stayed silent on the issue, most likely allowing rumours and speculation to run rampant across the wilds of the Internet in order to gauge the reaction. Think of it like a secret survey; it’s actually a brilliant strategy. If the backlash is significant, Microsoft can simply announce the Xbox One without the rumoured always-on connection, and say they never once said anything about the always-on requirement, which would be true. This would save the company much more face than if it announced the requirement itself, then had to retract the requirement due to the resulting backlash. The strategy makes us look like we’re in the wrong since we overreacted to unfounded rumours, and Microsoft is in the right since it still hasn’t announced the requirement.
Now, however, with Orth’s comments on Twitter reaching every dark corner of the Internet, Microsoft might have to step out of the shadows and finally comment on the always-on connection.
Taken at face value and without context, Orth’s comments (seen above) warrant the backlash they have received since yesterday. In a conversation with BioWare game developer Manveer Heir, Orth said he doesn’t “get the drama around having an ‘always-on’ console,” and that all devices are now always-on, and people who don’t have access to the Internet should “get with the times” and sign up for service.
Obviously, these comments not only sound completely ignorant – disregarding the fact that many people either don’t have access to proper Internet speeds in their area, or simply can’t afford the monthly cost – but were delivered in an offensive manner. However, not long after the eruption of angry gamers, Heir himself – the recipient of Orth’s seemingly offensive tweets and ignorant stance – said that Orth is actually a good buddy of his, and that they were just joking around. Heir said that Orth was basically just trolling him. Sure, those statements could just be the result of Heir feeling guilty that he got his friend into Internet-trouble, but the more likely answer is that Heir’s statements are the truth.
If you could remove your instant anger about always-on DRM and then re-read Orth’s comments again, you’d most likely come to the conclusion that it was all satire – very similar to how Stephen Colbert plays a character that disagrees with all of his real-life beliefs. The problem here, though, is that Orth isn’t a paid comedian, and technically, we can’t see inside either Orth’s or Heir’s brain and know for sure whether they were joking around or not.
This was also not the best time for a Microsoft employee to play the villain without any indication that this was what he was doing. The fallout from the always-on SimCity fiasco hasn’t even begun to clear, and not too long before that Diablo III experienced a similar controversy. Whether or not Orth was joking, some of his responses to people truly seem like he believes an always-on console is fine, which is a fine opinion to have because he’s allowed to have an opinion. We may not agree with it, but we can show Microsoft how much we disagree with it by not supporting the console when it’s released.
While an always-on connection is a hot-button topic, the real issue with Orth’s statements is that people in a high-ranking position at a company relevant to a hot-button topic don’t have enough wiggle room to make jokes about it. Orth’s statements don’t represent Microsoft’s entire ideology, even if Microsoft does release the Xbox 720 with an always-on requirement.
Perhaps there’s a shining light to Orth’s seemingly crazy comments, though. His statements and the resulting backlash might make Microsoft think twice about an always-on requirement before they make it official, and we might avoid it altogether after all. Whatever the case may be, the rumours have gone on long enough and created enough negative press. It’d help Microsoft to finally speak up on the matter, rather than staying silent and gauging reactions.