Microsoft’s Xbox One has caused some consternation for a number of reasons. There’s the used game policy, the £100 price premium over the PlayStation 4, the Big Brother-esque Kinect sensor, and of course the “always on” issue which was confirmed at the end of last week. In case you hadn’t heard, the Xbox One will have to connect to the Internet every 24 hours to play games (even single player games).
That's a horrible idea. Microsoft's explanation is that every Xbox One owner has a broadband connection, so it's not a big deal. If you have a broadband connection, you can play whenever you want and it's fine. That's a seemingly reasonable concept that falls apart for so many different reasons.
For starters, while every Xbox One owner might have a broadband connection, that's a limiting factor of the Xbox One, not a statement about the current state of Internet availability. Broadband adoption isn’t universal even in the UK or US, where there are still some areas where broadband can be difficult to access or, when it's accessible, it isn’t consistently reliable. You can get a cellular hotspot almost anywhere, but that's not feasible for bandwidth intensive activities like system updates, or marathon gaming sessions. If you're limited by that, you can't use an Xbox One.
Microsoft doesn't present a feature, it presents a tautology: Every Xbox One owner will have a broadband connection because in order to own and use an Xbox One you need a broadband connection. It's not an accomplishment.
That's not the big elephant in the room, though. Statistically, gamers are going to have broadband connections. Making it a requirement rather than an option is a rather ugly gesture towards the few who can't get reliable Internet connections, but the main problem isn't what happens when their Internet connection isn't there in the first place. It's what happens when it fails for any reason.
Let me take you back to the spring of 2011. A hacker breaks into the PlayStation Network servers and steals information. This security breach forces Sony to shut down its service. For a month. This was an inconvenient incident that proved very embarrassing to Sony, since it meant gamers couldn't use the PlayStation 3's online features. However, gamers could still use their PlayStation 3.
While the PlayStation Network was down, PlayStation 3 owners could still play single player games on their system. Notable titles released around that time include Disgaea 4, Dead Space 2, Dragon Age 2, Mass Effect 2, and the Prince of Persia Trilogy. Every single one of these games are playable offline and offer little to no multiplayer experience to begin with.
If Microsoft experiences a similar disaster with the Xbox One and Xbox Live, all games would be unplayable. The console would become a glorified Blu-ray player.
Let's get a little smaller in scope. What happens if you lose your Internet connection for a few days? Certainly in the US, the land of hurricanes and tornadoes, it's not unreasonable to fear that an Internet connection could down for up to a week on a yearly basis. And if that happens, then you’ve had it. No games for you. At all.
Sony lost a month of PlayStation Network service, but PlayStation 3 users lived on despite some extremely loud complaining (and particularly smug reactions from Xbox 360 owners). They kept playing games. They kept using their systems. If Microsoft experiences with a similar event, that's not Xbox One owners dealing with an inconvenience. That's Xbox One owners dealing with not being able to use their Xbox One. And if Xbox Live stays up but a user's own Internet connection goes down for any amount of time? No Xbox One, either.