Since the Xbox One was announced, Microsoft has consistently boasted about the power of the Azure-based Xbox Live Compute service launching alongside its new console. With these resources, developers can host multiplayer matches, offload tasks from the Xbox One’s CPU, and even crunch data while the console itself is turned off.
There are clearly benefits to Microsoft’s push for cloud-assisted gaming, but there is a huge downside that has recently surfaced. As it turns out, the servers will need to be rebooted “rather frequently,” and this could potentially cause major issues for online-only games.
During a session at the GDC Next conference in Los Angeles, Microsoft’s John Bruno spoke in-depth about the Xbox Live Compute system. While it’s based on Microsoft’s Azure technology, it has been modified specifically to fit the Xbox One’s needs as a platform. Games like Forza Motorsport 5 will use the technology to enhance certain aspects of the game, but that comes at a cost. Bruno specifically notes that “once in a while, rather frequently actually, the host OS will require an update, meaning the physical machine is going to get rebooted, whether your code is running or not.” If the connection is dropped, or the server completely reboots, you could potentially lose progress in your game.
If this only impacted the occasional multiplayer round, it would be obnoxious, but tolerable. Unfortunately, we’re seeing a large shift towards single player experiences being forced online. Respawn Entertainment’s Titanfall, for example, doesn’t even have a traditional offline single-player mode. If the servers reboot while you’re piloting your mech around, you could potentially lose some of your progress.
The gracefulness of the connection interruption is entirely in the hands of the game developers. While it is possible to create a game that degrades seamlessly after a server reboot, it’s not a guaranteed aspect of every title. Just imagine if an Xbox Live Compute server reboots in the middle of an always-on RPG, and forces you to restart a long and arduous boss sequence from the very beginning. When asked specifically about the repercussions of a server reboot for Titanfall, Bruno punted on the question. “It’s up to the game developer,” he said.
While we don’t know how this technical limitation will impact players in the real world just yet, this is an issue we all need to watch closely. When I think about potentially losing game progress because of a patch deployment, a chill goes up my spine. All of that said, Bruno seems relatively confident that this won’t be a widespread issue, so let’s not get too worked up before the console launches. This is just another bullet point in a long list of potential issues for early adopters – not a smoking gun.
For more on the Xbox One, check out our aritcle on how Kinect is holding back the Xbox One's graphics performance. You might also want to read our piece about the launch of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and why to expect problems from day one.