After a very public defense of rumors about the next Xbox’s always-on Internet requirements, a new report claims that Microsoft creative director Adam Orth is no longer with the company. In a series of Twitter posts, Orth defended the move by countering that “every device” is now constantly connected, and then delivered a low-blow when someone responded suggesting always-on connectivity might not work great for customers in rural locations, responding snidely, “Why on earth would i live there?”.
According to Game Informer, which confirmed reports from unnamed sources via a call direct to Microsoft that Orth was no longer employed there (we also contacted Microsoft for official confirmation, but a spokesperson simply said ““We are not commenting further on this issue”), it’s likely that incident led to his resignation or removal. And based on Microsoft’s public apology, it likely is the case that this wasn’t the venue. But the real problem here might be that defending a decision to embrace an always-on Internet connection requirement is bound to devolve into personal arguments, since logical ones that don’t involve owning up to a simple “we want to lock down our product and better control piracy” aren’t readily available.
The original report of how the next Xbox would work included a requirement that a user be connected to the Internet to even begin playing games or apps on the console, along with a 3-minute time out for a connection loss before said games or apps are suspended pending the resolution of the network connection issue. For users who have been burned by the always-on requirements of recent PC gaming titles like Diablo III and SimCity, this rumor (which Microsoft neither confirms nor denies, despite its apology) probably sounds like a total nightmare scenario.
It’s not making things better that a report surfaced this week from the Verge which claims that the next Xbox will interact with your cable box, hence the need for an always-on connection. The timing of that report smacks of Microsoft trying to do some subtle damage control based on these recent leaks, without giving away anything official ahead of its own planned Xbox events, the first of which is reportedly taking place late in May.
Of course, even that doesn’t justify an always-on connection requirement, not for isolated functions like single-player gaming which should have no problem running without an active connection, even if a player has to give up some features like achievements and leaderboard ranking to make that work (you know, exactly the way it works now).
The problem with trying to come up with a coherent argument for why a device or game needs an always-on connection without saying those three dreaded letters (D-R-M) is that it’s impossible to do convincingly. Companies like Microsoft and EA, which have very savvy PR professionals on staff, know that trying to do so without a proper feint like a connected TV service is fruitless. Aside from strongly suggesting that the leaked info was correct, taking to Twitter also meant venturing away from the party line that always-on is value add, not consumer punishment, and that’s not something any company mulling this kind of sensitive and major change to the way it delivers services can afford.