Editorial

Editorial: The Internet in the U.S. isn't built for an "always on" game console

Before we get into this topic, here's a brief qualifier: Microsoft has not yet given an official comment on what they plan to do for their next Xbox game console. This editorial is not assuming that Microsoft's successor to the Xbox 360 will in fact need an 'always on" Internet connection to play games or run its apps.

Having said that, the idea of any future game console, no matter if it was made by Microsoft or anyone else, that would require an Internet connection to operate, in addition to a power supply and a video and audio connection to a television, is simply a bad idea for one very basic and simple reason. The Internet infrastructure in the U.S. simply can't handle it.

The personal comments made by Microsoft Studios creative director Adam Orth on his Twitter page earlier this week (which were later called "inappropriate" by Microsoft) seem to center on the fact that other electronic devices have to require an power outlet in order to operate. That's 100 percent true. What is also true is that, at least where I live, the power is on nearly all of the time. A few times a year, we get brief power outages that typically last a few seconds. The only time that power goes out for longer than than is if we are having a bad weather event. In any case, power outages are rare.

The landline phone system that we have in our home is also highly reliable. I can't remember a time when it did not work, yet it does require that the telephone be connected to the wall socket. Even our cable TV service is pretty reliable for the most part, but it does need for the TV or cable box to be connected to the cable outlet.

That's pretty much my expression a lot of the time when dealing with my own Internet issues

However, without a shadow of a doubt, my local connection to the Internet (via an ISP which I will not name here) has been anything but trouble free for the many years I have subscribed to the service. Just in 2013, I have had issues with staying online that required me to unplug my modem  more than once and, in a couple of cases, calling my ISP to send a signal to reestablish my Internet connection. That doesn't even count the couple of times when my Internet service was down due to outside forces beyond my control that lasted for a couple of hours each.

I don't live in a rural area, either. I live in a nicely populated section of a town that has about 26,000 people. Getting power, phone and cable television to my house was no problem. Getting a solid Internet connection to my house was something different. Because my house is located a bit further than normal for my ISP's connection, they made me get what is basically a "booster" that connect to a power socket and then connects to my ISP's Internet signal.

Why is it that my power, phone and cable TV have no such issues on where my house is located when it comes to supping their services, but my ISP needs a "booster" inside my house to work, and even then just barely? The reason, as I mention before, is that the current state of the infrastructure of my ISP just can't handle the strain without some kind of help, and even then we get extended outages.

So any game console which requires an "always on" connection will certainly not be welcomed in my house, and I know that I am not alone. There are lots of gamers out there who don't have Internet connections at all, yet they can still play games with their Xbox 360 or PS3 or even their Wii U. Heck, even my PC doesn't require an "always on" connection. If my connection is severed, I can still play games that are loaded on my hard drive, play movies or TV shows that are on DVD, Blu-Ray or downloaded from the Internet, or write on my copy of Word. If my PC doesn't need an Internet connection to work, why should any next generation game console have that requirement?

Oh, and this is just on my end of the Internet series of tubes. There are also problems on the other end of the Internet pipeline. How many times over the past year have we heard about a large cloud-based Internet service, like Microsoft's Windows Azure, that get hit with extended outages? What happens if that sort of outage happens for a game console that requires an Internet connection to run but then can't connect to its own online servers.

Actually, we don't need to imagine it. The cyber attack on Sony's Playstation Network online service in the spring of 2011 shut off its servers for weeks. Yes, PS3 game owners were able to play offline games, but multiplayer services and the ability to download patches, games, demos and more content were cut off. Now, just suppose the PS3 required connecting to the Playstation Network to even work.

Let's not forget that there are still games that are being sold that are made strictly as a single player experience. One of the best reviewed games in years is the recently launched BioShock Infinite. Now just imagine wanting to play that game on a game console that needed an Internet connection to run but, for whatever reason, that connection was not working or just was not available. It doesn't matter if it is a single player game, you still would not be able to play it.

Until the Internet infrastructure in the U.S. improves drastically, to the point where it is as reliable as the power, phone and even the cable TV connection in people's homes, there will almost certainly be tons of frustration from gamers dealing with the prospect of an "always on" game console. Any company even considering such a plan needs to think twice before moving forward with such an idea. We would hope that would especially be the case with a certain unnamed business which launched a console in 2005 and later had to take a $1 billion charge because a large batch of their first console units were defective.

That company rushed to launch a product out without thinking of the consequences. Let's hope that same company takes their time to listen to their rather vocal audience and consider their opinions before making a decision that could turn out to be even worse for them than the "three rings of death."

Images via Sony and 2K Games | Man at PC via Shutterstock

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Too bad for Americans.

I live in a city of 40,000 people in western Canada. My town will be getting 200Mbit fiber deployed next month.
It supplies my TV and entertainment experience.
If an always on console means it will also works as my cable provider's PVR, great!
I'd rather have an MS designed console always on than current traditional Set Top Box technology from Motorola Mobility, Pace, Cisco and others.
There was a report last year that said 3 STB with one having PVR capability used as much as a refrigerator. This is unacceptable. So much that the UK mandated a standby mode which was indeed low power.

I'll settle for an "always connected" if it works like W8 technologies.

its a little more difficult to supply 300 million people with great connections compared 30 million people that are for the most part along the American border.

I am Reid said,
......

Don't kid yourself, there may be 300Million Americans, but even they are not as geographically dispersed as you'd have us believe.

I can simplify this for you. My Telco is state (provincially) owned. Its shareholders are the public. The company made a commitment to the shareholders in terms of services offered, not endless profits.

The profit motive is stifling infrastructure investment in the US. Without a clear plan to recoup on that investment, shareholders will always balk.

We're like a tiny field of dreams up here. Build it and they will come.

By 2017, the province of SK will have population coverage by high speed for 98% of the population, over fiber or fixed-LTE technologies.

You would think that instead of jumping ahead and getting ****ed off at Microsoft about something they don't know about yet, that consumers would think hey if we all got together and demanded that we get better access to the internet by using our wallets, online/offline petitions or government we could have fair priced fast always on internet over 98% of the country by the time the next xbox is released?

That is why I asked you to Google "Charles County, MD" and "Verizon". That will take you through the travails that Verizon is going through to bring FIOS (fiber-optic-based broadband) to this Washington, DC exurb. Even better yet, substitute "Alexandria, VA" for "Charles County, MD" - that will tell you the history of Verizon's attempts getting stonewalled there - which is closer to DC than I am. There are PLENTY of folks that are - for reasons that only make sense to them - anti-progress.

I guess the fact that Netflix went down during Christmas holiday means they never should have built that service.

Who cares if there are outages, this is entertainment not life or death. Get a grip people!

Henry Ford said it best:

If I'd asked customers what they wanted, they would have said "a faster horse"

I do think the Internet in the US is built for always on, if you have it. What people in the US probably don't want, is a console that will shutdown unless you are connected to said internet to be controlled by big brother. Let's not mince words. If that's what MS is doing, I do predict a failure.

Europe is far ahead of us in smartcard deployment, fingerprint readers, storing fingerprints on smartcards etc. Though we all have the technical capacity. American's are much more closely guarded of personal privacy. This won't fly easily if the rumors are true. And if Sony doesn't mirror Microsoft's intrusive DRM, it will most likely be a disaster for Microsoft, and windfall for Sony. MS is only ahead of Sony in the US and even with that large US advantage, worldwide they trail Sony.

Everyone remembers the original xbox right? live got basically killed for it in like 3 months after the 360 came out, even though you couldn't actually BUY a 360 at that time, but the 360 would play xbox games in emulation... Who thinks MS will give any care what consumers think this round??

Let the $ do the talking, I hope they release and backpedal

WoW, what a stupid Article..... Tech people are great and all but, so many have no idea how business and technology grow and that they need each other.

jakem1 said,
If you choose to live in the middle of nowhere then you should expect to make sacrifices.

Sometimes people can't choose if that's the only place to find work.

Lets just think outside the US for a moment, it's not really the most worrisome on an always online connection. But imagine all the rest of the American continent... Most countries barely have decent networks down here... It would be completely unusable to have something like this.

Sony must be rubbing their hands in glee, cause if proven true, they could more or less double their consumer market.

Nice to see the usual loud mouth kids posting. So glad you think you can just shout at people.

Back to reality: Yes, I think there needs to be further discussion on the 2 types of online. Also, the kiddies here have to realize not everyone lives in a metro area. Or, say my son wants to take his xbox to the cabin with us for the weekend. Or take it to Grandpa and Grandma's for the weekend. So settle down with the rudeness, the shouting and realize not everyone is still living in their parent's basement.

Always online has several interpretations and I'm not going to let one of them rule me in my decisions and judgements. I'd rather just wait until microsoft actually announces their console before jumping ship.

I live in an area that gets lots of internet outages because of storms. We often use generators to keep our power going. Having an Xbox available is a great way to pass the time till the internet comes back on. It would really suck if I could not play a game, in the absence of an internet connection. I would not just get over it, I'd be ****ed, and would hesitate to reward MS with a purchase of the product. Emphasis on hesitate.

jimmyfal said,
I live in an area that gets lots of internet outages because of storms. We often use generators to keep our power going. Having an Xbox available is a great way to pass the time till the internet comes back on. It would really suck if I could not play a game, in the absence of an internet connection. I would not just get over it, I'd be ****ed, and would hesitate to reward MS with a purchase of the product. Emphasis on hesitate.

Buy a mobile hotspot like you bought a power generator. Does everyone have to be so daft?

Regarding this article: It's a very real truth. Here in the UK, the internet is far from reliable enough to run any service that demands 100% connectivity to do anything. The fact of the matter is if it's on at all, it's very rarely free of capping, throttling or ever that stable.

Give it a good few years and maybe then we'll have a service that's as reliable as the current domestic services such as phone, electric or gas, but not for a good while yet.

Regarding the XBOX requiring a connection: This is a fallacy full stop. If it does come out as 'always on', then i'm putting money on it being the same as say, a set top box. Which i have absolutely no issue with.

Since when the service in the UK isn't reliable? My connection is almost 99.9% reliable and that's through an ADSL connection and I'm not in a major city. I've had broadband since it was released by Cable Online back in '96-'97. I've moved about 6 times since then and have yet to encounter a significant disruption in service.

An authenticated session should be a few KB (far less than loading a neowin page for example) so I don't understand the logic in complaining about throttling and capping here.

You speak for yourself, not for a whole nation.
Don't believe me? Google any of the main providers support forums and weep. You sir are one of the few and far between that doesn't have anything to moan about.

I now live in a rural village which has not helped my internet connection one bit, yet i'm luck enough to be one of the few who can use the internet at all round here.

I used to run my business (Web Design Studio) in London and the connection there wasn't great. I have a great bunch of colleagues based all throughout the UK and not one of them has a stable connection 24/7/365. If you do, you're lucky.

ALWAYS ONLINE DOES NOT = REQUIRED ONLINE!!!!!!

Isn't my current XBox always online? I bought an Xbox 360 arcade game on my phone the other day, when I was out and it had downloaded by the time I got home.

Required Online would not work in our house. We have three XBox 360s and one of them is in a room with no wired internet and patchy at best wi-fi connectivity. So that would be a very expensive brick to have!

The difference is when you turn off your console it will not automatically download updates to games or console. Also currently your console has to be on to have downloads triggered by the live website.

Always online means no waiting for updates you can trigger downloads at any time etc.

Is anyone going to address this or just keep arguing because they are bored?

ALWAYS ONLINE DOES NOT = REQUIRED ONLINE!!!!!!

An always online single player experience can be done easily if you work really hard on it.
At smaller scale, you can look at the success of Simcity.

Evidently you didn't try to play SimCity the first week after release. It was a nightmare trying to get online and play. Servers always down, too crowded or just not working. It was a prime example of why an online requirement is a bad idea. If the servers are down, you have a very expensive piece of useless software on your computer.

diablo 3 was the same, i paid 60$ for a game and i cant play it when i want to, cant play it tuesdays because of patch teusday, server glitches i cant play, patch fails i cant play, i go on a plane cant play, go to a mates for a bit cant play

IndyLateNite said,
Evidently you didn't try to play SimCity the first week after release. It was a nightmare trying to get online and play. Servers always down, too crowded or just not working. It was a prime example of why an online requirement is a bad idea. If the servers are down, you have a very expensive piece of useless software on your computer.

You mean the first few weeks don't you? I went through that too.

I'm starting to wonder if my mom has hacked the neowin staff writer's accounts to write their editorials. The technical reasoning leaves much to be desired. You live in a very small town if your town of 26000 isn't attached to a more major metropolitan area. You also need a new modem most likely.

I have service from Cox Communication all over the Tulsa, Ok greater area since 2002/2003 and I've only had major disruptions during major ice storms. I was an active online gamer for 6 years playing with people all over the US and Canada who's internet rarely had problems and lived in large and small towns.

Anywho, thanks for thinking we all have your same problems... But perhaps you should consider that your bubble is not representative.

MrHumpty said,
I'm starting to wonder if my mom has hacked the neowin staff writer's accounts to write their editorials. The technical reasoning leaves much to be desired. You live in a very small town if your town of 26000 isn't attached to a more major metropolitan area. You also need a new modem most likely.

I have service from Cox Communication all over the Tulsa, Ok greater area since 2002/2003 and I've only had major disruptions during major ice storms. I was an active online gamer for 6 years playing with people all over the US and Canada who's internet rarely had problems and lived in large and small towns.

Anywho, thanks for thinking we all have your same problems... But perhaps you should consider that your bubble is not representative.

He isn't implying that all have his problems. He gave his own situation as an example, and know others who have trouble as well. And now you gave an example of yours.

Point is, even if the described situation is not representative for a majority of americans, there will still be people who will never have good internet. And you are basically saying: Screw them, my internet is fine, so screw them. Typical american mentality shining through?

MrHumpty said,
I'm starting to wonder if my mom has hacked the neowin staff writer's accounts to write their editorials. The technical reasoning leaves much to be desired. You live in a very small town if your town of 26000 isn't attached to a more major metropolitan area. You also need a new modem most likely.

I have service from Cox Communication all over the Tulsa, Ok greater area since 2002/2003 and I've only had major disruptions during major ice storms. I was an active online gamer for 6 years playing with people all over the US and Canada who's internet rarely had problems and lived in large and small towns.

Anywho, thanks for thinking we all have your same problems... But perhaps you should consider that your bubble is not representative.


I live in a small city of about 100k. Our options are a local cable provider or AT&T DSL. Both of these options suck, the cable provider has latency issues and AT&T has frequent downtime. Just because you're lucky enough to have decent internet, doesn't mean that everyone in the US shares your fortune.

Often times a company neglects basic maintenance of their hardware in neighbourhoods.

Case in point: I'm in a residential neighbourhood in a city of ~2.8 million and was having major headaches with our DSL provider. Connection would always cut out after a rainstorm or during March when the snow melted. Turns out they had an exposed box nearby with copper wires spewing out plus some (I assume) exposed wires underground.

Sure, a customer could always call in to get their contracted technicians to go and repair the wires (after yelling at their Level 1 support heads), but they shouldn't remain just reactive to wiring problems.

OK people just want to ignore the obvious and assume thing and jump to conclusions. I've mentioned this in other articles and people ignore it and I'll expect they ignore it here.

ALWAYS ONLINE DOES NOT = REQUIRED ONLINE!!!!!!

Always online means that if a network connection is present the console will stay connected online at all times even when in sleep mode in order to automatically update games, download DLC if selected from other devices etc.

REQUIRED ONLINE mean the device will not function without an internet connection.

ALWAYS ONLINE has pretty much been confirmed, REQUIRED online has in no way shape or form been confirmed by anyone.

Everyone looks really silly assuming ALWAYS ONLINE = REQUIRED ONLINE when nothing of the sort has been mentioned.

It's been drama queen central around here lately. I'm getting tired of all the bitching and false information people like to spread these days.

But truth doesn't generate clicks or get viewers, everything you see you have no choice but to take with a grain of salt, even if it comes from the manufacturer

swanlee said,

The latest rumor that ignited this firestorm was that there's currently a 3 minute window of disconnection before the system interrupts games. Im curious what the window of time is for a service like Netflix or Hulu?? Your distinction is noted, but not dealing with the latest rumor.

Then you have some ISPs who implement their own custom PC based dialer softwares to start internet. Offline play and selling of 2nd hand games should never cease to exist.

I don't get all the hollering about the next Xbox needing a constant internet connection.
The way I use my Xbox, not having an internet connection while using it would render it pretty much useless.

Yes but if the internet goes down at this point you can still play games offline in single player, split screen (where supported), or lan mode (where supported). The rumor is that with the next gen that will no longer be the case. Take it with a grain of salt though. The rumor is based on developer system docs where they may require an internet connect to use the dev box for any number of reasons.

Liron Hazan said,
India isn't built for Internet, period.
it looks like the 19th century.

In India, like in most parts of Africa, most of the people access the internet through mobile phones. These countries seem to be completely skipping the landline generation.

Shadowzz said,

In India, like in most parts of Africa, most of the people access the internet through mobile phones. These countries seem to be completely skipping the landline generation.

In a city like Mumbai. ADSL takes up a big chunk of internet users.

Wow why are people even spreading this FUD it is obviously not going to happen... MS should just stamp out this fire... but I suspect they are keeping it roaring so they get a bit of free publicity, get people talking about the device get people interested in hearing what MS are going to do. To be honest, given the amount of news articles even on this site, its working pretty darn well!!! MS marketing you've done it again

ingramator said,
Wow why are people even spreading this FUD it is obviously not going to happen... MS should just stamp out this fire... but I suspect they are keeping it roaring so they get a bit of free publicity, get people talking about the device get people interested in hearing what MS are going to do. To be honest, given the amount of news articles even on this site, its working pretty darn well!!! MS marketing you've done it again

There is such a thing as negative publicity. I know some people who believe the NextBox will be internet only. I told them otherwise but they didnt seem to care much about it one way or another. But the thing is, they thought it was a fact.

If this turns out to be untrue then this is very bad news for Microsoft. If it turns out to be true then I can understand why Microsoft would want to spread the news. It will make the real outcry upon announcement less fierce.

But I hope Microsoft isnt stupid enough to do such a thing. The Xbox brand they've build with over 10 ears of hard work would die in a second. I love my Xbox and will probably buy the NextBox but I'd switch to something else in a heartbeat if this is true.

"This editorial is not assuming that Microsoft's successor to the Xbox 360 will in fact need an 'always on" Internet connection to play games or run its apps."

The current Xbox requires you to have an always on connection to run its apps. I sure would love to know how you think YouTube, ESPN, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, Netflix, etc. will run without an Internet connection?

Tens of millions are subscribing to Netflix streaming in the US. People have really gone bonkers on this issue and lost all sense of reality.

Avatar Roku said,
"This editorial is not assuming that Microsoft's successor to the Xbox 360 will in fact need an 'always on" Internet connection to play games or run its apps."

The current Xbox requires you to have an always on connection to run its apps. I sure would love to know how you think YouTube, ESPN, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, Netflix, etc. will run without an Internet connection?

Tens of millions are subscribing to Netflix streaming in the US. People have really gone bonkers on this issue and lost all sense of reality.

Naturally streaming and other internet services require an internet connection. But rumor as it that Microsoft wants to require an internet connection for 'playing' entertainment - in general. Meaning offline games as well as offline apps.

And there will be offline apps on the NextBox, I have no doubt about it. It will be another piece of Microsoft's new ecosystem. It wouldn't suprise me if it runs Windows 8's modern apps. The question is whether they'll throw all apps on there or require developers to submit their app for review to see if its Xbox ready (stuff like Kinect support).

What the editorial really means is that NOBODY wants *always-connected* for any reason. It's not that large portions of the United States broadband infrastructure aren't ready for it - it's that a large portion of global (not merely US-based) broadband USERS and ISPs aren't ready for it. Let's, in fact, start with the ISPs, first off - there is a REASON that the largest US-based broadband ISPs are as large as they are; they have the wherewithal to build (and operate) large backbone networks - it's not cheap to do. (Comcast. Verizon. Even Charter and Cablevision - to an extent, though both are more regional than national where broadband is concerned.) Then there are the number of hoops that have to be jumped through to even BUILD such a backbone - who but the companies with the deepest pockets and the most patient lobbyists would take the time - AND make the effort - to go through the hurdles needed? (Do a Google search on "Charles County, MD + Verizon" - it makes for interesting reading.) And this is the EASY end.
The bigger reason why that Internet connection is in demand is for the streaming - services like Hulu Plus, Netflix, Redbox Instant (all of which are available on XB360 today) - NOT gaming so much. And THAT demand is coming from the content providers/owners themselves - not Microsoft, or Sony, or even Nintendo (though admittedly the Wii is not a serious player in the content game - Samsung is a bigger player there right now than Nintendo is). However, though that is, in fact, known, it does feed into the anti-DRM monster - which is still alive and breathing when it comes to non-gaming content. Anti-DRM is not as *noisy* there as it is in gaming; however, don't think that it's gone anywhere. I sometimes wonder whether the some of the anti-broadband groups in the exurbs or even suburbs are actually deliberate obstacles put into place to prevent pervasive broadband - due to fears of "The Wired Nation". ("The Wired Nation" was, in fact, the ORIGINAL broadband initiative at the government end, and it started during Richard Nixon's first term. The brains behind it are Roger Ailes - yes; the SAME Ailes that would later help give birth to the Fox News Channel - and H. R. "Bob" Haldeman. "Wired Nation" was not based on new technologies - all the tech behind the original WN plans was either in use or in drawing boards somewhere; in fact, most of it was based not on telco technologies, but SMATV/CATV - the direct ancestor to cable TV of today.) While there were quite a few crooks in Nixon's White House, Nixon's White House had very few dunderheads in it - even the most sociopathic of the "plumbers" - George Gordon Liddy - was no dummy; even his opposition - before he went to jail, while IN jail, and after he was released - admits that. None of them had ANY charisma whatever. (That is likely the REAL difference between crooked GOP politicians and crooked Democratic politicians - charisma.)

astalvfnw said,
time to ditch xbox then

Its a rumor, but please, take your quick-to-judge (without facts at that) gaming to another service. no1 will notice.

ingramator said,
it is obviously not going to happen...
You must have more faith in human stupidity . Quick glimpse into our history can prove easily that we are very capable of grand stupidity and atrocities beyond imagination of many. There is a reason why companies go bust. Microsoft had a chance to shot down this rumor before it spread, but for some reason they are waiting while it is doing significant damage to their reputation.

EJocys said,
You must have more faith in human stupidity . Quick glimpse into our history can prove easily that we are very capable of grand stupidity and atrocities beyond imagination of many. There is a reason why companies go bust. Microsoft had a chance to shot down this rumor before it spread, but for some reason they are waiting while it is doing significant damage to their reputation.

this! well said