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