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Editorial: This Is Why the Majority Don't Want Always Online DRM


Marcus Estrada

At this very moment, we don’t know for certain if the next Xbox console will require a persistent internet connection. Rumors saying as much have dogged the upcoming system for over a year now, and have only gained more credibility over time. “Confirmations” from un-named or even named developers make it seem that this change to always-on systems is inevitable since Microsoft and Sony probably are contemplating it.

 

The latest controversy around an internet requirement came not from more rumors, but rather the reaction to said rumor. Microsoft Studios Creative Director Adam Orth made a series of Twitter posts that typified the kind of attitude gamers sometimes feel all big companies have. He started that “every device” is always on because “that’s the world we live in.” He also showed no interest in users who cannot access reliable internet, or any at all. No doubt that there are gamers who agree with his assessment of the modern era, but the anger in response to Orth shows that many also disagree. Microsoft had to engage in damage control by officially apologizing over said words.

 

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But were Orth’s assertions truly indicative of the modern age? Are we finally at the point where everyone is always connected and enjoying the benefits of it? I don’t think so, although those reading this piece may believe otherwise. To simply read this published piece requires an internet connection, after all, through either an Internet Service Provider or cell phone service provider. While there are a great deal of people in the United States using the internet, there are certainly issues with our infrastructure.

 

Gamers who live in an urban metropolis or near enough to cities probably have pretty respectable internet. Those players can probably enjoy downloading digital games and playing rounds of multiplayer without much issue. There may be occasional hiccups, but otherwise, they’d likely be living a life where worrying about the internet doesn’t factor into their daily routine. However, big cities are a very small minority of the landscape.

 

So much of the United States is still extremely rural. With such a massive landmass that we call our own, there is still tons of work to be done with getting the entire country online. In some towns, there may only be one ISP around and they might not be the most reliable. This is definitely the case for many and it causes a huge detriment to gamers. People living in these environments do not have reliable internet, or even any sufficiently speedy connection at all.

 

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Map of cable and fiber internet provider locations in United States

 

If you’ve never been in a place like this, then it’s easy to agree with Orth. But if you do live with a shoddy connection then you must deal with downloads stopping or restarting because the connection just isn’t trustworthy enough to stay persistently connected for the length of the game download. Or there is the fact that a large chunk of America still uses DSL. These speeds are just a fraction of what cable customers can see, and slow as molasses when compared to the lucky FiOS users. Did you think the PlayStation Network servers were slow? Enjoy waiting even longer for them thanks to DSL being the only internet you can obtain in your area.

 

Then comes another interesting facet of Orth’s statement worth touching on. “Every device” is always on these days, he said. But what does that really mean? Yes, everything from recent TV sets to refrigerators are trying to get in on the “connected” bandwagon. But does everyone continuously stock their homes with the newest technological goodies? As gamers, many of us do to make sure we always have the best gaming setup possible. Other games are not lucky to have enough money to be living as modern a lifestyle as Orth asserts.

 

Of course, some would argue those people don’t have the money to buy a new system either, but you’d be surprised to see how many people play games even at lower socioeconomic statuses. Many may get these systems years down the line when they have finally seen a few price drops. What a disappointment it would be if these families had to realize that gaming had finally shut them out. So far, other methods of entertainment such as books and movies have not done the same.

 

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Let’s imagine that the US government goes all out in the next few years to get fast, reliable, and cheap internet throughout the states. Would we all then be prepared to face an onslaught of always online consoles? No, not at all. One anti-consumer trend that has cropped up over the past few years is data caps. In the US, some of the largest internet providers enforce caps on all home (as opposed to business) customers. Sometimes these caps are up in the range of 250 GBs, but other times they are as low as 20 GBs.

 

Everything seems to be pushing consumers to eat up digital content in massive amounts. Gaming is the same, as they wish to further the success of digital downloads, multiplayer, and possibly always connected systems. Depending on the company, though, you may be out of luck. Passing data caps tends to either cause you to have to pay overage fees, severely slow down the connection, or cut access entirely until the end of the month.

 

Imagine it. You’ve been enjoying shows on Netflix, "Let’s Plays" on Youtube, and streams on Twitch, and quickly eat up your data cap allotment within the first week of a month. Then what? Are you willing to shell out the fees for going over the cap because that system is going to require some meager amount of online connectedness to function? If you lose the internet entirely then are you going to be content to not play the Xbox until connection is granted again? That’s what would have to be done, but it in no way would please the owner of an always-online system.

 

Internet is an important commodity in the modern age. It is basically expected that we all have it to maintain our lifestyles, and we have readily adopted this mindset. Regardless of how we connect, we are eager to do so even if it is only through shoddy companies who can’t promise 100% uptime. Data caps, as monetization schemes, will only proliferate to more customers if no one stops them. Until internet connectedness is at an acceptable level in the United States, and caps are exorbitantly high (or abolished), we as a nation will remain unprepared for the future of an always online console.

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