I await next gen with mixed feelings

Jul 22, 2013

Xbox One

In perhaps the biggest backtracking in the history of video gaming (or at least since Gabe Newell changed his mind about the PS3), Microsoft somewhat recently announced that the much criticized DRM aspects of their Xbox One console will be removed at launch. A friend of mine suggested they should take the opportunity to go back and rename the thing as well.

Xbox One doesn’t exactly sound like the third installment of the Xbox, but then again, when you’ve named the second one Xbox 360 you’ve kind of written yourself into a corner. Xbox 720 would be pretty terrible – it does everything… twice! – and Xbox 3 would be 357 Xbox less than its predecessor. Running with Apple’s exceptionally shortsighted name for the third iPad, the new Xbox could simply be The New Xbox, which would bite them in the ass once the fourth one is no doubt announced in a few years time. So I guess Xbox One is as good a name as any, with the single caveat that verbal conversations about the console could just as well be about the first Xbox. But let’s be realistic, who have ever talked about the first Xbox anyway?

The official reason for the u-turn in DRM policies is “feedback from the Xbox community.” I suppose that’s true if you consider “getting killed by the competition at E3” feedback from the community. As Microsoft and Sony are both heartless corporations, neither care about their customers, only to the absolute minimum extent that will let them “win” the console generation, and now that Sony is winning, Microsoft is desperate to pretend they’re listening to the community, even after being smug cunts about the issues since the reveal. Ultimately, the reversal is a good thing – everyone but Microsoft will agree on that – but it came slightly too late, and it allowed Sony to absolutely steal the show at E3. As several commentators have already pointed out though, we shouldn’t even applaud Sony for not being dicks about DRM; that’s simply the way it’s supposed to be. If Sony and Microsoft are going to make me buy a specialized computer on which the concept of multitasking is apparently a special feature, the least they could do is make their overpriced game content easily accessible.

One of the few things Sony didn’t do right with the PS4 reveal was the fact that a paid PS+ membership will be required to play games online, exactly like Xbox Live Gold is required for online play on the Xbox 360 and Xbox One. I’m still struggling to understand why they’re doing this. Free online play is in my opinion one of the strong points of the admittedly troubled PS3, and I thought Sony would have taken note of that. How about this, Sony and Microsoft: I buy your console and your games with my money, and in exchange I get to play those games. I think that sounds fair, but then I’m a consumer, and they don’t care what I think, except when everyone flocks to the competitor’s product instead. I’ve heard the argument “but you get lots of extra features with your subscription like cloud saves and discounts” which I think is avoiding the issue. I don’t want extra features, I just want to play the game that I paid a good lump of money for. In many cases online features are an important part of the game, and they should be considered as such rather than an optional component you have to pay extra for. Besides, most of the things included in a Live Gold/PS+ subscription really should be free as well.

Perhaps I’ve just been spoiled by PC gaming lately. Steam has huge discounts, cloud saves and online multiplayer without the need for a paid subscription, and it shows no signs of changing that. Speaking of Steam, a friend of mine recently asked me if the Steam DRM was not exactly the same as the then-used Xbox One DRM. And I suppose it is, albeit a bit less mistrusting. The key difference is that Steam is an application you’re (more or less) free to install on your machine if you so desire, whereas the Xbox One is specialized, locked-down hardware with a tightly integrated operating system facilitating the restrictions. Most PC games can be acquired from other sources than Steam and thus do not require it, but on a console, everything must go through the official system software.

It’s really too bad, because I used to love consoles, and part of me still does. The PS2 is probably the most entertaining machine I’ve owned and I owe a lot of my fond, rose-tinted gaming memories to the thing (and current gen consoles as well, to a lesser extent). But now they’re basically becoming PCs with fewer features and gimmicks instead of flexibility. This is a problem in an age where PCs boast extremely rich media and gaming capabilities and where hooking them up to a big screen TV has become dead easy. In some way, I hope the next console generation fails so more people realize that there’s much to be gained by gaming on PCs. On the other hand, I do like games, and if a new generation of consoles is what it takes for game studios to come out with new ideas, I’m all for it.

Regardless of all this doom and gloom I’ve just smeared all over the page, I’m sure I’ll still have to get a next gen console at some point for the exclusives – Kingdom Hearts 3 probably won’t see the light of day on PC and there’s too much nostalgia in my head to pass on that one – but it won’t be with the same childish glee as when I got into the previous and current generation.