One of the big reasons that EA is on the path to a possible repeat as Worst Company In America is its ill-advised decision to require that users of the popular SimCity 5 game always be connected to the Internet in order to play. When the servers couldn’t keep up with interest, consumers raged, both because they couldn’t play the game and because requiring an Internet connection at all times is often viewed as invasive and unnecessary.
And yet, a new report from Kotaku indicates that this is exactly what Microsoft will require for people who want to use the next Xbox, which is due out at some vague point in the not-terribly-distant future.
“If there isn’t a connection, no games or apps can be started,” one source explains to Kotaku about the currently unannounced system. “If the connection is interrupted then after a period of time–currently three minutes, if I remember correctly–the game/app is suspended and the network troubleshooter started.”
If this is true, it would be the first time a major gaming console has required an always-online connection.
The source does allow that this may have changed since he last heard details about the console, and other reports have not indicated anything definitive about whether or not this requirement will be in place.
In a response that some believe is a sign that Microsoft is at least considering the always-online requirement, Microsoft Studios creative director Adam Orth stuck his foot in the hornets’ nest when he Tweeted (since deleted but available on Reddit) “I don’t get the drama around having an ‘always on’ console. Every device now is ‘always on’. That’s the world we live in. #dealwithit
In response to a Twitter user who pointed to the SimCity 5 debacle as an example of why always-connected can be problematic, Orth replied “Electricity goes out too,” arguing that occasional lack of power is no reason not to buy a vacuum cleaner and spotty cellphone service is not a reason to avoid buying a wireless device.
Except those aren’t the best analogies. Your vacuum cleaner requires electricity to work; cellphones require a network of cell towers to be anything other than a paperweight (and yes, some would argue that lack of cell service is indeed a good reason to not buy a cellphone).
Internet connectivity is not a part of all games; it’s an additional function of the device, so the always-online requirement is more like requiring that your new car always have its GPS on.
Additionally, it’s not just about people who may have spotty or slow Internet access (though Orth did take the time to insult the towns of Blacksburg, VA, and Janesville, WI). Many of those concerned about always-online technology simply want the option of when they connect to the Internet. They feel this is something that, heaven forbid, they should have some say in.
So while there are a growing number of devices, from thermostats to wristwatches, that connect to the Internet, there are also plenty of options for people who don’t want to be tethered to the online world at all times.
Speaking of which, Sony has already confirmed that its upcoming PS4 console will not require an Internet connection for basic operation.