I don’t tend to do editorials here, or on The Film Dump for that matter. I could easily. I tend to be prone to the occasional rant about stuff that’s bothering me in the film and games industries, but usually I hold back to let other, more eloquent/humorous people handle that sort of thing. Although I did write quite a rant about that hack Brett Ratner once. It was fun. This week, though, I feel I have been pushed to writing another rant type thing. This isn’t just about the Xbox One. This is about, as I see it, the looming death of the console market and the traditional aspects of gaming. Click the link for my full mass of opinions and semi-informed judgements!
Now, I’ve been gaming a long… long time. My first gaming device was a ZX Spectrum 48k. I joined gaming at the point where the form had really matured beyond moving basic blocks back and forth to get block A to point B but before it had become this huge business that everyone wanted a piece of. Computers such as the Spectrum and consoles such as the Master System and NES were the first to really have the graphical fidelity to produce images that looked like actual things. I used to play a hell of a lot of a very forgettable Scooby and Scrappy-Doo game as a lad and in that game Scrappy-Doo actually looked like Scrappy-Doo. Go back a few years and E.T. Was represented by what looked like a semi-melted question mark made of Lego bricks. It was a glorious time to be a game. Controls were getting to be responsive. Developers were creating worlds and new mechanics never seen in games before. It was also a time where copy protection methods first started to rear their ugly head.
See one of the things everyone would do back then was trade tapes. Yes, many games came on cassette tapes. If you don’t know what a cassette tape is go ask an adult. What we would do with these tapes was put them in a double tape deck and record the game onto another tape to give to a friend. See, we figured out how to pirate real early on. If you think that’s bad though check this out. In some parts of Poland they would play the game data over the radio airwaves so people could record the game and then go play it. Think about that for a minute. Piracy was on a national scale. When I read about that for the first time years ago in an EDGE magazine article I just had to smile a little. Not because I support piracy, wouldn’t do that sort of thing these days, but it was a mighty impressive middle finger to the capitalist system. As a counter measure to all this rampant piracy games developers started coming up with ways to make their games impossible to pirate.
Some developers would put little code wheels in with their games that would be used when the game displayed a code for you to then spin the wheel around and match up another code to input. Main problem with this was that all you’d need is a photocopier or some crayons and the game is now copyable. There were other methods but they rarely got in the way of playing my games. Some actually enhanced the game such as in the case of Deus Ex Machina’s accompanying soundtrack which needed to be played alongside the game. One got right in the way though. I had a game called TT Racers. This was a motorbike racing game and it came with the most infuriating copy protection system I had come across. You basically had this piece of plastic with a light distorting series of cuts in it that you would hold up to the TV screen when a garbled image appeared and then type in the code you’d see on the screen through the prism. Except you would rarely see anything because it plain didn’t work. I think I played the game once.
Recently a little game launched on PC called SimCity. In order to play this single player only game you need to be online. It will not load at all without an online connection and upon release, boy did it not load. See, EA screwed up big and failed to have the servers in place to cope with the amount of people wanting to play. They said it was because the game needed their online servers to handle a load of computational data going on in the background in the game. It has since been found out that the game runs fine without this cloud based processing and so EA are effectively just using the online connection for a for of Digital Rights Management. This past week Microsoft revealed the Xbox One. A console which, as they have said, will need an online connection in order to play games… or not… they can’t seem to decide.
They have said that the Xbox One doesn’t always need to be online. They have also said that the games can use their 300,000 servers to handle background computational data to allow the console to concentrate on the game itself. They have also said it will need to be online at least once a day for the game to even load. See the problems this is going to cause? Of course you can. Because you are capable of thought and have experienced a loss of internet connection at some point in your life. MS have been terrible at conveying exactly what will be required of your internet connection to be able to play. We know that you’ll need to be online to, and I shit you not they’ve used this term, attain “permission” to play your copy of the game. We know each game will come with a one time use code to enable you to be able to play the game which is what grants you this “permission”. This also means that if you have a partner/sibling/flatmate living with you they will not be able to play the game under their profile. If they want to they’ll have to pay an, as yet, undetermined fee to gain “permission” to play the game on their profile. Even better, this online authentication means you can no longer lend a game to friends or easily trade it in.
Now, Microsoft have said a system will be in place to allow you to trade in games. But what does this system involve? As has been the case with pretty much all of their post reveal chatter we don’t really know. It is assumed that a second purchaser would need to buy the same “permission” that a second user in your house would. There’s also been talk of removing the authentication from your console so the code in the box would become active again. But what would this entail. Think about it. You couldn’t just take your game to your local store, hand it over, and receive money off a new game. They’d have to check that you have removed the authentication themselves because they would be unable to then sell the game on without the new owner paying a premium that is likely to be the game’s full retail price. Most game stores rely almost entirely on pre-owned games sales to not just remain in business but to also shift new releases. People don’t like paying full price for games because they are bloody expensive. They trade in to take the edge off. With the Xbox One there’s a good chance that trade in experience is now going to be a slow one. What the sale of the new game would then come down to is if that gamer is willing to pay full price or just go without. I’ve gone without quite a few times because I didn’t have any games I was willing to trade in.
What happens to the price of second hand games then? There’s been talk that Microsoft are setting up a deal with the retailers by which they will receive a part of the sale of a pre-owned game. You don’t have to be Michael Pachter to figure out that this will most likely mean that the cost of pre-owned games will have to go up to, likely, being not much different from the price of a new game. So there goes the benefit of buying a pre-owned game for the consumer whilst the stores are now being forced to charge a higher price because if they don’t they lose the profit they rely on to get by. It’s no surprise that Gamestop’s shares have taken a hit the week after the Xbox One announcement as these rumours started to spread. The other side of the coin is just as grim though. What if MS don’t have a system in place to allow you to remove authentication from a game? Now the stores will be forced to sell a pre-owned game at such a low price they’d be unable to make money again as the consumers will then have to go home and pay that “permission” fee. Double dipping is a very bad move for consumers.
What will either of these outcomes result in? Well, I hate to be bleak and stuff but it pretty much means the end of store retail. They won’t be able to maintain profits with either of these methods in play. To add to that the sale of new games is likely to drop also if the method of removing the authentication is anything other than painless. But maybe this is the plan? Maybe the plan is to eliminate store retail in order to make the all digital, and therefore entirely free of the pre-owned market and the need for stock level based sales to become a reality. See, if the store’s aren’t around any more Microsoft and Sony would then be free to charge full price all the time on their digital distribution services. To them this would be a utopia where they can charge full price for 5 year old games and the consumer just has to like it or lump it. Now I wonder what they’ll do when rampant digital piracy spreads across their consoles as people do the logical thing and rebel against their digital oppressors?
Yeah, I lumped Sony in there too. People have been ignoring the fact that Sony haven’t said a thing about how their Playstation 4 games will handle DRM but you can be sure it will turn out to be something very similar to the Xbox One. You really think Electronic Arts gave up their Online Pass codes, a creation they actually invented, without knowing there would be something far more profitable for them in the next generation? Why make $8 to let a second person play online when they can make $40 to let them just play at all? There is no way the same system isn’t in place on the PS4. Notice how EA seem to have given up on Wii U development also? Sure the console isn’t selling but it also doesn’t have a system in place for code authentication like the other players in the console market do. Nintendo have always been dead set against that sort of thinking. I swear if Nintendo had released a Wii U that was around the same power as the PS4 and Xbox One they would have just been handed the keys to the next generation once people realised how Nintendo doesn’t treat it’s users like thieves.
Right, I’m done ranting about DRM and the mess that is. Do you remember what I said this article would be about at the start? Cos I don’t. Something about the Xbox launch… Right… Lets get onto that right now.
I was exchanging messages with friends over facebook whilst watching the Xbox One reveal event. I’m not so blind to think that the event would be 100% about games. This was Microsoft we’re talking about here. They’ve spent the last 5 years becoming gradually more and more embarrassed of their console and its gaming origins. I get that the word “TV/television” would likely be uttered more than the word “games”. Jesus H Benjamin Christ did I not expect it to take 37 minutes for them to actually start talking about games. As the show started I expected the TV stuff first though, so I was optimistic. They revealed the name of the console. People cheered. As I would expect. They revealed the console. People cheered. So they should. I was fairly positive about this, there certainly wasn’t this much enthusiasm at the PS4 event. And then things started getting weird.
“Xbox On”.. Cheers. Changing between games and TV on the fly… cheers. OK… well it was more switching between TV, TV, films, more TV and then a brief shot of a game that was likely a mistake on their part because that was clearly not Drew Carey’s The Price Is Right. Regardless, there was cheers. Whooping and hollering cheers. For what was essentially switching channels. They said they now had 300,000 servers ready for Xbox One… there was even more cheers. Wait, what? Who the fuck cheers for servers? This is when I started to get a little suspicious. Going back and re-watching these moments I started to notice something. Every single cheer was sounding eerily similar. Not identical, but enough for you to know that it was the same people each time. Now, obviously, I wasn’t there but I’m just gonna throw this accusation out into the wild. Microsoft hired people to cheer because they knew the gaming press would not.
You know what got an appropriate reaction that night? EA announcing fuck all in their 5 minutes. A few people clapped, a couple of people made audible noises that sounded like someone beginning to cheer only to realise no-one else was. All EA announced was that they were releasing 4 games we see every year on Xbox One (and of course the PS4) with their new gaming engine which was called Ignition or Ignite or some shit. I don’t care. It was about as exciting as it sounds. But hey, at least it was games. 37 minutes in. Later in the show some TV exec woman and her younger prettier best friend she hangs around to help herself feel better about her declining youth announced a TV series based on Halo that Steven Spielberg was attached to in some capacity. Now I’m gonna put on my film nut cap and just say this…*puts on cap*… Spielberg’s name being attached to something means nothing. His name is attached to some real turds. Don’t believe me? Go grab a copy of We’re Back! A Dinosaurs Story and tell me his name is an instant seal of quality. Call me when Spielberg is directing a Halo series and I’ll cheer. Well, I’ll at least be mildly interested…*takes off cap*… Obviously the audience liked the news though because those same cheers that whooped and hollered for Drew fucking Carey were back.
Can you tell that as the show went on I started to lose interest? Eventually Microsoft decided to show a few games. We saw those four EA games no-one could give two shits about in a non-gameplay format. We got a trailer for Forza 5 that should no actual gameplay. We saw a weird gameplay free trailer trailer for a new game from Remedy called Quantum Break which I hope to God does not have any of the live action stuff we saw in it. And that was it… until the close of the show. Once Quantum Break has been shown Don Mattrick got back to what mattered most. TV stuff! He announced that Microsoft had spent $400,000 on getting some exclusive content from the NFL! Now I might be out of touch but surely that announcement shows just how wrong they’re getting things here. For one, they’re spending $400,000 on something that isn’t game related. And it’s not even a full thing.. it’s one aspect of their TV thing. To add to this American Football is far from the most popular sport in the world so this deal could only benefit their US centric audience. It’s a sport that is literally just played in one country on a large scale. How is that gonna help make the console appear to anyone that isn’t in the US? That would be like spending $400,000 to get the exclusive on one game and that game is a Japanese hentai tentacle rape game. Suffice to say, this announcement did nowt for me.
There was one ominous presence looming over this whole event that I haven’t even mentioned yet. That presence being, the civil rights lawsuit waiting to happen, the always on Kinect. Yes, not only does every Xbox One come with Kinect but you can’t even switch the bloody thing on without having it connected! Why is this needed? Who the hell knows? Apparently it is so that you can use voice commands to switch on your Xbox One and navigate menus. That also comes along with some hand gestures and Skype also. I’m honestly baffled by this decision. I haven’t purchased a Kinect because I have no use for it. I don’t want to talk to my Xbox. It is a machine. Voice commands make you look like a chump in front of friends and a weirdo when on your own. On top of that the potential for people to screw with you goes through the roof once a voice controlled device is active. Wanna screw a friend over in Skyrim? Say one of the shouts when they’re in a town and say quicksave after. Now your friend can change what you’re doing in an instant. Thing is, all these options must be manageable with the controller also. They’d have to be, surely? We don’t know. But I don’t like not having the choice because motion controls can suck a dick and voice commands can blow a goat. This is a trojan horse tactic to make sure everyone has a Kinect because Microsoft are more concerned with a camera being their legacy than what they’ve done for gaming.
When the show had finished I came away feeling disappointed but optimistic that E3 would be all about the games. But I was left with a major issue. Microsoft at no point during their one hour game console reveal that contained approximately 3 seconds of actual gameplay footage did they address the mass of rumours regarding DRM and other such issues that had been circulating the last few weeks. Now, guess what the first questions were from the press were about right after the show? The shit storm that followed has been spectacular and the last few days have seen the Microsoft bosses contradicting and being generally unspecific about about every question asked. For example, here is MajorNelson’s “clarification” on the used games policy.
“The ability to trade in and resell games is important to gamers and to Xbox. Xbox One is designed to support the trade in and resale of games. Reports about our policies for trade in and resale are inaccurate and incomplete. We will disclose more information in the near future.”
Thanks for that Larry. That’s real clear. Clear as mud that is!!! Ho ho ho!!! Yeah… anyway, that’s pretty much typical of what has been going around the last few days. Not just a lack of actual answers, which is infuriating as surely Microsoft understand that what is not said can be more damaging than what is said, but it has also been the nature of the answers. I ranted on the “permission” thing earlier, which came from Phil Harrison by the way. Remember him? He worked as Sony when they screwed up the PS3 launch and then left for Microsoft around the time it got obsessed with Avatars, Kinect and TV. You know, Sony has been doing pretty well with their services and games the last few years. Odd that.
Another gem of theirs was Don Mattrick saying, with regards to the console’s lack of backwards compatibility that “Wanting backwards compatibility is kind of backwards”. No it isn’t. People want backwards compatibility because new consoles cost a fuck-ton and there’s usually bugger all to play on it for the first year. They want to be able to keep playing their current games whilst moving onto the new console without having to keep their old console out. Consoles take up space, and power and when you have multiple companies all fighting for space under your TV you don’t want to minimise the amount of devices you have out at once. Also, personally, no console is gonna take the place of my SNES under my TV so that is one less space free for an Xbox One. To add to this the Xbox is the first console to really push digital distribution methods. As such many of us Xbox gamers have a large collection of downloaded games and add-ons. I have somewhere in the region of 400 Rock Band songs alone. I have over 100 XBLA games. I’m sorry Microsoft but you’re gonna have to show me a pretty good reason to give up the device that has all that stored on it. Keep in mind that if I brought a new PC, which has similar, and better managed, distribution methods such as Steam I would be able to re-download them to the new PC and there’s a good chance all of them will work. Even the games that are years old.
Now that always on Kinect camera watching your every move… as it’s connected to the internet… which the various games companies have proven in recent years that they cannot keep secure at all. Yeah… not a good thing. Here’s my main problem. There are many unethical bastards out there and Microsoft are creating a console that gives them a way of spying on whoever owns one. At any time. Remember when Sony told every PS3 owner they needed to reset the password on their PSN account after their servers got decimated and hacked to all buggery by a bunch of guys sat in their bedrooms typing crap into a computer. Which pretty much describes me at this exact moment. Anyway, those people will now be trying to find a way to get into your Kinect. Microsoft like to talk about how secure they are but you only need to take one look at a games leaderboard to see people messing with the system or play a few games of Call Of Duty or Borderlands online to come across someone hacking the hell out of their console and tampering with the online infrastructure. This does not bode well.
This leads me to hard drive space. The Xbox One comes with a huge 500GB HDD and every game you buy on disc from a store requires it be installed there. So not only do you have to spend time authenticating this game with a code but you also have to wait for it to install. Anyone that’s got a PS3 can attest to how annoying this can be. Now how big are the games? We don’t really know. They come on Blu Ray discs though so they could be up to 50GB in size. Now suddenly 500GB doesn’t sound like that big a HDD does it? But don’t worry, you can always plug in an external HDD into the USB3 ports. External drives that likely will require their own power source. So thanks Microsoft, not only are you asking me to pay for a game twice so someone else in the house can play my game but you’re increasing my electricity bill. Speaking of electricity bills…
I have one more thing to gripe about, and I don’t think this has been mentioned yet. Just what is the power consumption of this beast? See, the thing is always on. It has no real standby mode. This is to allow the Kinect to be ready to wake up the console when you say “XBAWKS ON!” and for it to already be booted up. Like a PC on standby in many respects. But a PC isn’t also keeping a camera running and listening in on everything you do. This is also so downloads can be handled in the background whilst the console is in standby mode. Which requires the console use more power than it normally does when idle. This all adds up to a console that is constantly sucking power and here in the UK we have laws regarding how much power a device can use when in standby mode. What if the Xbox One uses too much power when in standby mode? Will features be missing from the UK units?
So what did I like at the event? Was there anything that made me say “yes please Mr Microsoft”? Well, I like the name. Up yours, it’s alright. I like that you’ll be able to switch between games and other features real quickly. I like the look of the new controller. It looks like a nice update to the current one. Hopefully the D-Pad is some sort of use this time. I liked that Forza 5 is coming because I have a major addiction to that series. The announcement that they have 15 exclusive games, 8 of which are new I.P.s coming in the first year is… never going to happen, but it’s an exciting promise at least. I’m at least optimistic that E3 will be a far better show for them. But now by not addressing the various issues people had before the Xbox One reveal and the massive can of worms opened directly after by their disaster of PR and stupidity means at least some of E3 is going to have to be spent explaining that crap. Which leave less time for games.
As of now I’d say that Microsoft have pretty much given Sony the lead over the next generation. Regardless of if Sony have the same restrictions in place when it comes to DRM and “permissions” they don’t have a camera looking at you constantly. The console is designed to work offline as well as online. They didn’t spend 80% of their show forgetting what industry they’re in by talking about TV. Now, in a dream world Nintendo would come along and announce a new console that is as powerful as the other two players and completely gimmick free along with a bunch of top tier games. I’d buy it in an instant over either the PS4 or Xbox One right now. They won’t do that though. They’re determined to ignore how badly the Wii U is doing for at least another 2 years. Anyone wanna play Nintendoland again? Nope, thought not.
Fact is, this last week I have found my love of gaming shaken to its core by the absolute disaster that was the Xbox One reveal. If this is the future of gaming on consoles I want no part of it. I have a 10 year old Xbox gamertag that will not be carried over to an Xbox One if things don’t change. I have been gaming for most of my 31 years on this world and now I’m starting to think I need to back away. Well done Microsoft. You’ve made me not enjoy games any more. Tonight, before writing this very long (sorry about that) article I sat and played on my SNES. I plugged in Super Star Wars and shot some Wamprats. It came on instantly and I didn’t need to be online or ask permission from Nintendo to play it. I then played some Starfox and, you know what, the game holds up despite looking very old. That is what console gaming is. Not hand gestures. Not shouting commands at my console. Not TV. Not “experience” or “content”… I dare you to count how many times they said those words during the 1 hour show. There was no needing to be online to play. I didn’t have a camera pointed at me. I just played. And isn’t that what we should be doing with our games consoles.. just getting on with playing.
I could write way more for this… but I won’t. This near 5,000 word piece will likely get read by all of one person, as per the usual amount of views I get for stuff I post on this blog. But what I care about is getting this message out of my system. If any of this rings true for you then you should write something too. Even if it’s not about games. If you have something to say, you get it out there. Because if you say nothing then this sort of crap happens again and again. Now I’m gonna play some Mario Kart. Laters, peace out and don’t forget to ask permission for whatever you’re doing from now on. Because clearly you are a thieving scum bag that can’t be trusted to pay for something legitimately.