Xbox 720 to use always-on DRM? It would doom the console
Rumors have recently resurfaced that the next Xbox will employ DRM that requires you to be online before you can access your games, whether it be for the purpose offline play or not. If true, it seems Microsoft would be releasing its next flagship piece of hardware with an install base of angry users, perhaps dooming the console from its beginning.
Most forms of offline-based DRM have been defeated soon after it has been released. When a DRM is so aggressive that it was difficult to actually bypass, it tends to hurt legitimate customers, who ironically then have to turn to piracy in order to play (or fix) their legitimately purchased title. So, as the internet became more prominent, clever developers realized that a relatively easy way to employ effective DRM is to require a user to be connected to the developer’s own servers in order to authenticate, generally referred to as always-on DRM. Though relatively rare due to the inherent flaw of the internet not always being available, always-on DRM causes an enormous ruckus whenever a game employs it, regardless of what game. Now, rumors have resurfaced that Microsoft’s next Xbox will use a form of always-on DRM, requiring users to be connected to the internet at all times in order to play games. The rumor, whether true or not, is nuts either way.
If false, the rumor is nuts because of just how much of a stretch it is. The developer of a platform that runs a multitude of software unrelated to each other — and software that, on the whole, focuses primarily on offline play — would never create such a barrier to entry. Whether or not the replay value of a console game relies on the online play, games that are only comprised of online play are few and far between. The console gaming industry isn’t yet at point where it’s teetering on the edge of offering online-only experiences and needs something (like a new console from a major developer) to push it over. Though the internet is extremely prevalent in modern-day life, it’s not at the point where it is expected to be available anywhere you go. You aren’t flabbergasted if a clothing store or restaurant doesn’t offer internet connectivity. If the internet isn’t expected to be available everywhere, then Microsoft can’t expect everyone to have access to it. By cutting out whatever portion of gamers either don’t have internet access or don’t have their consoles connected, Microsoft will be arbitrarily cutting out a portion of people that would’ve otherwise given it money. With games breaking sales records left and right, it’s not like piracy or the used games market is actually hitting the console gaming industry so hard that console developers need to cut out a portion of its market in order to protect the rest of it. On top of that, as we’ve seen, always-on DRM induces rage, and making everyone mad isn’t the best way to garner good will for a product launch.
If true, then that’s just as crazy — not because of how much of a stretch it is, but because of just how much Microsoft would be hurting itself by releasing an always-on DRM console. Whether or not you like Microsoft’s decisions, services, or products, the company wouldn’t be where it is today if it were stupid. Generally, a successful company wants a product to be successful, and makes it as available as possible — it’s common sense. Arbitrarily limiting that availability goes against the most basic of business practices, especially when the product already has a barrier of affordability.
Yet, would you really — truly — be surprised if Microsoft (or Sony, for that matter) launched its next console with always-on DRM? Microsoft already has unpopular ideals regarding online functionality by making you pay to play online with Xbox Live Gold. MMOs are more prominent than they’ve ever been and they can only be played online. Steam has made a large population of gamers at ease with a digital library. Both Ubisoft and Blizzard have resorted to always-on DRM for some of their games. So, perhaps Microsoft feels that now is the time to do something as drastic as not allowing its gamers to play video games if a storm knocks out their modem for a bit.
Whatever Microsoft ends up doing, this rumor is bananas.
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