After Microsoft announced yesterday that they are reversing their used games and DRM policy, gamers everywhere exploded into self-congratulatory joy. This is such a huge victory for consumer rights! The immense backlash helped sway Microsoft away from a bunch of horrible policies! It's time to go out and preorder an Xbox One now, right?
Not so fast. There is still another big, stompy bugbear that seems to have slipped past everyone's radar last night, and that bugbear is called "the cloud." Go review all the E3 coverage where MS and game companies making Xbone exclusives praised this mysterious cloud and how it will greatly improve our gaming experience. Play a drinking game where you take a swig whenever someone mentions "the cloud allows us to do things that would otherwise be impossible," preferably when they don't actually explain how or why "TEH CLOUDZ" will be so important. Actually, don't do that, you'll be dead from alcohol poisoning before you are done with even one article.
The problem is that cloud computing, by its very nature, requires a constant Internet connection. Games that make heavy use of the cloud, even if they are single player, will therefore require an Internet connection. I seem to remember something like this happening before...several times, in fact. They were called Diablo III and SimCity. What I'm seeing here with the Xbone's emphasis on the cloud isn't some positive force for gamers that will immensely improve our experience, but rather thinly disguised always-on DRM. Remember when EA went on and on about how SimCity's reliance on remote servers (aka "the cloud") was going to be an amazing feature and how the game would be impossible without being powered by this magical fairy dust of miracles? Remember how well that went?
From where I'm sitting, it looks like very little has actually changed. My cynical side is seeing this reversal as a last ditch PR campaign, a PR campaign full of half-truths and misinformation. Yes, the online DRM is technically gone, but the emphasis on "the cloud" and its mystical properties makes this a moot point. In other words, the Xbox One itself doesn't have online DRM anymore, but cloud computing could more or less be used as a type of always-online DRM by forcing it into games where it really doesn't need to be.
Need I remind you that the Kinect is still required, and after hearing about Microsoft's involvement with the NSA's PRISM project, I'm even more wary of having a camera/microphone that is constantly scanning my room and always listening. I also have no doubt that the Kinect will be used for more nefarious purposes, like allowing Microsoft to make more targeted and aggressive ads for the service that you already pay $60 a year for.
Even more relevant for me, as a huge consumer (And reviewer) of indie games, is that Microsoft's utterly stupid publishing policies are still in place. I simply can't, and don't want to, support such a ridiculously anti-indie console. Indies are one of the few bastions of creativity and innovation in this increasingly stagnant industry, to say nothing about how consumer-friendly many indie companies are. Look at all the free content that companies like CDProjekt and Ronimo have given their fans post-launch, while most major publishers are already talking about DLC months before the game is out (Battlefield 4...XCOM Declassified).
So I guess what I'm getting at is that I'm still not going to buy an Xbox One, and all of you should still be wary of it too. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Microsoft has conveniently left out information during their reversal announcement. Just minor information, like how "the cloud" is basically just going to be a renamed DRM system. Kind of like how Blizzard and EA tried to pull the wool over our eyes by saying that Diablo III and SimCity "aren't really single player games" and "The always-online connection will come with major benefits! Trust us! Nothing bad will happen..."