Both the PS4 and the XBOX 720 aren't even released yet and already they're getting a lot of buzz for things outside of what is typically expected. Thus, anticipation is heavily overshadowed by an enamored sense of worry over how these consoles are putting measures in place that might stop them from even playing games at all. The PS4 has had to deal with rumors regarding pre-owned games not running on the unit, and although Sony assured consumers that used games can be played on a PS4, it is far too early to tell at this point. Today, the rumor mill is churning over Microsoft's upcoming new console, and the issue stems with the concept of "always-online", requiring a game or a machine to be fully connected to the internet to function. A notable Microsoft employee took to his Twitter account to call into question gamer's concerns about 'always online', concluding with a rather snarky hashtag "#dealwithit". Granted, the tweet wasn't specifically aimed at the new XBox in particular, but his comments prompted an immediate pouring of outrage from both gamers and developers like Bioware, citing the launch disasters of both Diablo 3 and Sim City; two high-profile PC games associated with DRM (digital-rights management), which is the defacto technical term for "always-online". It also raised questions over whether or not the XBox 720 will fully adopt the feature, and that's not including the other possible fact that it, too, may not play used games. The Microsoft employee in question later apologized for his comments before changing his Twitter profile from public to private to avoid further scorn. So far, Microsoft hasn't publicly commented on the rumors and speculation. The so-called XBOX 720 is due to be revealed in a few short months, leaving many to wonder if Microsoft is purposely waiting until then to either confirm or dispel the rumors.
The industry never duly intended for "always-online" to be an affront to honest gamers, though it is certainly understandable why gamers may feel that way given the circumstances. It may have been designed as a countermeasure against potential hackers, pirates and opportunistic cheaters. These unsavory elements have been a collective thorn in the backside for both companies and their consumers, costing the industry millions---if not billions---every year. It may be that the industry is pushing for more social aspects to their games. They might have this assumption that gamers who play with others have more fun than people who game by themselves. Whether you like it or not, we're living in an era of Facebook and Twitter, where more and more people are glued to their smartphones and tablets, wirelessly keeping in touch with friends and strangers from every corner of the world. In a gaming sense, the industry probably wanted to force the idea of social networking in single-player games because they viewed solitary experiences as no longer being relevant or profitable in this day and age. Companies have made it abundantly clear that they are willing to adopt any newfound idea if it has the potential to generate a foreseeable profit margin, and you can only guess that they're also crossing their fingers hoping gamers will not cause too much of a fuss over it. Looking back, most ideas and proposals forced by the industry have been met with fierce resistance and criticism for fixing what was never broken, only to end up breaking it.
If every internet connection worked perfectly 100% of the time and every household on the face of the planet had access to the internet, always-online DRM would have been a fine idea. The reality is not every person can use the internet in their home, and it doesn't always work as intended; even for those who have top-of-the-line connections like DSL and FIOs. Another thing to consider is that not everybody wants to embrace the social aspects of gaming right away---if at all. That doesn't necessarily make them anti-social; it is merely their preference. When you think about these things, you come to understand why DRM and always-online is problematic in its current stages. Even more troubling is the possibility of games refusing to work at all if the internet decides to have a bad day. Case in point games like Diablo 3 and Sim City, and consoles like the XBOX 720.
When Diablo 3 first launched with the DRM component firmly intact, the high volume of people who purchased the game on day one lead to its in-game servers suffering from immense overcrowding, ultimately shutting down in various portions and preventing the entire game (even the single player modes) from running for a good several hours. Disgruntled consumers took to the message boards to vent their frustrations before Blizzard finally addressed the issue, but the damage had already been done. The same goes for the recently released Sim City reboot. The game launched with an impressive out-of-the-gate sales record, and that also lead to a debilitating server flood that crippled the single-player portion of the game almost entirely. Maxis argued that they could have deemphasized the digital-rights management, but they ultimately chose not to because it didn't fit with their vision. Angry gamers took to task those comments, claiming that their so-called "vision" of Sim City didn't correlate well with their own experience because disparaged servers stopped them from even accessing the game in the first place.
It's often said that the video game industry is slow to learn from their mistakes. In theory, there's some truth to that claim. The industry is aware of the problems associated with DRM and "always-online" components for single player games. Yet, I tend to think that they're more insistent and stubborn in their own beliefs than they are dumb or uneducated. They insist the idea can work, because they likely poured a lot of money into the idea, and their reputation in on an invisible thread. And, by God, they'll see to it that it's either their way or no way at all. So it's really not so much the industry turning an intentional blind eye to the concerns of gamers but, rather, the industry giving you a plate of lima beans and doing everything they can to convince you to eat them so that, maybe, you'd one day grow to like them. Otherwise, you won't be getting dessert.
However, it needs to be clearly understood by both game companies and gamers that, as it stands now, DRM and "always-online" is fundamentally and technically flawed. It becomes an even greater issue if an internet connection is required to even play games at all, and this is a concern that I have for Microsoft's upcoming console. If the rumors prove to be true, then Microsoft will need to answer to an influx of angry gamers who have thrown their lima beans to their puppies begging for scraps underneath the kitchen table. There's nothing inherently wrong with playing games with an internet connection so long as it fulfills its intended purpose well and doesn't serve as a distraction to the experience. But an internet connection shouldn't be a requirement to even run a game at all, because if it only takes a modem to ruin the fun for every single gamer on the planet, regardless of your preference, then we as consumers face a very bleak outcome. As I alluded to before with the industry in general, I don't believe Microsoft is stupid. I think it's very likely that they're perhaps stubborn and insistent. If all the speculation and rumors are to be believed, and should they be confirmed, then they're going to sell you the notion that DRM and always-online is the "way of the gaming future"---an appropriate and necessary measure that protects consumers and the industry at large. And they're hoping against hope that gamers will see it their way.
I can tell you right now that is far from being the case.