With Microsoft’s Xbox One, we’ll all live in a room with a large television that shows adverts from Microsoft’s partners and TV shows based on their games. It will be connected to Kinect, a camera and microphone that is always listening and can even monitor your heartbeat.
New content, the almost limitless possibilities of an internet connection and what ‘the cloud’ can offer, and a powerful, sensitive device with which to control our entertainment future.
Xbox One sounds brilliant.
In George Orwell’s 1984, Winston Smith lives in a room with a large telescreen that shows propaganda and approved messages. It also listens to him and acts as a kind of surveillance camera that is so sensitive, it’s thought that it can detect a heartbeat.
Constantly being monitored, listened to, watched. Being served entertainment and current affairs coverage that’s pre-approved and tightly controlled. Our own living rooms reporting back to a central location about our habits and that information being used against us. Doesn’t sound so good now.
The Xbox One does not have a requirement to be always online. That is, as far as we know just now, a fact. So it doesn’t need a constant internet connection. Well, some games might, but that’s up to the developers of those games. Actually, it’s probably up to the publishers of those games.
It’s my experience that a game developer just wants to make his game and for lots of people to play it – a game publisher is more concerned about getting people to pay for it and then making sure nobody is playing it for free. So it’s the publisher that wants to make sure you’re authentic – by checking over the internet, if they can.
The Xbox does not require a constant internet connection but it does require a regular one. At least once every 24 hours, it will need to be online so that it can check that you still own the license for the game you’re playing. That’s exactly like the digital rights management Valve pushed on PC gamers with Steam, except there it’s a 30-day limit rather than 24 hours.
30 days gives much more leeway for people moving house, people on inconsistent connections and people who might not be able to count on their domestic connection and need to use some form of mobile internet to authenticate (many university halls, for example).
So, at some point as-yet-undefined, when Microsoft or their third party partners decide to switch off their authentication servers, all of your Xbox One games will expire. They’ll cease to work. Videogames now have a finite life.
And don’t get too complacent, PlayStation fans. This sounds like something Sony is considering too – they’ve said that they won’t have restrictions for used games but they’ll allow publishers to set their own rules for that stuff, to an extent. Microsoft’s own ‘clarification’ stipulated almost precisely that – except that they also defined the timings of checking on it.
In exchange for this frequent monitoring, Microsoft is allowing us to play our games on any console, as long as they can check our right to do so every hour instead of every 24. They’ll allow us to give away a game to someone who has been on our Friends List for more than 30 days and up to 10 people (‘family’ members) can be authorised to play a game on a different console via the cloud. So it’s not all bad, it’s just that what is bad is very bad indeed.
Kinect can be switched off. Microsoft confirmed that, at least. It can be deactivated completely and you can choose the option of never sending any data back to Microsoft. They’ve also said that, although it’s possible, Kinect won’t record you and send that data to them. It’s almost like they’re saying “We could be really, horrendously evil if we wanted to but don’t worry, we won’t. Promise!” I’m sorry, that’s not really enough for me.
Call me ‘conspiracy theory Pete’ but I’m not sure the word of massive, rich corporations is really all that dependable.
And perhaps more interesting than whether this most recent ‘clarification’ is actually terrible news or not-quite-as-bad-as-all-that news, Microsoft still hasn’t really managed to find a consistent, clear message in what is rapidly becoming an utter embarrassment of a PR disaster. There’s still confusion.
For example, and it’s only one example in many – for the sake of brevity – what’s the difference between a ‘friend’ you can gift a game to and a ‘family member’ who can play your games anyway? My guess is that the difference is a group Xbox Live Gold subscription for families but that’s only a guess because we simply don’t know.
Another point of confusion, and I quote: “Loaning or renting games won’t be available at launch, but we are exploring the possibilities with our partners.” So what about all that stuff about people being on my friends List for 30 days? Doesn’t that mean I can’t lend them a game? Does this mean they can’t return it to me when they’re finished?
It’s okay though, you’ll be able to trade in games, at a publisher’s discretion, as long as it goes to a “participating retailer”. So, as long as you’re trading in games in a way that someone with lots of money can make a bit more money, that’s fine. Sticking your own games on eBay to make a few quid to fund your next purchase? No chance, you grasping prole scumbag!
In the wake of the Xbox 360, there was an accidental consumer rights furore based around what became known as the Red Ring of Death. It looks like the consumer rights furore that will come in the wake of the Xbox One launch isn’t going to be accidental at all.
In 1984, Winston and Julia had a love affair that was illegal. Winston hired a room in which to conduct their meetings – a room that he thought was without a telescreen. In that room was a picture of St. Clement’s Church, a scene of simple joy that inspired the couple to sing the song about its bells. But the telescreen was hidden behind it, watching.
Will Forza 5 be our St. Clement’s Church?
Will we invite Big Brother in, to hide behind the next generation of entertainment media?