Ever since it was rumored that Microsoft’s next Xbox console will have an always online requirement, the Internet has been abuzz with controversy. The gaming industry is largely split between those who reject the idea and those who believe audiences are ready for always-on consoles. Will the so-called Xbox 720 be able to quell all concerns when it comes out later this year? Or will the always-on requirement be so off-putting that players will consider switching to PlayStation?
Microsoft has not yet officially commented on the reports. However, Microsoft Studios Creative Director Adam Orth said in a recent tweet that he didn’t understand the “drama” around having an always-on gaming system.
And other prominent figures of the gaming industry agree. Ubisoft Montreal CEO Yannis Mallat believes audiences are ready for this, given that so many people are already always online via other devices they use. In his opinion, when players stop worrying, they will start to realize the benefits an online system could bring, such as a closer connection with game manufacturers, extra content or online services.
Previous attempts at popularizing games needing an Internet connection to load have been known to fail, mostly because of technical malfunctions and server overload. The most notable example is that of SimCity, launched in March. The game’s servers were so overwhelmed that users were not able to log in for days, bringing tons of criticism down on developer Electronic Arts.
In fact server overload is often cited by critics of the always-on console requirement as one of the main reasons for their opposition. Microsoft certainly has what it takes to build more powerful servers that can handle this amount of traffic, but this is no guarantee that it will actually happen. And the concerns were further stoked by a recent Xbox Live Service outage which left Xbox 360 users unable to access any games. Opponents also say the always-on Xbox would rob gamers of the pleasure of playing offline by themselves whenever they feel like it.
The entire controversy may benefit Sony, as the developers behind the much anticipated PlayStation 4 said their console will not need to be always online to work. So if the next Microsoft console will indeed require a constant Internet connection, even hardcore Xbox fans may switch to Sony.
Keep in mind however that everything so far is unconfirmed speculation. An anonymous source claiming to be a Microsoft software engineer insisted that the always-on rumors are just that and that the next Xbox console was never intended to require permanent Internet access to work. Other sources say the Xbox 720 release will be accompanied by a second console, dubbed Xbox Mini, and that this is in fact the system that will require an always-on connection.
So at this point, it is impossible to tell fact from rumor. The best we can do is wait until May 21, when Microsoft is expected to officially reveal more details about its next-generation Xbox.
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