Always On: The Xbox One at E3

On Monday Microsoft will be showing off the Xbox One and its first titles at the E3 gaming conference. So in preparation the makers of the Xbox released details on the Xbox One’s Kinect privacy issues, used games policy, and the ”Always On” controversy with the device itself.

 

From reading the summary on how the Xbox One will work one gets the feeling that the only thing hardcore console gamers will come away with is they have to live their Xbox connected to the Internet and they won’t be able to sale or rent their games on EBay or friends. In some ways this is a failure for Microsoft and one it will have to face and possibly fix. I also think that the One is a shift in thinking about console gaming; one that recognizes a change in player behavior that even gamers won’t or don’t recognize.

Before I go into the more controversial aspects of the One, I want to look the two biggest features that make the One attractive. The first is that the Xbox One will allow same day digital downloads as a game is released in stores. I think SONY has it already for the PlayStation but it is a good add on for the Xbox. The fact that you can download any new game on release date makes the always connected nature of the One a plus. I mean no more lines for the next Call of Duty or HALO. The second feature is one I thought the Xbox would have when people were talking about Xbox One discs. The Xbox One ties user games purchases to the cloud; essentially allowing them to play games on any Xbox One. This also allows players to share games easier with friends and family. This feature is much like how it works on Windows 8/RT devices and is honestly cool. This feature means you could add an a console, log in and play without using any discs.

Now while digital downloads and connected accounts are cool, they are overshadowed by the need of the Xbox One to be connected. Now I understand why gamers are upset with this; it means they need to have a connection to the Internet. To be clear the wording around this is muddled and Microsoft will most likely have to change it. So what does “Always Connected” mean?

The Xbox One is essentially a PC and like a PC it gets updates and checks for bugs, program updates, and the like while connected. It doesn’t mean it needs to always be connected, but it needs to be brought online to make sure its up to date. Now the Xbox One leverages what’s called cloud computing (where the computer expands its functionality by getting resources from computer servers); its their way of future proofing the device and adding more power. Some games that make use of these elements will need the One connected.

Now the issue people are having is over the 24 hour offline play. Because it needs to “check in”, the One will not play games off line if it hasn’t checked in after a period. Now I do not know if this is a form of DRM (digital copyright protection) and it is similar to how online PC game distributor Steam functions (they’re a bit longer). The second issue is around game sharing and used games. On the latter issue, you can trade in games

You can also share games with friends on

Now I predict the furor over the connection could lead to an expanding of the check in. As far as used games Microsoft isn’t blocking sales or taking a cut and to be honest I do not think many publishers will put a ban on it. I do think the features brought on by the cloud make the Xbox One an interesting device.

So in eve of E3 what are my predictions for the Xbox One?

Sadly, I think whatever news delivered will be overshadowed by headlines of “24 hour DRM” and “Kinect is Always Watching”. The Xbox One will be two sided; the games featured on stage and the howls that the One is not for gamers on the other. It really doesn’t matter what SONY does with the PlayStation 4, it is winning by not saying anything. Microsoft for now has lost the most vocal of the core gaming market and thus the narrative going into E3.

And its really a shame because the thinking behind the One feels really forward looking. I think the cloud features of the device along with the improvements of the Kinect add to the gaming landscape. I mean think about a device that expands its power by connecting online and what that could mean for games.

I also fear that because of reactions to the first press event we won’t hear about SmartGlass and Xbox’s plays on PCs and mobile; because that stuff doesn’t appeal to core gamers, My one hope is that the developer story bleeds over to both Windows Phone and Windows 8.1.

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