Xbox v.Next and Always On(line)

Xbox v.Next and Always On(line)

Outrage real and imagined in the wake of an Xbox v.Next revelation

Microsoft has taken the unusual step of apologizing for public statements made by an employee about a feature of the next Xbox, a product that has yet to be announced. But let’s be clear: Microsoft is only apologizing for the way the message—“deal with it”—was delivered. I suspect it won’t be changing how the next Xbox works one bit.

To recap this mini-controversy, amidst swirling rumors about the next Xbox—which I’ll clarify below—Microsoft Studios Creative Director Adam Orth indirectly confirmed reports that this coming device would require an “always on” Internet connection in an admittedly bizarre series of Twitter tweets. “Sorry, I don’t get the drama around having an ‘always on’ console," he wrote. “Every device now is ‘always on.’ That's the world we live in.” Then, using a Twitter hashtag, he punctuated his point with the comment that, I think, really set people off: “Deal with it.”

Deal with it, indeed. The Internet—or at least a certain part of the Internet—reacted with outrage, despite the fact that most of the complaints were likely made over high-speed cable connections.

I was asked about this guy’s alleged meltdown on Twitter and via email a number of times. My take-aways were simple:

1) Always-on connectivity is indeed part of the next Xbox, and it was interesting to see this guy confirm that unofficially.

2) He could have been more tactful, but let’s face it, people are way too sensitive online.

3) The biggest issue here, frankly, was the cyberbullying that occurred in the wake of Orth’s comments. Those sensitive people aren’t so sensitive when it comes to other people, that’s for sure. In fact, that’s my exact definition of a bully.

And there it would have sat. I never would have written this up, because I can’t stand this sort of pseudo-outrage.

But then Microsoft issued the following statement about the episode.

“We apologize for the inappropriate comments made by an employee on Twitter yesterday. This person is not a spokesperson for Microsoft, and his personal views do not reflect the customer centric approach we take to our products or how we would communicate directly with our loyal consumers.  We are very sorry if this offended anyone, however we have not made any announcements about our product roadmap, and have no further comment on this matter.”

And now I have a fourth take-away.

4) Microsoft is only upset about the way this feature was communicated, because it likes to present this kind of thing as a positive, not a negative.

Folks, the next Xbox is going to require an always-on Internet connection. I don’t know the specifics of what that means, but as I explained on this week’s What The Tech podcast, which was recorded on Friday instead of the usual Tuesday because of my travel earlier in this week, this piece of information had been communicated to me, along with some other relevant tidbits, in January. It’s true.

Will Microsoft change this requirement in the wake of early outrage? Frankly I think we’re too far along in the development process of the next Xbox, codenamed Durango, to make such a change. More to the point, I think that an always-on Xbox is directly in keeping with Microsoft’s strategy for all next-generation platforms, including Windows Phone (all versions) and Windows 8/RT, which are designed to work as if you are simply connected all the time. Yes, they do work offline, of course. But the apps platform on these systems—which will be replicated on the Windows 8-based next Xbox—assumes a connection. Microsoft’s new platforms are integrated conduits for online services.

With bad memories of the horrible SimCity launch in our minds—that PC game also requires an Internet connection, even in “single player” mode—it’s understandable why some are nervous about this. And yes, of course we’re going to hear from the people who live in rural areas of the US, or in parts of the world where Internet connections are slow and unreliable, expensive, and metered. As we always do when any cloud-computing-type issue arises.

Deal with it. :)

Just kidding. But the knee-jerk reaction to this functionality—which, again, could certainly have been communicated a bit better—is happening before we have all the facts. Let’s see what Microsoft has to say about the next Xbox, first in a late May launch event, and then later at both E3 and BUILD 2013, before we make up our minds. Let’s not let one ill-conceived comment ruin what’s going to be an awesome year for Xbox. And yes, it really is going to be awesome.

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