May 30, 2013

Thoughts On The Xbox One: Innovative Tech, Or a Privacy Breach?

Now- at the time I am writing this article I have been sick with a cold and severe congestion. Although my sore throat is mostly gone- it is still very difficult to speak. I wanted to record my thoughts on the new Xbox One- but the voice quality would not only be poor- it would be non-existent. 

A week or two ago, Microsoft had a reveal on one of their campuses regarding the new Xbox console. It has been titled the Xbox One. If you missed the live broadcast; you aren’t missing much of anything: the main highlights were “TV, TV, TV, TELEVISION, WATER COOLER, TV, TV, sports, sports, sports, EA sports, sports, sports, television, rocket science, not rocket science, Call of Duty, Call of Duty, Call of Duty, Call of Duty, a dog, real seal team dog, Call of Duty; “Xbox off””.

The reveal wasn’t anything spectacular. Words buzzed around the internet and even through the press. Many call the Xbox One just a big entertainment box; which may potentially alienate gamers who want a dedicated gaming console. With so much focus on dogs, Call of Duty, rocket science technicalities, TV, water coolers and SPORTS SPORTS, MADDEN SPORTS, Microsoft certainly has not impressed very many crowds. You can only put an Aussie sounding guy on stage for so long that it no longer remains cool.

There are many types of game players out there. Some like PC only; others like consoles and a mix of PC games. Some like tablet and phone stuff. But the expectations set forth by core gamers like myself, who have been at this now for 21 years; are the following:

The game must pack enough reasonable content for my bottom dollar. Look. The industry standard for a video game is $60 US for about 25 hours of content. When we do some math, we get a number: $2.40 per gameplay hour. I will admit that not every gamer is good with numbers or looks at the details as close as I am: but the central point is the same. When discussing games in the realm of, say for example: action RPG games, we can look at Skyrim v. Mass Effect 3, although I’ve already broken my own rule because 

Mass Effect 3 is a 3rd person shooter with RPG elements. When we’re talking about a $60 game, you are getting about 50 hours maximum out of it. Not bad, not bad- so you’re paying about $1.20 per game hour. When we talk about Skyrim, a game so jam packed with content that the game turns platinum- you’re looking at about, so far, to my estimation, 300 hours of gameplay. For $60, that’s $0.20 per game hour. That is bloody excellent.

As a gamer I want value. I want content, no filler, and stuff to do. Achievements don’t cut it for me. I don’t care about them. More importantly, I like it when a brand new game console does not phase out the previous generation. I do not have a $100,000 a year salary to splurge on games and fun. While I will make enough money in the very near future, I am frugal by nature. I don’t like paying these “premium” prices for video games. So that means I like buying used games. After all, I’ve purchased two pre-owned, used vehicles, one from Ford and one from Pontiac (who is now Chevrolet), and after the initial purchase off of the dealer lot from the original owner, that vehicle was none of their business. They sold it, it’s mine, and they can fuck off.

It’s the same with used video games I’ve bought from people. When I buy something online through a site like EBay, and very, very rarely from GameStop- who I have an entire rant to go on- I am buying to play the game that I missed out on. I understand that intellectual property is a thing. I understand that businesses must make money to make a living. Of course I am against people ripping off another’s IP without permission.

However, when that game disc or game content is purchased, keep your fucking hands off of it. It’s mine, and when the cash is handed over, I don’t care what EULA you forced me to sign, it’s my property, it’s protected by first sale doctrine and I have the legal right to resell it and loan it without the initial company’s interference. What if Ford came to me wanting a royalty on the sale of that used car? I’d tell them to fuck off.

I want a fun game. I want a good time- and for some gamers that may mean online multiplayer. A CD key, if needed should stay with the disc or the data bits on the HDD. Someone already bought the rights to play online, and by selling their copy of the content, they sold that right to play that copy online. If game publishers want my money, they’d better provide bug fixes and free online servers for multiplayer. Better yet- allow users to make their own servers. Microsoft would call me an entitled little bitch. They would be correct- because it’s my bloody money.

To recap, here is what I want as a gamer. Let’s recap with the obvious: I want to be able to take the game, install it and then play it. I want to be able to take a game disc, pop it in, possibly install it, then play it. The whole CD Key thing is a pain in the ass, but it’s ok- I power through it. I want value, content, things to do and an awesome experience- preferably where the user is not constrained or “guided” by an invisible hand. I want my right to first sale doctrine respected, and if the company fucked up with bugs I want the fixed, if at all possible. If you want my money, that’s what it’s going to take to get it.

Let’s backup to motion controls briefly. It’s a neat concept. Nintendo has shown that it can work- but more often than not the industry is too stubborn to learn new tricks- except where it protects their flanks on the business end of things. I thought the Kinect was cool as a casual gamer device. However, I am not interested in the Kinect, the features it includes or the games that run on it. I’ve tried it, it’s different, some people may not like it, but I am an old war horse here. Come on.

It is my opinion that the Xbox One failed to deliver at the latest reveal for core gamers. There will be people who enjoy Call of Duty and Madden games like a religion, and already they have come out in small droves gnashing their teeth in defense of Microsoft. Let’s start with my #1 beef with the new Xbox One; and that is the Kinect 2.0.

In order for the Xbox One to function, the Kinect 2.0 must always be connected. It scans the room and asks to identify who people are. Once it knows, it stores information on the console, and possibly to an external server. I’ve got huge privacy concerns over a device- connected to another device connected to the internet- that is watching me through a camera and listening to me with a microphone. I don’t care if Microsoft says “we are the pioneers of privacy”. Things go wrong; people get hacked, and I do not trust Microsoft to do the right thing. Especially with CISPA floating around, what is to stop Microsoft from collecting this information and sharing it with the government? It doesn’t matter- it is neither of their business! GET OUT of our private lives!

Why must the Kinect be mandatorily connected all the time? So that my “experience” can be enhanced? Bullshit. I don’t want it- and right off the bat Microsoft has alienated me as a potential consumer. I am literally sick and tired of the social media movement on the internet requiring everyone’s name and personally identifiable information. I am about to tell Google to fuck off about it because they want me to use my real name on YouTube. Fat chance.

When Diablo III came out, they made it a requirement that you must be connected to the internet in order to play single player or otherwise. Disturbingly they are setting a trend in the gaming industry. In order for your Xbox One not to become a brick, it must connect one every 24 hours, according to executives, in order to authenticate your account. That means check if you are hacking or violating their “property” that they just sold you. We might as well just call it an always online DRM scheme- but that’s not entirely accurate- and not entirely fair. The console must be hooked to the internet once every 24 hours, so call it an ‘always on’ system. I’ve got a major problem with that.

I said earlier that I just want the damn game installed so that I can dive right in. Not so with the Xbox One. In order to play the games, you MUST register them through the console onto the internet in order to install them. From that point on, the game key becomes tied to your account. It doesn’t help the fact that Microsoft has patented technology to count the number of people in the room in order to charge them per person. I am also deeply concerned that the Kinect 2.0 will not recognize “you” as someone else plays your game in your home, and that it will not let that authorized user play the game. Horse shit. Remember what I said about getting out of my private life? This is a huge intrusion into it. Once I give you the money, you have no fucking business monitoring me and what I choose to do with the product- except if I try to sell it as an IP for profit- then I am guilty of copyright violations.

Okay Microsoft okay… you’ve pounded and crushed the corpse into the ground enough now. Sadly I am not done. Microsoft wants a royalty fee for used games. So I cannot go to the second hand market to buy a game. They’ll let me, but in order to activate it I have to pay $52 US dollars in order to do it! Why not just buy the fucking game while I am at it! That is a major deal breaker for me; but everything wrong with this… device… has been a deal breaker for me.

An unconfirmed source indicates that in order to stream Hulu and Netflix- you’ll have to pay Microsoft for the Xbox live service. I can hook up my PS3 and Wii, and probably the PS4- and definitely the Wii U- and they won’t charge me for multiplayer access or an internet connection. If you want more money from me as a consumer, you’d better offer more content- not charge me for something I already pay the internet company for!

Here’s another biggy- the One is not backwards compatible. Big mistake- because now you are alienating games to play with during launch, and as a matter of fact gamers actually do like backwards compatibility. This competitive advantage has been removed from the One. The PS4 offers it through emulation, and the WII U is one generation backwards compatible plus emulation back to NES including (I believe Turbografix 16 and Sega Genesis titles).

From the campus introduction, it seems that the One will connect to your cable set box in order to provide an overlay on the screen. I really don’t care and I don’t see the usefulness in this technology as a gamer. Blu-ray player sure, but this? Are you guys really out of ideas?

There are very few good things, if any to say about the One- but I thought I would throw them in here. The 8GB of GDDR3 is nice, but it highlights the fact that Xbox One is becoming a computer/entertainment device rather than a dedicated gaming console. I like Blu ray and I like storage on the console; but the One is attempting to cater to a larger market than gamers- and if folks with half a brain look at the Kinect 2.0 requirement they will think twice about using this for its ultimate, intended purpose: to be an entertainment center device. The PS4 in contrast will have 8GB GDDR5. That is dedicated graphical RAM.

While memory v. processing capabilities is a complimentary deal in my limited knowledge of electronics engineering, from what I have been told from friends, the processor speeds will be sub-par to what I currently own in my gaming PC. If they wanted to WOW me further they could increase the quality of the processor- but then why call it a gaming console? Why not call it a computer with a fancy controller? In five years the tech will be out of date, and those who wish not to jump to PC gaming will be stuck with the same hardware for about a console generation- which lasts on average about 6-7 years now.

There is a longer battery life in the controller and I can’t pin down the source of that information, but I did read it. That is a good thing when you can increase the battery power capabilities in a wireless controller- but it’s kind of a given. The quiet operation is nice, but it doesn’t earn the One many brownie points. One thing I do like about the console is Skype connectivity. That’s actually cool and potentially something useful. That’s really all I can say about the One.

I need to wrap up here as we should be around the 10 minute mark, but with the way the One has been portrayed with all its privacy invasions and DRM, I am going to take a major league pass on this “device”. I refuse to call it a console because it has strayed from its main purpose- and they have alienated me as a gamer from finding value in their games and for treating me like a potential pirate stealing their plunder. 

That type of behavior from any corporation is unacceptable- and I will not support the schemes that Microsoft is imploring. This means that I get to decide between a Wii U and a PS4- so the PS4 reveal at E3 will be interesting. Sony is lined up to take the gold here- and if they took any lessons from the One reveal, they will steal a lot of business from folks who not only are angry with these DRM and privacy violations, but from the core, rabid fanboys of games such as Call of Duty who “don’t want to bother with the DRM and paying for live, so I’ll just get a PS4”.

We'll see.

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