Unstoppable Rumor Mill: Microsoft Backing Away from Its “Always-Online” Strategy
Truth be told, I’m starting to get burned out on all this Next-Box rumor mongering. The internet may eat this shit up like free ice cream cake, especially Microsoft’s many detractors looking to preemptively label the company’s go at the next-gen a complete failure before it even comes out, but until exact details fall straight from the horse’s mouth — or, better yet, the console releases, you buy it, play it, and deem it suck-worthy for yourself — it’s all just meaningless, speculative prattle.
But, goddamnit, just when I think I’m out, those damn rumors pull me back in. Today’s morsel is a juicy one, though, because word strongly suggests that Microsoft itself has done the leaking in a swiftly orchestrated attempt to put out the fires of discontent sparked by both the news their next Xbox could be an always-online platform, barring use without a steady internet connection, and then the controversial comments a Microsoft Studios employee made telling dissenters to “deal with it.”
Here’s the thick of it: according to a Games Thirst source, Microsoft really was planning to release an “always-online” successor to the Xbox (codenamed “Durango”). This device was also intended to block the usage of used games, another oft rumored indictment. “Microsoft’s original intent was to be the Apple of the games industry by forcing the digital revolution upon it,” reports GT’s sources, “Just like Apple did with the music industry, when it started selling single songs for $.99.”
A bold play, yes, but if Microsoft followed through, and the public hypothetically went along with it, the Durango would’ve been ground zero for anti-used, always-on practices that could have gone on to be industry standards. Like Apple was to music, Microsoft wanted to be an industry-wide trendsetter. New information, however, — that juicy rumor I mentioned — made its way ‘round the net today and seems to indicate Microsoft has dropped these plans.
The revised “Xbox Roadmap” accounts for two separate units; one being the next-gen Durango (or “Next-Box” if you’re cool; “Xbox 720” if you’re not) and the other a drive-less remodel of the Xbox 360 that, when attached to the Durango, allows for backwards compatibility. This “Xbox Mini,” through XBLA and app support, is positioned to compete with Apple TV. Meanwhile, the Durango is no more “always-on” than the current slew of systems on the market, which means games can be played offline and nothing bars used titles. Plus, isolating 360 compatibility to a peripheral can allow the console’s price to stay competitive (competitive doesn’t equal “cheap” but it’s better than “absurd”).
Well, hell, that all sounds a sight better than “deal with it.” Microsoft was ready to drop the hammer; ready to make the future now. In a not-so-friendly to the consumer sort of way, but let’s chalk that up to “growing pains.” So, what happened? What changed the mighty M’s stance on “always-online”? Why, you did. We did. People like me writing about it, you reading it, and then us hating it together.
“Top executives saw the backlash and the bad press Durango was receiving, and held meetings to change that,” says the Games Thirst source. “These new rumors are not happenstance.” Imagine that. The internet can be a wonderful place time to time.