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Dealing with Adam Orth and Always-Online Consoles

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In an era when anyone can be tasked for contributing to social media feeds, it’s not surprising when a developer, or someone else associated with the gaming world, says something on Twitter which they later come to regret. Still, Adam Orth’s Twitter comments might take the cake as the most tone deaf and condescending things said on the internet in recent memory.

As the current generation is supposedly coming to a close, much speculation and buzz has given credence to the idea that the next round of consoles will be required to be online at all times in order to deal with the proliferation of used games. It’s eerily similar to the technique previously employed to disastrous effects with most recently SimCity and before that Diablo III. This is purely speculation as Microsoft has not confirmed one way or another how things will be with their next console.

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Expressing his thoughts on the matter, the creative director of Microsoft Studios Adam Orth posted a series of increasingly immature rationalizations on why an always-online console is perfectly reasonable. His advice to prospective buyers of Microsoft’s next system is that they should just ‘deal with it’ and misses the entire point of why people are concerned over this. He likens buying the next console without a reliable internet connection to be the same as buying a vacuum with no electricity or a mobile phone with no coverage.

When valid points were brought up that some people either don’t have internet or spotty connections, Orth says you should get an internet connection then (which he says is ‘awesome’) or not live in a place where you don’t have a solid connection. To say the response has been overwhelming negative would do injustice to the phrase. Orth’s Twitter account has now been locked from public view and Microsoft issued a formal apology, but the damage has been done.

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It’s far too early to tell if there’s going to be a tangible negative effect, but the PR guys at Microsoft will no doubt be fighting an uphill battle to undo the damage done by Orth’s comments. In an age where DRM, always-online, and online passes are far too prevalent, Orth’s words further the appearance that developers and publishers feel they have the right to cram whatever restrictions they want down the throat of the consumer. The phrase ‘deal with it’ has already rocketed into meme status overnight—a petulant mantra that seems to perfectly sum up the reasoning behind the sort of terrible business decisions that have earned EA the dubious distinction of being the worst company out there.

Consoles and videogames are a luxury—we don’t buy them because we have to, we buy them because we want to. ‘Dealing with it’ implies that it’s something gamers have no choice but to accept and that’s far from the truth. It’s not as if there isn’t competition. With the iOS platform taking off and the ability to get and play games on whatever you want, it’s a tough sell to say the least. What Orth and people like him don’t seem to grasp is that the consumer sets the course for the next generation of products, not the other way around.

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I’m not entirely sure if Orth even has a firm understanding of what it is people are specifically concerned about. Gamers aren’t arguing that internet connectivity isn’t a huge factor in modern gaming. Fast online multiplayer is an integral part of the industry and it has its usage in terms of delivering DLC, demos, and updates. The issue here is that even without a connection, there are no restrictions on the games you can play or what you can do with your system. If you want to play a game, you can play a game.

People are afraid that much like the recent SimCity debacle, the system is going to be required to be online all the time in order to just play a game even if it’s a single-player experience. Any number of things can go wrong with that scenario, chief among them the quality of the servers themselves. For some reason game companies assume it’s alright to have this always-online requirement but neglect to put in the effort required to keep servers running: a ridiculous double-standard no matter how you look at it. If every console is going to be online all the time, then they’d better be ready to deliver impeccable service.

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In the interest of fairness, Orth doesn’t speak for Microsoft (although he is a big enough figure to know better than to put in his two cents on such a hot button issue), and to reiterate the always-online component of the next gen has yet to be confirmed by credible sources. Regardless, it’s the attitude more than the actual message that rubs me the wrong way—the attitude that the concerns of the actual players and buyers of games don’t matter. That any awful new way companies are trying to take advantage of consumers is something we not only have to put up with, but accept and embrace as a practice to boot. We don’t have to accept it or even like it, and in fact are well within our rights to reject practices that are inconvenient for gamers—and they’re the ones that need to deal with it, not us.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in March 2010.

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