I’m not what I’d consider a principled man. I’m still young, and I try to take life in a detached, learning sort of way. Occasionally, though, a situation pops up that almost directly violates one of my precious few guidelines, and like the protagonist in a Michael Mann film, I must rely on my code to get my through. Or at least, announce it loudly in a blog-y sort of way.
This morning, Edge Magazine reported on a new rumor about Microsoft’s follow-up to the Xbox. Among the details given was a peculiar bit: the new Xbox will require an internet connection to function, similar to Diablo III or the newest Sim City game. This always-online gambit is designed to deter used games, with new games shipping with a code for activating games using Xbox Live.
I’m not even going to bury the lede: if this is true, it’s really dumb. It’s dumb because it precludes a not-as-insignificant-as-you-might-think portion of its target audience without reliable internet. It’s dumb because it’s adding another layer of complexity and unfriendliness to video games just as they’re starting to break even further into the mainstream. It’s dumb because takes Microsoft’s already-inflated sense of hubris with its online services and amps it up to Kanye West-levels of egotism. Actually, that last part’s not “dumb” so much as “kinda gross,” but I was having fun with parallel structure.
Which leads me back to that personal code I mentioned earlier. When it comes to new technology, I have a strict Cabin in the Woods policy (no relation to the film). In order for me to fully embrace a new gadget or device, I need to be able to use it in an environment completely isolated from an online connection—for example, a cabin in the woods. If I can’t enjoy your product in an environment completely removed from 3G and broadband internet, I am not interested.
I am fortunate in that my family has access to just such a cabin. My grandmother owns a cabin on one of Montana’s many fabulous lakes, and it is one of my very favorite places in the world. The cabin (“Hungry Hollow,” reads a sign perched above the door) is on the lake’s shoreline, a good fifteen minute drive into the woods and twenty five minutes from reliable cell phone service. Satellite TV and internet are available, but my grandmother is old and hasn’t two shits to rub together about internet access, and most visits are spent isolated from society. It’s wonderful.
I’m a bit of a cozy gent anyway, and I love the idea of using my favorite gadgets and devices in an isolated setting like a Cabin in the Woods. I need to be able to use your product when I’m in that setting, and assuming I have reliable internet connection all of the time is a fool’s game. Even excluding the halls of Hungry Hollow, I have friends who are too cheap to purchase internet—all of the streaming content and cloud storage in the world doesn’t amount to a hill of beans at their house unless we pirate someone’s Wi-Fi signal.
Putting aside the romanticism for a different set of romanticism, I also feel like I have more confidence in products that don’t need constant online supervision. Take games, for instance. I always buy games based on the strength of their single-player campaigns, because the single-player experience is always constant. Super Mario Bros. is just as playable today as it was 28 years ago. Multiplayer, on the other hand, is much more variable. Community participation varies, bustling one day and a ghost town the next, and companies eventually close their multiplayer servers down. Games like Modern Warfare hang their hat on top-notch multiplayer experiences, but it’s the single-player game that ultimately determines my purchase.
Other symptoms of my Cabin in the Woods policy include:
- Netflix DVDs over Instant Queue
- Buying albums on CD instead of iTunes
- Making every worthwhile Spotify playlist “Available Offline”
Which is why I’m so frustrated at Microsoft’s decision to make its new console online-only. I get that a constant connection works well as a platform for certain game models, especially ones that keep persistent track of progress or statistics. But the only model? That’s much too limiting. Even discounting my admittedly-hoary attitude on persistent internet connectivity, are there enough people with broadband access to avoid affecting sales at the more rural Walmarts and Targets of the United States?
As the US improves its high-speed infrastructure—which is an entirely different conversation—my Cabin in the Woods policy will grow more and more outdated. That is my cross to bear. For now, I maintain my right to vent my frustration at any product or service that violates it. Vive le forêt!