Feeble Defense of ‘Always Online’

By now everyone’s heard the rumors and scuttlebutt about the XBox 720 and it’s always online internet connection and how Michael Orth told the XBox community to “deal with it,” and his inevitable firing/resignation. However, the whole thing still stings doesn’t it? I’m pretty sure anyone with a current generation XBox can’t stand the thought that Microsoft is possibly abandoning it’s player base.

Strangely enough, this whole “always online” devices is nothing new in the business world, and I actually worked for one that made money off this whole concept. That puts me in a unique position, maybe not to defend the ‘awlays online’ requirement, as it’s pretty much a lost cause, but to understand the thinking that might be going into it.

So, then now that I’m wearing my flame shield, allow me to elaborate…

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The Brain-trust

Like it or not, someone labeled ‘Creative Director,’ such as Adam Orth, is probably representative of most of the brain-trust that went into the planning phases of the Next XBox. These people are big business types, who have long important sounding job titles to go with their important jobs and long paychecks. They likely live in an urban environment, have more than one mobile device, and do most of the internet surfing at work, saving other entertainment options for their off time.

This colors their character and the ideas they might generate significantly — I know, I worked for some of these types of people. Because their business internet is always connected at work, because their smartphones and other mobile devices can always get a signal, because they rarely, if ever have issues with internet at home, they think the Internet simply exists and cannot imagine a world where they weren’t connected. This means that these types back the ‘always online’ idea because they live it day in and day out.

To a degree, this isn’t entirely uncommon in the United States. Even people living in major cities in the mid-west, such as Chicago, Austin, Nashville, or St. Louis can likely connect to some kind of Internet connection somewhere, even if it’s the coffee house up the road. People who live in these places would not have much of an issue with an ‘always on’ requirement.

Obviously however, this is simply an illusion, as once one starts getting further and further from heavily civilized areas, Internet connection at all becomes more of a luxury. So, there have to be other reasons why someone would get on-board with this idea.

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The Cell Phone

The whole, broadband internet not available everywhere issue would likely be brought up in a board meeting at some point, one would hope at least. However, what device do we use when there’s no direct connection to the internet? Of course, our smart phones.

This is something I have yet to hear being discussed yet, but I suspect if this ‘always on’ technology is at the crux of the Next XBox, it has to have connecting to a wireless service provider in mind for those that can’t jack their cable internet in the back. This may be quite a bit of conjecture I’m throwing out here, but if Microsoft truly is moving into challenge Apple in terms of total service packages, I would not rule this out.

Again though, this has it’s problems too since there are still places where cell phone signals simply don’t reach or can’t connect. Also the signal could still be terrible depending on which wireless service company you have to go with for the device.

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The Not-so Average Consumers

Chances are good, however, that the Next XBox is not being made for the average modern-day consumer — as in, not average, not modern, and not a consumer. I will explain.

First, people are claiming Microsoft will make this into a multimedia machine not just a gaming console, and that’s accurate. It’s not being designed for some cave dwelling troglodyte that most people think of when saying “gamer.” It’s being designed for people to use to bring their family, friends, and loved ones together, and enjoy. When they can’t play games together, they are instantly connected with each other via the Internet and social media functions so they can remain connected to each other.

Second, this will not be a machine for today’s market and infrastructure. The Wii took off and was a resounding success early in this passing generation because it provided a new experience at a reasonable price. It failed to hold it’s lead toward the end of this cycle because the technology had become not just outdated but practically obsolete. The XBox and PS3 felt it too as they had to adopt motion controls similar to the Wii just to push this generation on another few years. Microsoft is not building the Next XBox for the now, it’s building it for the future. It’s being built for a time, in their mind, when the Internet really is ‘always on.’

Lastly, with this ‘always on’ idea, they are clearly not just looking at controlling living rooms with this technology. The company I worked for managed to get away with the idea of their devices being always online because they were selling to businesses. Unlike Joe Consumer, business have to always be online to do business. Particularly in our day and age, 3 minutes of downtime can crush a business. If businesses already need this anyway, a media center style device that requires it always be connected isn’t that much of an issue. What ramifications that could have is anyone’s guess, but I suspect this is the biggest piece of the puzzle with “Project Durango.”

Don’t get me wrong, however, I still think the ‘always online’ requirement is misguided. The gaming community is still the primary audience for XBox presuming it still goes by that name, as such, they still need to attract gamers. However, gamers generally are not interested in a media center device; if they need one, they’d rather piece together a media center out of systems and devices they like. The problems with broadband infrastructure and wireless broadband connection may go away in the next decade, but it will take the majority of it to do so, and thus to make ‘always on’ viable maybe near the tail end of the system’s life span. Lastly, unless businesses want their employees to wave, wiggle, and waggle like buffoons or want their own private arcade, this would be a much harder sell to the boardroom than the living room.

Nonetheless, I suspect what I have outlined here are the guiding principles of the Next XBox, and the thought processes that could have carried this misguided notion as high as it went.

I do not, have not, and likely will not work for Microsoft, the ideas presented here are my own conjecture, or based on rumors that may or may not be substantiated in May.

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2 thoughts on “Feeble Defense of ‘Always Online’

  1. Thanks for finally writing about >Feeble Defense of Always Online | Punch, Kick, It’s All in the Mind <Loved it!

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