Real Talk: Why You Want an Always-on Console

Take a breath, relax, and consider why an always connected console might actually be a great idea
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With all the furor and hubbub around the Xbox One’s always-on and DRM policies, the negative possibilities of a console that requires an internet connection have been pretty thoroughly canvassed. What’s been lost amongst all the internet outrage and reflexive backlash is that most of the people engaged in these conversations have reliable, high-speed internet connections, and that even during outages, with the penetration of smart phones and other devices that can act as mobile hotspots, a once-every-24-hours check-in is very unlikely to ever cripple our ability to play games.

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It’s not surprising that the potential advantages of an always-on console have been buried under the weight of such overwhelming negative response, and they have definitely been obfuscated by Microsoft’s awful messaging. So we thought we’d take a moment, let level heads prevail, and look at why you’ll want an always-on console in an increasingly connected world.

Because it Empowers Designers

A lesson MMO developers have been learning for the past decade or so is the importance of creating worlds that change and evolve according to the actions of the players inside them. One of the things that makes World of Warcraft such an enduring success is how it responds to zeitgeist and gives players control over that universe: events, holidays, response to player feedback, a thriving player-controlled economy. Ensuring developers that your platform will have access to broadband internet means that those developers can create living worlds that change on the fly and that are capable of streaming in content the moment it’s fit to release.

Worlds that live, breathe, and react to you is only the tip of the iceberg for what’s possible in games built from the ground up with an always-on connection in mind, and giving the world’s best game creators this kind of creative license is a very exciting concept. On the other hand, another generation in which developers are leashed by not being able to assume that players will have an internet connection sounds like a recipe for stagnation. Which leads to our next point:

Because Publishers and Developers Want It

The idea of a console ensuring that you’re licensed to play the games you’ve bought on it might make consumers nervous, it has the opposite effect on developers and publishers. It should come as no surprise that big publishing houses and the developers that pour years of their lives into developing games like the idea of curbing piracy, or selling more new copies and fewer used copies of their games. While gamers pretty universally agree that they want to be able to trade, sell, and buy used copies of games, if the majority of our games aren’t digital in a couple of years something will have gone seriously wrong. As Steam on PC has proven, a digital marketplace where games can be regularly discounted on the fly can actually be more attractive than the used game market for physical games is now.

But the critical point here is that giving developers and publishers the power to make these decisions by guaranteeing an internet connection makes developers and publishers more likely and willing to publish on your platform. While it might not be the first factor game creators consider, it does make your console more attractive when they’re considering where to launch their games, which means a bigger, better library of titles for owners of those consoles.

Because it Enables Apps and Services

Alongside access to the cloud and the streaming and storage capabilities that come with it, an always-on console means that games and applications can be built to update themselves on the fly. An always connected console can stream news, scores, and live events or exchange text or video messages, much the way our phones do now. Perhaps more importantly, the ability to guarantee an internet connection is an attractive part of a pitch for third party app and service providers.

The next generation of streaming video, audio, or social media services might not be a huge draw for gamers, but they are for a segment of mainstream consumers, and when those consumers buy into a game console it ensures that that console survives and is well-supported and regularly updated. By attracting those consumers, a platform holder can boast of a larger install base, one of the most important things game publishers look at when they’re deciding which consoles they want their games to appear on.

Because it’s Forward Looking

We were among the chorus of voices crying out in protest when the always-on rumors started to swirl, but when things had settled a bit and we took a moment to consider what it actually meant, our heart stopped racing and logic started to reassert itself. Sure, there’s a dark side to a console that needs to check-in every 24 hours, and it has been well documented. But there are also some very important pros to balance out those cons, and best of all, it shows a willingness to look forward towards, and even push us in the direction of, a more universally connected future. Knowing that the console you buy today is future proofed for the next decade is an advantage we won’t fully be able to appreciate until we see it action in the years ahead, but it’s knowledge we’re very happy to have in our pockets now.

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Alan Bradley
Getting played by video games since the '80s. Host of the Pictures Changing Podcast ( and notorious raconteur.