What does always online mean for Xbox 720?

My thoughts on the next Xbox.
This article is over 11 years old and may contain outdated information

This year has been a crazy start for video games.  In the first few months we’ve been graced with titles like Bioshock Infinite, Tomb Raider, and Dead Space 3 to name a few.  A month or so ago Playstation announced their next-gen PS4, with an outstanding presentation geared towards the core of its audience: gamers. 

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During this time the speculation of the “next-box” has grown into a snowball of negativity towards the possibility of an always online feature.  I recently watched an interview with Adam Sessler and Mike Pachter.  The conversation that inspired me to write this article was when Pachter mentioned that a “cable provider” could essentially use the Xbox like a DVR.  It got me thinking about what “always online” could mean for the next-gen Xbox. 

Let’s try to think. Why would the Xbox720 require an online connection?  Do I think Microsoft wants to alienate its huge consumer base all around the globe due to an always online functionality to play games?  No.  What I think is that the always online capability could simply act as a DVR box.  When my cable/internet is down, my DVR doesn’t work.  If my cable or internet went down with the next-gen console, would that mean I can’t play games?  Of course not, the always online feature I think ties directly into the idea of your Xbox acting like a DVR. 

Another theory is Xbox 720 will ban used games and you can only play your copy on your console.  I think with the level of piracy for illegal copies of games, pirates are the target here.  Every so often Xbox will do a purge to weed out the mod’d Xboxs.  A mod’d Xbox is just that, it modifies the capacity at which it can play illegal copies of games, not used games.  GameStop and other major retailers have all adopted a used game policy.  Best Buy, Wal-Mart, GameStop and Target, just to name a few that Xbox could potentially alienate by making a console that doesn’t play used games.  So I find it doubtful Microsoft would do that.

With all the negativity surrounding the always online, let’s suppose it is “always online” and they do alienate a large majority of people.  The first thing that pops into my head would be for those able to use the always online Xbox 720 would be the possibility of “Steam” like sales.  Steam is a video game “store” that sales only digital copies of games for the PC.  Steam is also always online, but all that means for them is when you log in, you log in online to play the game, once you’ve done that you can resume your gaming experience offline.  A huge selling point for Steam is the costs of their video games.  For example, within its first few weeks, Tomb Raider, which is a $60 game at retail, went on sale for $35.  I just love the idea of playing my games at a cheaper price.  This is done so by cutting out all the logistics of the physical copies; shipping, stocking shelves, packaging, etc… 

For developers, knowing that you have an install base that will always be online will help them integrate new game features.  I don’t have a clue as to what those features are.  I wonder what the next Borderlands will look like knowing everyone playing will be online.  The idea of everyone online, just gets me excited.  Another rumor is the next-box will require you to install the game into the hard drive.  Developers going to the drawing board for a new game can do so with the knowledge that everyone will be installing their disc to the hard drive for faster load times and better frame rate.  So, to me, my friends will always be online to some degree and my games will play better.  Sounds like a win to me.

All those years ago when the original Xbox came out, the media thought the requirement for a broadband connection would limit the audience.  But as it turns out, years later, without a broadband connection we wouldn’t have our late night Halo matches, endless hours of CoD, friends list, Xbox music and video, Netflix, and  Hulu plus, just to name a few.  So to question them on this “always online” idea might seem trivial.  Microsoft started in last place when it came to consoles.  Now it is leading the pack, while others are desperately trying to emulate the success of a paid subscription, endless apps, social media and console exclusives.

Last but not least, this may very well be the last cycle of consoles to invade our homes.  If this is the case, then let’s take a look at our current market and how it operates.  AAA titles cost a ton to make, and if those companies can cut costs on a physical product, they will.  Your mobile device is essentially always online.  Steam and Origins are the leaders in digital distribution of video games.  Literally the only major gaming devices that haven’t gone completely digital are our consoles.  Also to ignore that it is desirable for any county’s infrastructure to broaden access of a fast reliable internet to people in rural places would be short sided.

With all the things said above, the most important thing to remember is, these are ALL rumors.  Microsoft hasn’t come out to tell anyone what the Xbox 720 will look like or function like.  I have been a devoted Xbox gamer since the release of the Duke Nukem controller.  Since all the rumors have been spreading, and with PS4 gaining traction due to a lack of anything from Microsoft’s side.  I’m started to question whether or not Xbox is even ready.  Are we going to have another red ring of death come thing Christmas?  By the time Microsoft finally announces the new Xbox, I hope the masses haven’t already written them off.  With no response to anything in the media, I’m losing faith pretty fast.  I want to stay with Xbox, but so far, PlayStation’s been telling me all the cool things it can do for my gaming experience.  Hello, Xbox, are you there?


Written by: Greg Magee


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I'm a stay at home dad who writes about video games. I enjoy my family, video games, and music.