Opinion: Microsoft's Always-Online Debacle Is Playing into the PS4's Hands
Posted by Sammy Barker
Xbox manufacturer is in a pickle
No publicity is bad publicity, or so the old adage goes – but Microsoft executives must find themselves staring into a window of brutal GIFs wondering what to do next. The press surrounding the company’s next generation platform has not been rosy for some time, but things escalated overnight when Adam Orth, the creative director on an as of yet unannounced Xbox title, mistakenly opted to use the public forum of Twitter to channel his opinion about the latest round of rumours regarding his employer’s impending console revision.
“Sorry, I don’t get the drama around having an ‘always on’ console,” he said in response to a Kotaku report that suggested that Microsoft’s next generation system would require an internet connection to operate – even in single player games. “Every device now is ‘always on’. That’s the world we live in. Deal with it.”
Orth – who is something of an industry veteran, having worked at LucasArts, EA and, ironically, Sony – went on to hold a series of charged conversations with followers, even insulting BioWare senior designer Manveer Heir in the process. “You know some people's Internet goes out, right?” the Mass Effect developer said, before pointing to a number of regions in North America that could potentially be affected by an always-online console. “Why would I live there?” the Microsoft man responded.
Naturally, the anti-consumer rhetoric spouted by Orth is not representative of Microsoft’s stance in the slightest – but the timing of the comments couldn’t come at a worse time for the company, with the manufacturer already facing the brunt of a backlash from the media and developers alike. And that’s all playing into the hands of Sony, who must be elated over the manner in which its largest competitor appears to be manufacturing its own catastrophic downfall. Regardless of whether the next Xbox will require an online connection to operate or not, there’s no doubt that the PlayStation 4 is profiting from all of this negativity.
Microsoft could have easily nipped this rumour in the bud a long time ago, but its silence is doing no favours and giving the always-online stories credence. The manufacturer seems to be content with letting developers such as Jonathan Blow badmouth its publication policies, while the PS4 soaks up the acclaim of some developers for its open and accommodating attitude towards indie studios. It may be that the next Xbox is making similar strides behind the scenes, but with those in the know gagged by embargoes and non-disclosure agreements, the firm faces the threat of looking like it’s simply following the lead.
In truth, it’s hard to imagine that the company doesn’t care about the pool of creative minds that have helped propel its platform to the top of the sales charts in North America over the past eight years, but the longer that it hides behind tin shields twiddling its thumbs, the more momentum that the PS4 stands to gain. It’s almost like an exact role reversal of the current generation, where Sony’s own misplaced hostility ceded an advantage to the Xbox 360. If Microsoft needs a reminder of where this road leads, it need only familiarise itself with the media’s treatment of the PlayStation 3’s turbulent first few years.
Sony, to its credit, has resisted the temptation to chime in on the saga. The company already confirmed that the PS4 will not require an online connection earlier in the year, at the same time as it dispelled any burgeoning rumours regarding used games being blocked. We’ve no doubt that the platform holder will be eager to reinforce the attributes should Microsoft confirm that it’s heading in a different direction.
But the PlayStation maker needs to not get distracted. It finds itself on the front foot for the time being, but Microsoft could quite easily pull the rug from beneath its feet. So long as the company continues to work closely with developers and put the needs of consumers first, then the PS4 will be a success. It’s down to its competitor to douse the flames that its own arrogance has helped ignite. And if it can’t, then it may just have to simply "deal" with the ramifications.
Has the negative speculation surrounding the next Xbox pushed you towards the PS4, or are you waiting for more information before you make up your mind about which console to buy? Let us know in the comments section below.