Aaron R. Davis
I’ve spoken before in this space about gaming. I’m really more of a casual gamer, devoted to Nintendo, but previously I spoke about my distaste and confusion with the Wii U and wondered about getting into another system. Microsoft’s Xbox 360 seemed like a real possibility at the time, but I had decided to wait until I saw the next generation of the console to make any real decisions.
After reading all about the newly-unveiled Xbox One, my decision is this: fuck no.
I think in America there are going to be times when you’re financially propping up corporate greed. It’s hard to avoid. But when that corporate greed is so naked, so evil, so obvious, makes so little attempt to even pretend to be something else, it just feels like helping someone take advantage of me, and I’m just not going to participate.
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the ways Microsoft is trying to screw you over with its newest entertainment console:
It always requires an Internet connection. Even if the game you’re playing is a single player game that doesn’t need an Internet connection to play, Xbox will not run the game unless the Internet connection is there, because Microsoft needs to be constantly aware of what you’re doing with the system you paid money for.
It requires you to register every game to your Xbox Live account in order to play them. The discs are basically software files; the games have to be installed to the hard drive in order to play. You can’t put them in another machine without paying more. A lot of people have lamented that this means Microsoft is trying to kill the rental and used games markets. No kidding: the video game industry has been trying to figure out how to kill those markets for years, because they don’t make any money off of those markets. And no lending, of course. You can’t borrow the games from a friend and try them out before you buy, because the game isn’t registered to your account; in order to register them, you have to pay the full price of the game itself. So, no more trying before you buy. It’s just buy it or you don’t get to play it, ever.
Also, the physical discs you need to install the game are Blu-rays, so I can’t wait to see how much more expensive they’ll be than the already-too-expensive games we have now.
Another market Microsoft is going to try and destroy is the independent game developer market. Well, they’re trying to exploit it, but by doing so, they’ll kill it. Because now the indie developers have to enter into publishing deals with Microsoft in order to market their content on the new system. Playstation Network allows and actively encourages self-publishing. Microsoft basically needs to own your idea, pretty much the way it needs to own everything you do with the Xbox One.
Rather than backwards compatibility that would allow you to play your Xbox 360 games on the new console, Microsoft has gone all in on TV capability. Sure, it can stream live television. As long as you buy a separate device for it to enable it to do so. Because why not pay hundreds more a month for something you’re probably already getting online, through cable or through satellite for much, much cheaper. Why give people something that they want when you can give them something they don’t need and try to convince them that they do? Who makes money just fulfilling consumer needs, am I right? You have to convince them the need is there. So really, this is an all-in-one home entertainment system, and it will be priced accordingly.
Wow. So, Microsoft is screwing its customers on when and where and essentially how the games can be played (welcome to DRM headaches, Xbox players). It’s screwing them on add-ons, like the streaming capability and apparently even on the new system-specific headsets you’ll have to buy to play on Xbox Live. This is far beyond getting nickel and dimed. This is flat out getting mugged. Remember the days when you could just buy a video game console and then just buy, rent or borrow games? Those days are over. Microsoft finally figured out how to turn a video game console into a long term investment, by charging you for the system, charging you for your account, charging you to play games, charging you to borrow games and charging you to use it as a cable box (even though you surely already have one). You’re not buying anything anymore. You’re licensing it all from Microsoft and paying over and over to keep being able to use it.
What, you thought buying something meant you owned it? That’s backwards thinking, pal. That’s not capitalism.
But here’s the thing that really chills me deep inside: it’s the Kinect.
The Xbox One requires a Kinect. It needs the Kinect to be plugged in and active all the time. Even when the machine’s not running. This isn’t an option. And it’s not a motion sensor. It’s a camera, always watching and listening and waiting.
One of the ways to turn the machine on is to simply say “Xbox on.” One of the ways to use the console to watch TV is to say “Go to TV.” You can even use Skype to call people while you’re watching television or playing a game, because who doesn’t want to be connected to everything at all times? Hell, if you don’t, then modern electronics aren’t for you, because everything has to be networked, send things to Facebook and basically tell everyone (including advertisers) where you are and what you’re doing at all times of day, or else there’s something weird about you.
Now, while all of that might sound cool and futuristic, let’s talk about inconvenience. Let’s talk about someone making an offhand comment while playing that keeps making Skype call your relatives. No, wait; let’s talk about how someone making an offhand comment while you’re watching a movie can make the thing change channels to something else. No, no, wait, let’s talk about how while you’re watching a movie, the camera can spy on you and potentially control how you consume that entertainment as well.
See, there’s this idea going around — just an idea, of course, nothing to worry about — that studios could potentially use the Kinect to set a limit on how many people will be allowed to view whatever you’re watching at a given time. Want to watch a movie? Well, take out your Blu-ray and pop it in. You and two of your buddies can sit back and watch. Oh, what’s that? A fourth friend just came over and he wants to watch, too? The Kinect — which, by the way, can actually detect your heartbeat — registers there’s a fourth person in the room and prompts you to pay a fee to continue on with an extra person watching. Better hope the guy delivering the pizza you ordered doesn’t step where that thing can sense him.
Now, this isn’t something that’s happening. Not yet, anyway. It’s just an idea that’s being tossed around. And it’s not like you have to register your Blu-rays with a player in order for them to work so no one can rent them or borrow them or buy them used. I’m sure that could never happen. I’m sure no one else out there is looking to see if the Xbox One sells well to see what the public’s tolerance might be for becoming constant revenue generators for studios who increasingly feel like getting to watch a movie or listen to an mp3 even once without paying for it is criminal.
Folks, don’t buy this goddamn thing. Just don’t do it. Pass it up.
Don’t tell Hollywood, the music industry and the video game industry that you’re willing to be licensed, registered, bought, exploited and spied on just so they can make money.
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.