One of the oddest turns in my writing career was a two-year stint I put in as a professional gaming journalist / critic for the now sadly defunct Footprint Media, for the allXbox.com, allPS2.com, and allCube.com sites.
I had never set out to get paid to write about videogames, but after submitting a few user reviews to allPs2.com and allXbox.com on a lark, the site’s owners were impressed by them and offered me the chance to officially review a couple of comp copies of games a PR rep had sent them, and they were mine to keep when I was finished.
That went well and evolved into writing news, reviews, previews and other features and collecting a monthly paycheck for my efforts. Not nearly enough to work at it full-time, but it did pay bills and the pay along with free, retail version review copies that could be traded in when I was done made an expensive hobby almost profitable.
The sites eventually waned as more and more competitors entered the field, and ours, which consisted of a staff of three, just couldn’t compete, and the decision was made to pull the plug on them not long after the Xbox 360 launched. While I was sad to see the gig (and the paychecks and stream of free review games) end, in some respects I was glad to be absolved of the responsibility. I was starting to get burned out — playing videogames nearly seven days a week in between when I was sitting at a keyboard writing about them, and forced to look at them through a completely different lens as a pundit / reporter than I would if I was just a player / consumer– and decided not to pursue the journalism track any further.
I found that I was able to enjoy gaming more by not having to professionally analyze it, and I decided to hang up my press credentials before I stopped enjoying them for good.
Even though it’s a good fit for the overall nerdfest that is Public Domain, I’ve been leery of bring games too heavily into the mix here: it just feels somehow awkward to me to return to those old stomping grounds.
But I pretty much knew Sony’s February announcement of the PS4 would get me to take up the old soapbox at least once more, and I thought I’d wait until Microsoft tipped their hand in an official capacity on the next Xbox in order to be able to really be able to comment as a whole on Sony and Microsoft’s plans for the next generation of console gaming.
My feeling is, right up front, that this new generation is first and foremost about attempting to control how gamers access content, and through that, start to alter their habits as consumers. It’s not really so much about better specs — in fact, at this point, the specs of each console, how they compare to each other and to the current models, which is normally the fodder of determining which is going to be ‘better’, seems almost absent from the debate.
While it seems that MS dispelled the rumor about the always-on-internet required functionality of the Xbox One, there’s also a lot of fine print going on here, with outlets reporting that while the Xbox One doesn’t have to be constantly online it will need to get online once every twenty-four hours or so, presumably to ‘check in’ with a centralized server.
Well, that’s the question that hasn’t been definitively answered, but one big clue seems to be in the confirmation that Xbox One games will have required installs, and part of that install is to tie an individual copy of a game on a physical disc to your Xbox Live profile / account. MS executives / reps involved with the reveal kept referring to this particular personalized data as ‘bits’, presumably to try to spin some damage control.
At that point, once the bits are parked on your console’s hard drive, and as soon as the Xbox One goes online and ties those magic bits from that copy of the game to your Gamertag, your Gamertag will need to be activated on any console that you attempt to play that game on, and it will need, before too long, to be signed on to the internet.
Sounds an awful lot like DRM to me, which even the PC segment of the gaming industry is starting to back away from.
If the One can’t call home, the console stops playing the game and will prompt whomever is using the game to sign on and purchase a new license to the game. How much does the license cost? According to one report — it may be up to the full retail price of the game.
And you thought $10 Online Passes were harsh, eh?
So, basically, this means you can forget giving an Xbox One game to a friend, co-worker, or family member to take home and play, unless you plan on giving him or her your Live login info, as well.
So lending out games will be out, but what about game rentals, from Gamefly or Redbox? I didn’t see anything in particular there, but you can bet the plan is going to be that MS will authorize special rental agreements with these parties and that part of your rental charge will go directly into MS’ coffers.
Does that mean the Xbox One won’t play used games?
No, it doesn’t — there were specific statements that you would be able to buy and sell your games . . . as long as you check with Microsoft and presumably, they get a cut of the transaction.
Details, of course, will be forthcoming, while Microsoft executives are presumably in a bunker somewhere near Redmond, Washington watching the internet implode and brewing up another batch of the candy-coated meth they’ve been eating like Skittles.
(Sony is being very coy about these same used game questions for the PS4, stating they may have a ‘solution’ for this, as well . . . so let’s not pat them on the back too soundly just yet. )
What happens if you don’t have internet access for a temporary period, or if there happens to be an extended outage?
Once again, Xbox bigwigs mushmouthed their way around questions or promised more details at a later date, but the key seems to be that once your Xbox One checked in with Mother MS, it establishes the fact that you do, indeed, have internet access for that console, and if you refuse to give Mother a heads up on what you’ve been doing every day or so, your console is going to assume that you’re up to something ‘shady’ (like borrowing a game and trying to beat it quickly without paying the license fees before you go online again) and after a set grace period that will take into account a temporary outage, will stop you from using some of the console’s functionality until you get back online.
Like, you, know, actually playing games.
What happens if you live in an area that doesn’t offer broadband internet?
I didn’t see this addressed directly, but my reasoning is this — Microsoft won’t tell this customer ‘SOL’ outright.
What they’ll do is set up some sort of alternate method for you to register the console under a ‘non-internet’ account, but they’ll still require you to activate each game you play via texting or calling them on a phone. When you insert a game disc for the first time, the console will generate a one-time code that you’ll either need to text, e-mail, or enter under an automated phone menu, and you’ll receive back a code that will need to be entered into the console for the game to start.
Voila — that copy of the game is registered and if anyone else tries to use it or register it, the same lockout until license fees are paid DRM will apply.
Don’t expect a break just because you live in the sticks or some underdeveloped part of the world.
I have to be honest, this flat out amazes me. If I’d have been covering this at a journalist the event, I’d have gotten up and walked out of the presentation, professionalism be damned. Sony and Nintendo, both of whom are no stranger to hubris and arrogance, have never even come close to this over the course of multiple hardware generations. The Xbox has one successful generation and all of a sudden, out come the jackboots and stormtrooper gear and they declare themselves dictator for life.
And the truly hilarious thing is that MS can’t even declare a decisive victory over this current generation. If the conditions for victory are consoles sold, Nintendo wins and it doesn’t really matter if both Sony and MS both continue to support the PS3 and 360 for another couple years — Nintendo has, as of the first week of May, 2013, sold 99 million Wiis worldwide.
Both Sony and Microsoft are sitting at a dead heat at 77 million units globally, each, with only a mere hundred thousand separation between the two. And the average weekly hardware sales figures are also almost too close to call, at around 100,000 new PS3s and 360s being purchased each week.
Even if Nintendo doesn’t sell one more single Wii, and assuming MS and Sony continue averaging 400K sales per month, it would take either of them until 2017 to catch up to where Nintendo is right now.
And Microsoft, at one point, had a ten million unit lead over Sony that they managed to blow!
What makes them think, crowded on the same second-place podium as Sony tugging the silver cup back and forth, they’ll be able to create and then enforce an entirely new paradigm for how people purchase console games?
That’s what we’ll discuss when we continue talking next-gen gaming in Part 2 of ‘Welcome to the Draconian Age’.
Thanks for stopping by Public Domain! While we’re talking about videogames, I’d like to offer my suggestion for a classic game that has yet to have a remake: 1980’s Berzerk.
Granted, it doesn’t look like much, but this game scared the crap out of me when I was a kid.
It’s pretty basic: you’re in a maze and you’ve got a laser gun. Robots are trying to kill you, and they’ve got a laser gun and will also kill you if you touch them.
And the walls of the maze are electrified, so you touch them, you die. The goal is to simply escape the room. You don’t have to kill a single robot, but if you don’t score points, you won’t earn extra lives.
Seems pretty simple . . . until you factor in Evil Otto, who was a bouncing completely indestructible smiley face that would pop out if you dawdled too long. Otto can pass directly through the walls, so he’s pretty much a homicidal homing missile fired directly at you, and nothing can stop him. (Bonus: Otto will kill the robots if he touches them, so you can be slick and manipulate him into doing your dirty work for you, since he’ll move in a straight line toward wherever your current position is.) He moves fairly slow as long as there’s robots on the screen, but if you kill all the robots, Otto goes into turbo mode and is as fast as you are.
And I didn’t mention that unlike most games, when you die, the maze gets reset — and there’s a randomizer, so just trying to memorize a precise pattern doesn’t work. You’ve got about two seconds to get your bearings when the maze comes into view before the Dalek-like robots open fire, and the game doesn’t always plop you into a nice, safe position behind cover when you respawn.
Now make this into a 3D modern first person shooter with the same rules: touch the walls, you die. You don’t have the top down view now, so you really are trapped in a maze. If you die, walls in the maze reconfigure slightly so it’s not the exact same as it was.
And if you take too long to find your way out, you’ve got an unkillable enemy chasing you down. Toss in some random deathtraps, like water jets that spray and create electrified puddles you have to jump over, or grease jets that make you slide out of control. Dim the lights or make them go out completely and choose to use your ray gun as a diffused beam flashlight instead of a weapon with a slight delay to switch back to fire mode. Trip a beam and it activates loud death metal music that means you can’t hear the clanking robots patrolling around the corner.
Nightmare fuel: Saw meets Doom. It’s the Dark Souls of shooters, where the odds are stacked against you and getting higher with each level you clear.
And imagine multiplayer, where you can just sneak up behind your friend and shove them into the wall to watch them twitch and fry, slap a device on their back that draws the robots and Otto to them like a beacon, or randomly teleports them somewhere in the maze.
Oh, and the coin-op version of this game talked. If you escaped the maze without killing a single robot, it would cackle: “Chicken, fight like a robot!” Add in the idea that the robots in the maze have gone insane and mutter to themselves, sometimes randomly killing each other, and constantly taunting you, and you’ve got laughs a plenty.