The collective trepidation about always-on games and consoles has been growing for some time, and frustrations boiled over yesterday, ignited by a Twitter conversation between two game developers.
"Sorry, I don't get the drama around having an 'always on' console," said Adam Orth, a creative director at Microsoft Studios, amid a new report that Microsoft's next-generation console will require an internet connection to play games. "Every device now is 'always on.' That's the world we live in." Orth ended the tweet with a #dealwithit hashtag.
Manveer Heir, a senior gameplay designer at BioWare, pressed Orth on his stance, pointing out the severe launch issues of Diablo 3 (last year) and SimCity (last month). When Heir mentioned small towns with potentially limited internet access, Orth replied, "Why on earth would I want to live there?" Heir and Orth later clarified that those comments were jokes between friends.
The Verge reported last June that the next Xbox will be an always-on console, and similar reports have come out over the past few months from Edge magazine and VGleaks. Kotaku reaffirmed the reports yesterday, citing two anonymous sources, one of which said the always-online feature was in place as recently as two weeks ago.
Many modern devices maintain a consistent connection to the internet; the Wii, for example, notifies users even when it is in standby mode that a system update is available. But "always on" as it applies to video games and game consoles means that a game or device cannot be played without a connection to the internet.
Gamers' apprehension about always-on consoles seems to be driven by the spotty history that recent online-only games have had at launch. Diablo 3, and most recently SimCity, both had launch issues connected to their inability to be played offline. Those debacles angered players particularly because the games in question were not massively multiplayer online titles — a type of game for which launch-era server issues are, to a degree, expected — and because previous entries in the respective franchises allowed users to play offline.
"I want every device to be 'always on'"
When Sony unveiled the PlayStation 4 in mid-February, the company confirmed to Eurogamer that the console will not require an internet connection, although Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida said, "You may want to keep it connected."
"I want every device to be 'always on,'" Orth tweeted later. In response to someone who said he knows Xbox 360 owners who don't have internet access, Orth said, "Those people should definitely get with the times and get the internet. It's awesome."
He has since made his Twitter account private, but screenshots of the tweets are available on NeoGAF in a thread that now runs for more than 100 pages, and in a post that was at the top of Reddit for some time yesterday. Orth's comments have already reached meme status, including a lengthy, profane Dark Knight Rises-based GIF that draws the battle lines in the next-generation console war.
Orth has been working as the creative director on an unannounced game at Microsoft Studios since February 2012, according to his LinkedIn profile. When asked about Orth's tweets, Xbox chief of staff Aaron Greenberg replied on Twitter to one upset person that he was "sorry if you were offended" but added, "I don't actually know who he is."
Heir later defended Orth from the backlash he has received, saying that he is "getting a lot of flak, some unfairly." Twisted Metal and God of War creator David Jaffe also put himself in Orth's corner, saying, "Adam is a really great guy and [a] super core gamer," and adding that most people "don't deserve the wrath of [NeoGAF]."
"We are aware of the comments made by an employee on Twitter. This person is not a spokesperson for Microsoft, and his personal views are not reflective of those of the company."
Leaks aren't unique to the gaming or entertainment industries; they're just as prevalent in fields like politics and business. But the gaming industry seems particularly concerned with secrecy, which is difficult to maintain when social media is so integrated with the lives of the people who make and play games. And that's made even tougher by gaming fans, the most ardent of whom are constantly scouring the web for the smallest tidbits of information that might hint at the future of the industry — tidbits like a few tweets on someone's personal account.
Not everyone is dreading the prospect of an always-on future. Michael Hartman, CEO of indie studio Frogdice, said yesterday that he hopes "the entire next gen" consists of always-on devices.
"I love anything AAA does to make it easier for us indies to sell our games," he explained.
Reached for comment, a Microsoft spokesperson told Polygon, "We are aware of the comments made by an employee on Twitter. This person is not a spokesperson for Microsoft, and his personal views are not reflective of those of the company." As for Microsoft's next-generation console, the spokesperson said, "We have not made any announcements about our product roadmap, and have no further comment on this matter."
We also reached out to Orth, and will update this article with any response we receive.
Update: Microsoft spokesman Major Nelson released a statement on his website this afternoon regarding Orth's tweets, in a post titled "Official Statement on what was said yesterday."
Here's the full text, which does not reference Orth by name: "We apologize for the inappropriate comments made by an employee on Twitter yesterday. This person is not a spokesperson for Microsoft, and his personal views do not reflect the customer centric [sic] approach we take to our products or how we would communicate directly with our loyal consumers. We are very sorry if this offended anyone, however we have not made any announcements about our product roadmap, and have no further comment on this matter."