Remember a while back when former Xbox director Adam Orth put his foot in his digital mouth, tweeting to us all that if there is an always on connection (of course before they confirmed it) that we can all #dealwithit? As you know, I had some fundamental problems with the sentiment. Orth went on to be completely dismissive about folks that didn’t have a constant and reliable internet connection. That covers a lot of folks – gamers that live in the rural United States without broadband or have to rely on spotty satellite service as well as members of our armed services that are deployed abroad. I spoke to some of my friends in uniform when that information came out, and they were unanimously unpleased. Gaming is how some of them blow off steam while deployed in remote areas or at sea, and a requirement for online check ins with the inability to play offline without one puts that to an end.
Those statements seem to be resonating with American military personnel. For example US Navy Lieutenant Scott Metcalf, according to reports from The Navy Times, has gone from eagerly awaiting his console’s arrival to not even being sure that he’ll be buying one from Microsoft. The always on policy as well as other aspects of the Xbox are what he calls “showstoppers.” Here’s what a Microsoft spokesperson told the Military Times about Xbox functionality:
“With Xbox One you can game offline for up to 24 hours on your primary console, or one hour if you are logged on to a separate console accessing your library. Offline gaming is not possible after these prescribed times until you re-establish a connection”
The Times outline the other problems that Lt. Metcalf and others have with the new device. For starters, the Xbox One is only supported in 21 countries – meaning it’s unavailable to any personnel deployed outside of those zones. If somehow the lucky military gamer in question is in one of those 21 countries, games are region locked, so guess what? No buying games locally or firing up a disc from home – because if your XBox Live account is linked to a different region, you’re looking at no joy.
More so than the always on component of the console and the inability to play games offline – or even really at all in some cases, is the security issues. This is a huge issue in the past couple weeks, especially considering Germany’s consideration to ban sales of the console considering it a surveillance device. It’s absolutely no surprise to me that the US military feels the same way. In your living room, an always on (and always listening) Kinect unit might pick up a conversation between you and your friends, or where you want to order takeout from. Now imagine that you living room is actually a military unit, where a Commander has a lot more to worry about being picked up than a food order.
Metcalf isn’t the only one with issues. Naval aviator Jay Johnson is outspoken about the topic as well. Johnson, who served tours on three Nimitz-class carriers, describes gaming as “my sanctuary. It is where I went to calm down after a long day of flying.” In a piece he wrote for Gamasutra, he describes it simply as “the single greatest sin Microsoft has committed against all service members.” And he’s right.
What makes this whole thing even worse is Microsoft’s attitude about the whole thing. While our military personnel are losing a way to escape their sometimes harsh realities, Don Mattrick keeps on with a “sucks to be you” demeanor, stating that if they don’t want a console that has an always on component, that they can always buy an Xbox 360, which allows full-time offline play.
His words in an interview at E3 reflect that:
“When I read the blogs and thought about who’s really the most impacted, there was a person who said, ‘Hey, I’m on a nuclear sub.’ I don’t even know what it means to be on a nuclear sub, but I’ve got to imagine that it’s not easy to get an Internet connection. Hey, I can empathize. If I was on a sub, I’d be disappointed.”
Great, they empathize. Too bad they’re not going to do anything about it. There haven’t been any plans or even words on their part to address the issue. Buthey, they’ve got a 360 for you. It’s absolutely shameful that in a room where these things are discussed at Xbox HQ, there was absolutely no foresight to what their policies could mean for our fighting men and women having a little piece of home when they’re deployed abroad. Said best by Johnson –
“No longer will the sounds of Master Chief saving the human race echo through the hallowed halls of the USS Abraham Lincoln, or any other USS ship, when we have a few hours respite. No longer will you see Marcus and Dom sawing through the Locust Horde at the bases in Afghanistan after the Marines have returned from patrol and want to escape their reality for a bit. Those days are now firmly behind us.”