Thursday, 20 June 2013

Game of Consoles

Not that long ago, but prior to E3’s Xbox One revelation, I posted my views on the future of gaming consoles here. Basically, I said that because I hate Sony for a multitude of sins, and because it appears the Xbox will offer the better hardware, I will probably choose Xbox this time around. Oh, and I also added there are significant issues with both, which would mean I will be giving the PC option a hard look.
Now I am here to say that, more or less, my decision has been reversed. I am willing to forgive Sony for its past sins and I am very skeptical regarding the chances of the Xbox One ever entering my house. You probably heard about the reasons already through news coverage, but I will recite them here nevertheless because I regard them to be much more than gaming issues; I regard them as basic human rights.
The first of these is privacy. The issue is the Xbox One’s new Kinect camera, now forced by Microsoft as a mandatory always-on accessory. Seriously, Microsoft: do I really want an always on camera capable of telling what my pulse is to be situated in my living room? On a console that demands to talk to the Internet at least once a day or it would turn into paper weight? In its defense, Microsoft is claiming the camera will not be uploading stuff to its servers etc; but how long would it take till the Xbox is hacked? After all, security experts are already telling us to cover our laptops webcams (Apple and several others are excused; on Apple laptops, the light indicating the camera is working is hardware, not software, triggered).
The second matter is that of ownership. I know I’m a weirdo, but when I buy something I like to think that this thing that I bought is now mine to do whatever I please with. That includes sharing with friends, because that’s what friends do, and it includes being able to resell that something when I no longer want it. Microsoft has a problem with that; it introduced a heavy handed mechanism for lending games to friends (only those you declared to be friends before Microsoft more than 30 days ago), and they severely limited reselling options (only through named vendors). Forget about borrowing games from your nearest Video Ezy.
Perhaps worse is the matter of geo-locking. The Xbox is going to break new grounds and lock the device on a country by country basis, even [illegally] splitting up the European Union (see here). Since I buy most (probably all!) of my games overseas now, because Australia is priced to extort money from those ignorant enough to buy locally, buying the Xbox would mean paying much, much, more for games. And then not being able to recoup the cost later through selling them.

Now let’s compare the Xbox to the Sony PS4.
On the privacy department the PS4 is as invasive as the current PS3. Sure, you don’t have the Kinect, and the Kinect is potentially awesome, but hey – none of the games I truly like make use of the Kinect. At least at this point in time, the Kinect is a gimmick for attracting non gamers.
On the ownership department, the PS4 will not limit used games or sharing of games. Neither will it feature geo-locking on games, although its own online shop does price games differently per regions. I find it very sad to say it, but the PS4 stands to be my console of choice for reasons those big companies should be ashamed of.

I will reiterate this whole charade is putting the PC gaming option back on the map. I did some research to find more about PC gaming, and thus far I have two reservations:

  • Price: Gaming PCs cost triple the amount of consoles. You do get more for your money, but the cost is still hard to justify given there is nothing else I would like to do with a Windows PC that I wouldn't prefer doing on my existing hardware.
  • Sofa gaming: I game to relax; I don’t want to play sitting in front of a keyboard and a mouse. That's too much like work. Apparently, some PC games can be played with an Xbox controller but not all (notable exceptions from the official list of supported games include the Mass Effect series). I’ll put it this way: if a satisfactory solution for playing PC games on my sofa through my home theater system is found, I’d be knee deep in PC gaming land within days.

In conclusion, I have to add a critical caveat to all of the above arguments. At the end of the day what really matters are the games. For example, I thus stand a decent chance of eventually buying a Wii U for the sake of playing the latest Mario stuff. Thus far it seems the Xbox One is going down the path of familiar releases while the PS4 is winking towards independent developers. As in, the PS4 seems to be winning where it matters the most, too.

Two days after I wrote this post, and just as I was about to publish it, Microsoft came out with its own announcement. Realizing they are losing the war by a downslide, they now announced a change of mind: the Xbox One will allow freedom of selling and sharing the way the current Xbox 360 does, and it will no longer require an Internet connection to be able to play single player.
While definitely an improvement (and let's not forget, it's not like Sony is a big humanitarian), Microsoft's announcement still leaves a lot to be desired: geo-locking and privacy, for a start.
Most of all, the question that begs to be asked is why did it all have to come to this? Why do these companies insist on enforcing vile DRM upon us while appearing to genuinely think we actually want this shit?

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