If you’ve been looking at gaming news at all today, you’ve probably heard the rumor, first reported by Edge Online and then spread about to every single web site that could possibly touch on games. The Xbox 360(2) is going to be online-only at all times to have any functionality at all, and all games will come with a one-time registration key locking out the slightest possibility of used games. It was all very worrying until the news had a chance to settle, at which point it seemed highly unlikely. The level of monumental stupidity required to enact this plan is mind-boggling, after all.
Each of those two “features” is idiotic in its own right, but combining them into a giant soggy mass of utter failure would be the equivalent of Microsoft deciding that Sony and Nintendo really do deserve far more marketshare than they’d otherwise have if a more competent competitor wasn’t trying so desperately to blow its brains out. To believe this rumor, you have to also believe that Microsoft wants to fail.
The always-on connection was reviled when Diablo III did it, and it hurt Ubisoft so badly they finally ditched the idea after years of antagonizing people who wanted to be fans. When pirates have a much better gaming experience than honest customers, there’s a problem. The only real surprise is it took so long for the lesson to sink in. Always-on is stupid when it’s a single game doing it, and the idea that an entire console would require this falls outside the bounds of belief. At the very least, you’d have to be willing to accept Microsoft giving a giant “Screw you!” to anyone living in a rural area.
As for the “No used games” idea, that’s only slightly more believable. It’s true that used games are generally seen by publishers as lost sales, and this isn’t helped by Gamestop’s endless focus on it to the exclusion of all else. Gamestop is a business, they’ve got stockholders who believe they’re entitled to increased returns year in and year out, and new games don’t cut it. The business model requires used games to a degree that can get pretty obnoxious. The solution, however, isn’t to create the only console that excludes their use. I haven’t the slightest idea what the solution is, but telling the consumer “NO!” when everyone else says “Sure, why not?” isn’t it.
It’s possible Microsoft has plans along these lines. This is the company that thinks Windows 8’s Metro UI is just plain awesome, after all. At the moment, however, this seems more like an idea they might have been considering than a true plan of action. The risk of market antagonization is too large and the payoff too small. I may be utterly naive, but I like to think there’s no way that much Stupid would infest the console design process.