Friday, April 12, 2013

Always On?

DISCLAIMER(ish): Hello internet! I've decided to necropost to my pre-Final Form blog as the facebook status update I was writing grew too large. This is, therefore, written as a status update - very little editing, fairly stream of consciousness.

Having had a little time to synthesize my thoughts and the rumors re: 'always on' 360x2, I have come to the following conclusions (note that this is all conjecture; I know just as little about the new console as the rest of the not-working-on-the-xbox-team public):

Whatever they do, Microsoft is faced with a big Xbox-live shaped problem in the next generation console. Xbox-live was introduced at an almost magical time when playing games on a console over the internet and with your friends was still a very magical thing. Remember that XBOX live started on the Xbox 1, and when they introduced the Xbox 360, it was the first console of its generation - most games assumed offline and online features were above and beyond; paying to use them was reasonable.

Cut to now, where many, if not most, of the big AAA titles have multiplayer built into them. Gone are the days when Halo was the only way to conveniently blow people up over the internet without a keyboard and mouse and a reasonable ($1000+) gaming rig. For many modern large-budget games, you are not getting access to the full product without an internet connection.

Microsoft has been both clever and lucky to squeeze Xbox Live in under the wire. They can charge for something that on every other gaming system is assumed to be free because they got grandfathered into it. This is now their business model - they expect to receive this money every month to continue to do what they do as a company. They have a lot of experience with the business model and how to work within it. They have infrastructure dedicated to this business model, and I'm sure they have business relationships built around this assumption. The problem is, when it comes time for consumers figure out what console to buy next, how can they convince people to continue to pay a subscription? Because if they don't, they would have to essentially start from scratch in terms of figuring out how to turn the production of a modern gaming console into enough money to make the enterprise worth it.

Enter the rumored discussions with cable companies and the always-on Xbox. Here's the thing about cable: it's always on, and that is an acceped reality. You pay a flat fee and you get to use the content. You stop paying, you stop getting that content. What if the Xbox was a cable box? What if the Xbox live subscription was part of your cable bill? When you think about it, it makes a little sense - cable companies are I'm sure by now starting to look at how, in this age of Netflixen, they can continue to charge a subscription for television. The DVRs were a nice stop gap, and things like HBO still provide content that simply cannot be had without a subscription to cable. But how long is that going to last?

So, what if instead of paying for cable tv, I paid for xbox live? All the sudden my xbox is streaming shows for me, storing them, and letting me play games online. Maybe if I pay a little extra I get to use my standard cable subscription too. Xbox gets subscription revenue, cable companies get a service they can charge for on top of your base internet connection. Initially, yes, you will be paying BOTH for the new xbox and for the games that you buy to play on it. But maybe MS is betting that we're approaching the end of the standalone, pay-up-front game and planning to be ahead of that curve. In the meantime they add some 2nd run games for free, ala playstation plus. Also, maybe some in game currency for whatever f2p game of the future is hot.

In short, always-on is a risky stance and a rightfully controversial one, but it may still be MS's best bet to stay in the game. If I had the option to pay for an XBOX live subscription that gave me access to HBO etc. instead of paying for cable, I'd start listening.

No comments: