A series of pointed tweets by Microsoft Studios Creative Director Adam Orth set off a chain reaction of gamer fury on Thursday, and fueled speculation that Microsoft's next console system will require a constant Internet connection to play.
Orth, who is one of the top brass at the company's Xbox and Microsoft gaming arm and who no longer tweets publicly, reportedly wrote that he "doesn't get the drama around having an 'always-on' console," since many devices currently on the market are always connected to the Internet. Manveer Heir, a friend of Orth's and gameplay designer at BioWare, posited that such standards of Internet access might not fly in less-connected areas.
That's where things got ugly. Rather than empathize with the consumer, Orth cracked wise about "non-cities" (his words), writing, "why on earth would I live there?"
It's one thing to have a spirited disagreement about console design and digital rights management strategies, but hitting people where they live probably won't help Microsoft move any next-gen consoles.
Screen captures of Orth's banter with Heir and others were posted to Reddit and various message boards, where the ire towards the Microsoft senior employee festered.
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Kotaku questioned the logic of Orth's discussion of on always-online designs, given his position at Microsoft, a company does not comment on its products prior to official announcements.
But even if Orth's opinions suggest that the next-gen Xbox will feature an always-online design, the issue isn't nearly as toxic (from a sales perspective) as anti-digital rights management (DRM) rhetoric suggests. Despite the deluge of gripes over required Internet connection, and various problems caused by it, titles like "SimCity" and "Diablo III" were bona fide hits. The former sold 1.1 million copies in the two weeks following its problem-plagued launch. The latter sold 3.5 million copies in 24 hours when it was released last year.
Still, not every console maker is jumping on the always-online bandwagon. Sony has announced that its next-gen Playstation won't include the feature. Android-based startup console Ouya, a willfully hackable platform, has positioned itself definitionally against DRM.
But since Microsoft is the leader in console gaming, it could be that its bandwagon is built for one. It remains to be seen if gamers will put their money where their opinions are.