Adam Orth & The Prisoner of Always-On DRM

Good morning, web surfers! The temperature today is a frigid 7°C and we’ve got slightly heavy fog rolling in from London or Norway or whatever. If for some reason you don’t have the Internet because you either can’t afford it or live somewhere that still tends to use smoke signals as a communication method, then you are more beast than human and I don’t have time for you.

That’s basically the message these days, right?

This post isn’t going to focus on Adam Orth. There’s enough on him going around the web, and if this week’s reports are true, he’s out of a job for failing to realize that a public Twitter profile is available to, well, the public. Did Orth come across as a jerk in his Twitter exchange with who was then revealed to be a friend, as well as those who picked up on the back and forth and subsequently voiced their own thoughts? Yes. But then, it’s the Internet, where 140 characters paints the most unflattering pictures when not used properly. Forget Orth, forget his sarcasm and the reports of him being an insufferable muppet by former colleagues from a plethora of companies. At the end of the day, Microsoft hasn’t denied or confirmed the issue behind his tweets: that the next-gen Xbox would host an always-online DRM feature that requires a consistent internet connection in order to play.

Always On

I’ve briefly mentioned this before, but requiring a console to be constantly connected during play is one giant nail in the coffin for many existing and budding gamers in this world. Let’s face it: there are still countries, and areas of various countries, that have shoddy connectivity, if they’ve even got connectivity at all. The ignorance behind Orth and many others’ comments of “we’re all always connected” is so blatantly obvious, I’m surprised someone didn’t just pat him on the head and direct him to visit somewhere other than a big city. It’s amazing the statements people make when they haven’t experienced the other side of the coin.

I’ll be honest with you. The island I hail from has one of the most frustrating internet connectivity ratings within the entire Caribbean region, at least in my opinion. The challenges that I face when trying to have a simple Xbox Live match with my friends still living there are ridiculously frustrating, to the point where many a controller has been flung across a room in dejected defeat. Does this limit the growth of the gaming community there? No, because luckily, an internet connection is only required for online play, and most of us just tend to set up separate monitors and system link our consoles to get some rousing matches going. The community grows as a result, and that should be the goal here. But requiring a consistent connection to play even the non-online features of a game? Then we run into a problem.

Because let’s be honest: despite coming incredibly far, internet access for the true masses is still a work in progress. Even CIA World Factbook statistics should be considered slightly unreliable, because internet connectivity in certain countries is based off multiple sessions by possibly the same user and is muddied by measuring and lumping in mobile device access. In Orth’s home-country, the USA, there are areas that have weak or practically non-existent connectivity levels. His own friend pointed that out to him, mentioning Janesville, Wisconsin and Blacksburg, Virginia.

We dare you to find bandwidth here.

We dare you to find bandwidth here.

Perhaps the best response to comments like “deal with it” regarding always-on DRM is to just be silent and point to Diablo 3 and SimCity. I have a friend who took the day off to thoroughly enjoy his copy of SimCity on launch day. You hear that? He took a day off of work, his source of income, to enjoy a game he’d just spent money on. And his reward was…zilch. I don’t believe we should just learn from our own mistakes; we should also try and learn from others’ errors, and make damn sure we don’t imitate them at their worst.

I wish Orth the best of luck in his future endeavours, but his part in this story served its purpose. It exposed the apparent lack of insight by some in the industry and highlights an overall ignorance of the larger world. If the idea here, as it is in most businesses, is to keep existing customers while attracting new ones, well, requiring players to maintain internet connectivity throughout a session for NON-ONLINE features isn’t the way to go. Couple that with an increase in micro-transactions, and a host of other nickel and dime tactics, and an industry that some say is already struggling seems to just take pleasure in shooting itself in the foot.

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