Road to Next-Gen: Ready for Launch (And Not a Moment Before)

Road to Next-Gen: Ready for Launch (And Not a Moment Before)

How will next-gen's focus on connectivity shape our experiences with the new consoles?

We've had a whole generation of Internet-capable consoles, but it's going to be the upcoming eighth generation that makes connectivity all but essential for a smooth experience.

We've already heard how the Xbox One is essentially useless without its day-one update, and that the process of offloading computations onto the cloud might be fraught with more perils than anticipated. Over the last few days, a couple more stories have emerged that emphasize the new consoles' -- and particularly the Xbox One's -- need for reliable connectivity.

Shiny, yes, but it's little more than a paperweight until you download the day-one patch.

First up, you may have seen the recent story that Twitter user @Moonlightswami acquired an Xbox One prior to the official launch via Target. Moonlightswami was dismayed to discover that his Xbox One was promptly banned from Xbox Live by Microsoft; sensing a PR disaster in the making, the Xbox team did reach out to him and clarify the situation. however: his ban would only be temporary, would be lifted by launch and was supposedly put in place to protect his device; Microsoft is still rolling out updates for the Xbox One, and, speaking to the NeoGAF community, director of product planning Albert Penello noted that the system software is simply "not done yet" and thus, by extension, not performing as intended.

Moonlightswami found an interesting and perhaps worrying side-effect of his ban, however; he was unable to play Call of Duty: Ghosts offline. He did, however, note that he was not sure if he would be able to play offline were his console not banned from Live.

Moonlightswami's discovery has reignited fears that Microsoft may be trying to bring back its controversial "24 hour check-in" DRM system from the original Xbox One announcement, but Penello denied that any such system was in place -- and also specifically denied that the Xbox One's day-one patch was designed to remove DRM already built into the system. "None of the consoles were ever built with that stuff in it," he claims.

A Kotaku report from around the time Microsoft made its initial 180 from its controversial DRM plans perhaps sheds a little light on the situation, however -- one of the things that the day-one patch is intended to do is "enable offline play." But why should offline play have to be "enabled" in the first place? Further intrigue was added via a commenter on VG247, who pointed out that the PlayStation 4 version of Ghosts specifically noted that the game was "offline play enabled" -- see the image below. Is this something we're going to have to worry about in the coming generation? Let's hope not; although today's Internet connections are a lot better than they used to be, none are completely fault-free, and it would be immensely frustrating to be locked out of your games through something beyond your control. We'll have to wait and see how the final retail consoles perform with their day-one updates in place before we can say for sure whether this is going to be an issue.

Apparently the ability to play offline is something to brag about in the coming generation.

On a separate but related note, next-gen's growing reliance on connectivity also affects the way some games are made: in other words, some games will "ship" before they're finished. A case in point is the Xbox One's Killer Instinct reboot, which not only lacks its full roster of characters at launch -- two additional "season one" characters will be introduced after the game has been released -- but also doesn't have a single-player "Arcade" mode.

The game doesn't completely lack single-player content, mind; there's a survival mode in which you compete to survive as long as possible against a never-ending wave of foes, and a "dojo" mode that allows you to train and practice your skills. However, speaking with OXM, game designer Daniel Fornace confirmed that a full arcade mode would indeed be absent from the game until "season one" of its content had been completely released.

This strangely staggered release of content for Killer Instinct is presumably an adoption of the "games as a service" model; rather than shipping a complete product with all its content ready from day one, the Killer Instinct "service" instead evolves over time by adding new characters and, eventually, game modes -- theoretically encouraging players to keep checking back on the game regularly to see what's new. And the "season one" descriptor suggests that Microsoft is certainly considering the possibility of additional content -- for an additional charge, of course -- in the future. Expect to see a lot more games taking this approach in the coming generation; the new consoles' focus on connectivity makes delivering games as a service in this way a lot more practical and desirable for publishers -- though it's not necessarily great for consumers; depending on the amount of content, there's always the risk of a game delivered in this way costing way more in total than a complete, standalone packaged game-as-a-product.

Killer Instinct's "season one" costs $20 for eight characters -- though some loyal Xbox Live Gold subscribers have received the Season Pass for free.

How do you feel about the new consoles' reliance on connectivity for many of their features? Do you think the Internet will add additional value to your games? Or is it being used as a means of more tightly controlling what consumers can and can't do without paying?

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