There’s nothing like a good ol’ fashioned console war to get the venom flowing – a fact that the pair of announcements concerning the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 proved all too clearly. While the previous generation of the console had established a clear Western/North American influence in the Xbox 360, and a different mindset and game catalogue with the PS3, hyperbole and outrage throughout E3 2013 left public perceptions clear: the PS4 was standing for the rights of the gamer, and the Xbox One confirmed that Microsoft didn’t care about anyone – especially not gamers.
However, Peter Molyneux has a few issues with the way the Xbox One’s online plan and policies were received. As a developer of forward-looking ventures and frequent Microsoft collaborator, the game designer has already made it clear that he’s not crazy about the Xbox One’s attitude toward indie development, and believes the Xbox One should be about gaming, not Netflix and Facebook. All that said, Molyneux believes that the public backlash directed toward Microsoft has been “unfair.”
Anyone who paid attention to E3 2013 and the ensuing online fallout knows the kind of reactions Molyneux is speaking about; namely, Microsoft’s dependence on a constant internet connection and daily check-ins. With Sony keeping the status quo and Microsoft building their infrastructure around an always-online community, accusations of Microsoft losing touch with gamers, disenfranchising customers, and enforcing control went flying.
Molyneux still prefers the PS4’s position as it relates to independent developers, but while speaking with TechRadar, the eccentric game designer voiced his belief that droves of consumers actually overlooked Microsoft’s real intentions:
“It’s quite an unfair thought that Microsoft are trying to control our gaming, they’re trying to force us to be online all the time… [People] didn’t really think that through.
“I know Microsoft, I know they were only doing things because they thought they were long-reaching and long-thinking. But the world we live in now is that… we have to realise, especially if you’re a big corporation, if you make one step wrong, the world will leap on you, and unfairly, very unfairly, they will judge you.”
Peter Molyneux’s firsthand experience with Microsoft isn’t in doubt, although some might claim that makes his opinions somewhat biased. But as one of the industry’s most notorious forward-thinkers, Molyneux is likely to understand the validity of even the most divisive arguments where the future of gaming is concerned.
Pointing to worldwide progress and trends in the digital technology space as a whole, Molyneux fails to see how Microsoft’s shift to an online policy is more explosive an issue than in any other industry:
“Whether as consumers we like it or not, just like every form of technology interaction, there’s an inevitability of online. We know that online is so much a part of our existence now that we’re going to be in a world very soon where we have to be online all the time.
“A mobile device is more and more non functional without a connection to the internet, and why should that be any different for consoles?”
It’s a fair point – and one made clear whenever a tech-savvy consumer is left without wi-fi or cell reception – and it’s worth remembering that the Internet is a very different place than it was when the first smartphones started leaving the unconnected in the dust.
Comparisons aside, Molyneux goes on to argue that while he may have viewed the attacks on Microsoft as ill-informed or not well thought out, they put the company in a tight spot. Regardless of how ‘in the right’ those attacking the Xbox One turned out to be, Molyneux believes that in today’s world, Microsoft was left with no real chance to redeem themselves Even after completely changing their policies once fans reacted:
“Like everything else in our world, when something turns slightly bad it goes very bad and you have to make big correctional steps to get yourself back on track… Microsoft did the reversal and we should have all turned round and said ‘fantastic, you’ve really listened to what we’re said’. But you have to over-correct to get back on line.”
The problem of messaging is one cited by Molyneux (and many others); that is, it wasn’t the plan that Microsoft was setting in place that was the issue, but how it was explained to consumers. Rather than telling people what functionality was being taken away for the next generation, the company should have focused on the gameplay that would become a possibility as a result:
“You’ve got to give consumers the real benefit of why being online is a great thing for them. Why it’s great for gaming, why it’s great for their pockets and why it’s great for the experiences they’re having.
“If you have an online experience where millions of people interact together, something unique happens. And we don’t use that enough in gaming.”
There’s no question that Molyneux is correct in claiming that an always-online community allows developers to create experiences that could only exist in that context, and while that’s not the final word on the subject, some studios are already agreeing.
Respawn Entertainment has made it clear that their next game-changer of an FPS, Titanfall, will be built for online multiplayer, first and foremost. If you don’t have an adequate connection, well… that’s too bad. You might get something, but it certainly won’t be what the developers are hoping to deliver. With the likes of Bungie’s Destiny adopting a similar attitude, the biggest and brightest of the industry seem to think enough consumers possess a solid Internet connection to constitute a sustainable market.
All in all, it’s become clear over the past few months that despite knowing next to nothing about how the next-gen consoles will make gaming experiences – the ones people actually buy these for – better or more groundbreaking, plenty of gamers have made up their minds already. Plenty were outraged (and rightfully so) when Microsoft explained why Xbox 360 headsets would no longer work for Xbox One – yet very few will be apologizing now that a headset is confirmed to ship with the console.
And while message boards erupted after Xbox One games were found to be running on PC dev kits at E3 2013 – a fact known to all in the games industry – those looking for reasons to mock or attack the system had a ‘smoking gun.’ Is it unfair, as Molyneux might say? Maybe. Maybe not. But frankly, we wish fans were as willing to keep Sony in line as well, since they’re the ones patenting in-game ads we hope never become a reality. Not to mention our lingering questions regarding the bandwidth attached to the video sharing at the core of their marketing.
The real point made by the backlash toward Microsoft is the danger of calling a race before it’s technically even begun. And if consumers are so outraged by the mere idea of changes that are only rumored, it makes any opposition based on legitimate disagreement easier to overlook.
How do you feel about Molyneux’s quotes? Is he right to oppose Microsoft’s stance on indie games and social media, but argue that many critics are being short-sighted? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.