Xbox Live Free, Always On connections and how to still play offline games

It seems the biggest complaints from gamers regarding the rumored next Xbox requiring an Always Online connection stems from the fact that there’s a fear of what will happen if the Internet connection drops or there’s a problem with the service. What will happen if in the middle of a single player game like Bioshock Infinite the network goes down. Well the answer looks to be quite¬† simple based on the evidence put out there by IGN, Edge and more recently Kotaku.

It’s clear Microsoft are aiming to adopt an anti piracy measure considering how easy and widespread the Xbox 360 was compromised – but is the prospect as bad as what people are expecting giving what’s been rumored thus far…probably not. Here’s why.

Quoted from the original Kotaku story which recently sparked the furor over the next Xbox being always on.

“Unless something has changed recently,” one of the sources told us over email, “Durango consumer units must have an active internet connection to be used.”

Durango is the codename for the next-gen Xbox.

“If there isn’t a connection, no games or apps can be started,”

Stop right there and think about this statement for one moment. A gamer boots up the console and can’t use it fully due to no internet connection – that’s going to be a problem for those without the Internet, and perhaps Microsoft won’t leave this segment of the market out in the cold by offering an Xbox model tailored directly to them that uses some other form of disc protection; and if not, then perhaps Microsoft are aiming to simply capture more of those consumers who do have Internet connections – a big risk perhaps.

So what’s left, Microsoft gunning for those with Internet connections, and as rumored aiming for a wider audience well versed in having an always connected device. The biggest issue seems to stem from gamers wondering what will happen to offline gaming.

Let’s go back to the Kotaku quote:

“If there isn’t a connection, no games or apps can be started,”

Key word is “started“.

Now it’s not clear whether this comment pertains to digital content only or disc based content, even both. However what isn’t clear from the statement is what if you’re already playing a game having connected online already and passed the seeming authentication process for the game or content.

the source continued. “If the connection is interrupted then after a period of time–currently three minutes, if I remember correctly–the game/app is suspended and the network troubleshooter started.”

Again, this has been interpreted as, the network troubleshooter will start after 3 minutes and if there’s no connection, the console will self destruct killing everyone within a 10 m radius of the blast. Actually, what if the troubleshooter merely is a tool to keep the console connected and if it fails, gamers can carry on as they were until they finish what they were doing? Perhaps the system will actually auto connect whilst you’re happily playing the single player game offline, or the troubleshooter is something that might interrupt gameplay for only a few seconds whilst the console attempts to reconnect.

You see, the words posted by Kotaku are so vague, it’s rather hard to think about all the possibilities and yet gamers have automatically assumed the worse case scenario.

It’s likely that games played via disc will need to be authenticated by the system using the internet connection when first placed in the console, and if the Internet connection remains stable is a one time action upon boot up. This would also eliminate the frustrations of having to keep the physical disc in the tray to play games stored on the hard drive. The disc or content then becomes tied to the user’s account, IP and/or console which is verified by the always online status. The horror stories of being booted out of games after three minutes is somewhat far fetched and not something one would expect from a company aiming to remain competitive amongst its peers. What is perhaps also a possibility is Microsoft offering its current Gold Live service for FREE to encourage more users to accept the always online protocol it adopts and then providing a tiered premium service with specific enticements (much like Playstation Plus) for those who want to pay.

Either way, Microsoft are going to be very smart in how they utilize their next console in the home, but as with all consumer products, the Xbox primarily has to be user friendly otherwise it will fail. The horror stories suggested by the rumors do not point to a console that’s going to sit well with certain sections of the market and therefore are probably not the likely outcome.

Written by: Robert Cram

Robert Cram has hundreds of video game reviews and thousands of articles under his belt. He aims to remain objective and fair in his analysis. With years of experience, feels his gaming opinions are valid and worth sharing. Agreement is entirely optional.