How to be an insensitive clod

This story has two parts, one technical gaming related, and one social. I’ll start with the second one first, since that is what attracted my attention in the first place.

Apparently, rumors have been circulating (ArsTechnica, TheSixthAxis) that the next generation gaming console from Microsoft, popularly called Xbox 720, needs constant internet connection to be able to play and validate games. Not surprisingly this made more than a few gamers raise their voice.

Then Adam Orth, creative director at Microsoft Studios, wrote on his personal Twitter account:

Sorry, I don’t get the drama around having an ”always on” console. Every device now is ”always on.” That’s the world we live in. #dealwithit

Later on his twitter feed was made private, but not before people could make screengrabs.

Making assumptions that everyone out there is the same as you, does the same as you, has the same as you and likes the same as you is rather insensitive. Replying to people with ”Deal with it” just shows how little you can empathize with other people and understand their situation.

This didn’t make the situation any better and ignited another discussion drawing more attention to the rumors. Making the feed private instead of making an apology is in my opinion even worse. If you are not a spokesperson for your company, it might be a good idea not to reply to rumors with inflammatory comments.

This will not blow up in Microsofts face, but I think they should consider sending Mr Orth to media training, and perhaps some empathy class or two to brush up on his people skills. Even a creative director needs to be able to empathize with people around him.

The technical problem lies at the heart of this. Personally I don’t care if this rumor is true or not. I am not a potential buyer of the Xbox 720 at the moment, and this has only made myself even more sure of that fact. But I know of a lot of people that are interested and can see why they are concerned.

Personally, I am lucky to have a low latency high speed ethernet connection to my apartment. When they installed the jack they simultaneously prepared for fiber access, if needed in the future. They haven’t put a fiber in the channel since there is no demand right now, but in the future they can install it with very little cost.

But this is not to brag, I consider myself to belong to the privileged ones. My internet connection at home beats the one I have at work. Still I know that this is not the norm, not even in Sweden where broad penetration is among the best in the world. None of my Swedish friends has this good internet access. And among my foreign friends, it is something entirely else.

One third of those I met online have flaky internet connections that kicks them off the net every now and then. Having a copy protection scheme that requires you to be online all the time is a PITA if your only option is one of these substandard internet connections.

When I got my first gaming console it was to be able to play with friends sitting in the same room as me, it was for social gaming. Even after getting into online multiplayer I still like the couch-multiplayer variant. And most of my games are pure off-line single player experiences. So why should my console need to be online all the time? Peter Chapman has written an excellent piece over at TheSixthAxis questioning this. A user at Slashdot also had another great insight on why this is not desirable: I can still play my old PC games from 15-20 years ago because there never was a DRM server to be shut down. I don’t expect them to keep the servers for multiplayer online forever, but why should my single player games stop working just because the company don’t want to keep the DRM server online any more?

If the always online requirement is to enforce some kind of DRM, this is the wrong road to go down. I have such a hard time to understand why companies think obtrusive copy protection schemes are good. They are not! I have yet to be shown a copy protection scheme that has not been broken. And if it was hard to break, it was even harder on the legitimate users, needing to jump through hoops to use their legitimately bought product. The users of cracked versions of the same product often had a much better customer experience. There is just one thing to say about such behavior: WTF?

What did you think when you designed that devious scheme? When did you think it was a good thing to treat paying customers like dirt? I think that sooner or later there will be a huge backlash, and that will definitely blow up in the face of those trying to enforce these schemes.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for creators to get paid for their work, and I am more than happy to fork over my cash for something good. Still, this is not the right way to do it. In the very short term perhaps, but not in the long run.

I have no doubt that we will have broadband pretty much every where in a future. But we are not there yet. Yes, you can hurry it up by making things that need it and then customers will increase demand. And if you don’t care about losing a customer or two right now, why not? It is entirely Microsofts decision, let them design their console. And let the customers choose if they will buy it. Sony and, to some extent, Nintendo are players in the same arena and the customers have some options at least.

But calling peoples opinions ”drama” and tell them to deal with it… Well, then you are an insensitive clod, sir! #dealwithit


Update: Microsoft released an official comment and something akin an apology yesterday, around the time I was typing up my post. Although it is hard to control what every employee writes, it shows how much you need to have a organization policy regarding comments in the media, especially among management since they might be seen as spokespeople for the organization. I think Microsoft did the right thing here and acknowledged those offended by the comments and they did it rather promptly. Remember that in these internet times, something can grow infinitely big in a very short time. It is hard to contain something when pretty much everyone can join in and spread their views.

As for what they should do with Mr Orth, well, that is another thing. I have told my position already. I saw people demanding they should fire him, I think people screw up and everyone should get a second chance. But he could use a lesson in how to act to potential customers.

Now I have read a more complete set of tweets sent between him and Manveer Heir and am rather horrified by what Adam Orth wrote. Everyone is entitled to his opinion, but they way he voiced it was not cool. I can only hope that the later tweets were intended as sarcasm, even though I rarely advocate the use of irony and sarcasm online as they tend to translate to written media very poorly. But that would be the topic of another post.




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