The very first question in this r/games interview with Xbox Live director of programming Major Nelson elicits an encouraging answer, one that Microsoft should be trumpeting, not whispering.
After the Xbox One servers are shut down at the end of the new generation, will Xbox One games still be playable?
The question is highly relevant, because Microsoft says that the Xbox One must connect to the Internet at least once in a 24-hour period for any games to be playable on it. Imagine, a decade from now, Microsoft shutting down whatever server checks for that. Imagine then trying to play any games in an Xbox One library.
If we're taking Microsoft's 24-hour check as real policy—and they've given us only a bit of fine print to suggest that anything will ever change—then it sure seems like an Xbox One's game library would be rendered inert down the road. And that would seem like a very major reason to be leery of spending money on Xbox One games.
Major Nelson's answer (emphasis added):
I'll just say this: We haven't even started this generation, so it's kind of early to talk about the end of the generation. That's certainly something we would not do. That's not the way the system is designed. It's designed for flexibility. But let's get the system out there first.
Interesting and encouraging answer, but also a telling one that speaks to some of the disconnect between Microsoft officials and anxious gamers.
It's not too early to be talking about whether an Xbox One is a good long-term gaming investment. It's actually the exact right time. Anyone who is buying a game console is buying into the future. Buying into a future that kills your games dead in a decade or two due to an arbitrary corporate decision to shut down servers is a future that many serious gamers don't want a part of. That's why I find Major Nelson's response both encouraging but curiously tone-deaf. These are answers gamers need.
It's not too early to be talking about whether an Xbox One is a good long-term gaming investment. It's actually the exact right time.
Back at the May 21 Xbox One reveal, Microsoft exec Phil Harrison told me about the 24-hour requirement in an interview. We reported it, but honestly hadn't fully processed all the consequences.
Later that day, I thought through the long-term problem: even those of us for whom the 24-hour check-in wouldn't be a big deal would eventually face a day when Microsoft might shut down its authentication servers. This isn't some paranoid view of the gaming future. EA regularly stops supporting most of their online games after the games are a few years old. Imagine that happening for an entire console. And then I'd never be able to play my Xbox One games again?
I saw Harrison at a mixer later that evening and asked him about this. His answer was similar to Major Nelson's response to r/games. It was, essentially: why would we do that?
What I think Microsoft folks might be missing as that we're trusting Microsoft that their policies are real, and we're believing them when they say they have to do this 24-hour check-in thing. And if we believe them that they have to do that, then it's hard to understand how they'd be able to remove that requirement in five or 10 years. Or, if we believe that they can remove it then, then why can't they remove it now? My gut tells me that it has as much to do with how they want to manage manage rights to Xbox One games as it does supporting the Xbox One's TV services. But I don't know.
I just know that we have two Microsoft people telling us not to worry long-term, not to expect their policies to last forever. That's good news, but it'd help if they'd be explicit.
Go on the record, Microsoft. Tell us what your long-term policy is.
Tell us that our Xbox Ones wouldn't become bricks.
Tell us you'll drop the 24-hour requirement when you launch the console after Xbox One.
Tell us that you understand that gamers like to believe that their Nintendo cartridges will work in their retro systems even in the Wii era and that their PS2 games will still play in their PS2s even when the PS4 is the hot new thing on store shelves. No one wants to buy a $60 Xbox One game to discover they just had it for a 10-year rental.
Now is the time to be answering this stuff. And if you have good answers, there's really no need to be tight-lipped.