Jun 12, 2013

Xboned: Microsoft Have F#$*ed Up Bad

I made a Vlog today about how messed up the Xbone is. Here's the video:

What I wanted to do in this post was clear up what I said about cloud computing in the video, since I didn't cover this very well. So here we go:

You should be familiar with cloud storage. Basically it's the idea that you upload something to a server instead of storing it locally so that you can access it anywhere, from any device with access to the server. So like pictures you upload to Facebook or the videos I put on YouTube. Hopefully, these are actually distributed over a network of servers so you can access them quickly wherever you happen to be in the world. This is more or less what the Xbox One can do. Let's take the example of the Driveatars from Forza 5.

Here's how that's going to work: While you're playing, the game records some data about your driving style. This data is then sent out to a server somewhere and stored. Then, when people play a race, the Xbone will download this data about how somebody drove and plug it in to the processing being done on the Xbone for the AI. If the data recorded is complex enough and the way the AI works smart enough this'll give you a pretty accurate representation of how that other player drove (although how well this feature works is a bit besides the point right now).

What Microsoft seems to want consumers to believe is going to happen, though, is cloud computing where, for example, the computation for the AI is actually done on that server and then streamed to the player and plugged into their game running locally (to oversimplify a bit). This isn't actually new tech per se, although doing it over the internet in real-time is challenging. The advantage is that by taking some of the calculations necessary for running the game off of the local Xbone, it frees up some CPU time for other things. By distributing the processing that needs to happen to make the game work over multiple machines, you can end up with something far more complex. This would negate the slight tech advantage of the PS4 and but Xbone firmly in the lead in that department, and it seems like Microsoft wants you to believe that this is what is happening, and are using cloud computing as an excuse for their online requirement. But it's not what they're doing, and the online requirement is only for DRM.

For the above scenario to work, you need a constant (hopefully high bandwidth and low latency) connection to the server cloud so that you can receive the output of that AI processing (again, simplifying a little). If you lost your connection, the AI would stop working. You also couldn't readily have an offline mode where those calculations are done locally, because presumably the game is designed around them being done in the cloud. Suddenly shoving them onto the local machine is going to cause massive performance issues. The point is; this stuff cannot work at all if you're only checking in with a server once every 24 hours, which is apparently the actual requirement.

There's also a lot of other problems with that approach unless you can guarantee a stable high-speed connection with good bandwidth.

What this means is that ultimately, nothing actually essential to the running of a given game can possibly be being done by the cloud if you only need to log in every 24 hours. What does that tell us? This mandatory checking in is DRM plain and simple, and, problematically, it's the kind that can seriously hurt legitimate users. I personally try not to support that.


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