The more rumors I hear about Microsoft's next generation console, tentatively named Durango, the more I'm glad I've all but abandoned console gaming in favor of joining the PC Gaming Master Race. The two biggest rumors aside from a May 21 unveiling are two types of DRM that will be installed into the console: the first prevents the use of used games, while the second requires an Internet connection to use games or apps.
For the non-gaming crowd, DRM is short for digital rights management and in the context of video games is any kind of measure intended to prevent the piracy of said games. Video game DRM has taken many forms, from the whimsical and creative to flat-out problematic, and it's looking like Microsoft is choosing to go with the latter camp if Kotaku and Microsoft Creative Director Adam Orth can be believed. While Orth does make a decent point in that most devices these days are always connected to the Internet, requiring an Internet connection to even play single player and banning the use of pre-owned games are two of the worst moves Microsoft can make. The Xbox Durango is shaping up to be the Titanic of the video game industry.
Two companies that have already learned the harsh lessons of always-online DRM are Blizzard and Electronic Arts; Both Diablo 3 and the recent SimCity reboot require you to be online even to play on your own. The launch of both games were predictably disastrous, plagued with server errors, lag spikes, and random disconnects. Both Blizzard and Electronic Arts ended up apologizing to users, and Blizzard at least appears to have learned its lesson and didn't apply the always-online DRM to the recent Starcraft 2 expansion pack. Putting aside server issues that will undoubtedly strike Microsoft should Microsoft keep always-online DRM, we come down to the simple fact that sometimes people lose power or access to the Internet, and for many, the Internet still remains a luxury they can't afford.
The second DRM is a lesser iceberg. Reports have it that as opposed to using a disc to play, Durango games will install directly onto the console's hard drive, with the disc only being a medium for installation. This strategy is what PC game developers did in the late 90s and early 2000s, and it's turned out to work well. However, once the game is installed, playing it from the optical drive will be disabled. Following that train of thought, it's safe to assume that once the game is installed the disc becomes useless unless you plan to reinstall it later, if that's even an option.
With the release of the Wii U late last year and the impending release of the Playstation 4 later this year, neither of which share the DRM restrictions of the Durango, Microsoft is already looking to be at a great disadvantage for the eighth generation console war. While some are saying this will be the last generation of home consoles, the threat of always-online DRM will endure. Someone will always think it's a good idea despite the smoking craters that remain of the games it touches.