The stunning decline in PC shipments reported by IDC this week shows that Microsoft (MSFT) is really on the ropes in the consumer electronics market. What makes IDC’s report particularly cringe-worthy for Microsoft is that it pins some of the blame for poor PC sales on the drastic changes that Microsoft made to its Windows operating system with Windows 8. While Windows 8 may not be as universally hated as Vista was, it has still proven polarizing at a time when Microsoft faces stiff competition from mobile devices based on the hugely popular iOS and Android operating systems.
However, there is still one area where Microsoft reigns supreme over its competitors: Gaming.
Both Windows-based PCs and the Xbox console remain the top platforms in the world for gaming and almost everything we’ve heard about the next-generation Xbox 720 so far suggests that it will be both a terrific gaming console and an all-around entertainment hub that should give Microsoft a much-needed boost this holiday season.
Notice how I said “almost everything,” however. If the rumors are true that Microsoft plans to implement a requirement that the next Xbox must always be online just to play games, it could throw the company’s whole strategy into disarray.
If EA’s misadventures with SimCity should have taught the industry anything, it’s that gamers really don’t like it when you force them to be online for single-player games, especially if server crashes make the games they bought unplayable for extended periods of time. To make matters worse, we’ve heard rumors that Microsoft might use the always-online requirement to effectively block used games from being played on the new Xbox, which would be a truly obnoxious move that would further anger the console’s core base of customers.
To be clear, we have no firm confirmation yet on whether Microsoft really is planning to implement such a scheme on the next Xbox. But the comments made by now-departed Microsoft Studios creative director Adam Orth last week indicate that the company has at least been batting the idea around ,and it has never denied rumors of an always-online Xbox despite multiple opportunities to do so. Whispers about an always-online Xbox have been around for months now and, given the grumbling they’ve caused among Xbox fans, it’s reasonable to think that Microsoft might have quashed them by now if there were no truth to them.
So please, Microsoft, I’m asking you now as both an Xbox fan and as someone who still loves using my PC for gaming: don’t mess this up. I really want to buy a new Xbox when it comes out in December. But if you force me to be online to play single-player games I’ve already shelled out $60 for and if you wipe out my ability to play used games, I will give the PlayStation 4 a very close look.