For almost eight years I have served my country in the United States Navy. Initially, I enlisted as an Operations Specialist, but after two years I was picked up for a commissioning program and the Naval Aviation training pipeline to become a Naval Flight Officer (NFO – think Goose from TOPGUN, but a different aircraft). In that time I’ve served on three Nimitz class Aircraft Carriers, been on two combat deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan, and been on countless other detachments away from home for training and exercises. In the last two and a half years I have either been deployed or detached for a total of 18 months. From these experiences I would like to impart to you conversations that I have either been a part of or witnessed during my time away from home.
Their surprising decision to require the Xbox One to receive a message from the “mother ship” every 24 hours has already been lighting up the internet for a myriad of reasons. But, the reason that I am so infuriated about it is that I, and my brothers and sisters in arms, will not ever be able to play Xbox One when deployed or on detachment...Microsoft has single handedly alienated the entire military, and not just the U.S. military, the militaries of the entire world.
This next point is for the developers. Although the PS4 will not have an online requirement to run, developers will still be able to make games that require persistent online authentication. Do not do this to us. The video game industry has made a fortune breaking not just video game records, but entertainment records as a whole, with properties that simulate what my brothers, sisters, and I do on a daily basis. Don’t alienate us with online requirements for games. It will cost you money and respect. This is a lesson that Microsoft is, tragically, about to learn.
We decided to talk to a few Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers about what this will mean for gaming in the military. It's worth noting the military is comprised mostly of males, ages 18 - 35, the key demographic for video games.
"I predict a major shift to PlayStation Marine Corps-wide," said a former Marine who's done two tours aboard a carrier strike group at sea and who has beta-tested games for various companies. "Xbox is going to tank in the military."
"Xbox was the previous favorite," the Marine said. "'Halo' has always been an essential team LAN game aboard ship. It was almost a standard. Lots of people had it so easy to link Xboxes for 4 on 4," said the Marine. "Xbox was king of social gaming aboard ship."
A group of gaming Marines, Soldiers and Sailors broke down some numbers for us, and it turns out that somewhere around 25 to 30,000 troops do duty aboard ship at any given moment. Another Navy Sailor pointed out to us that there's at least 6 to 7,000 troops aboard those submarines Mattrick so flippantly referenced. Not to mention the majority of the stateside military living in barracks rooms, where random room changes occur regularly.
Counting the Coast Guard, the number of active duty military, most of which lives in barracks housing, rests at around 1.4 million. That's a lot of units sold or not sold — [take our POLL] — even more of a reason Mattrick might want to step tenderly around the subject of uniformed members.
We contacted Microsoft for a statement about Mattrick's punchline and its implications. In specific, we wanted to know if there was any consideration at all for troops serving in austere conditions.
This was the Microsoft response we recieved:
“With Xbox One you can game offline for up to 24 hours on your primary console, or one hour if you are logged on to a separate console accessing your library. Offline gaming is not possible after these prescribed times until you re-establish a connection. Although we’re very excited about Xbox One, we remain dedicated to Xbox 360 now and for years to come. In fact, we are expecting some of the greatest blockbusters of 2013 and 2014 to come out on Xbox 360 such as ‘Grand Theft Auto V,’ ‘Call of Duty: Ghosts,’ ‘Madden NFL 25’ and ‘FIFA 14.’”
Navy Lt. Scott Metcalf was eagerly awaiting the arrival of the new Xbox One. Now he’s not even sure if he’ll buy one. Metcalf called that a “showstopper” for any service members who rely on their Xbox for off-duty diversions downrage, in the field, or at sea. Which is to say, just about everyone. And it gets worse for on-the-go troops. The Xbox One:
- Can play only in Xbox One-friendly countries. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a regular, reliable Internet connection while overseas, you’ll have to be in one of 21 countries included in Microsoft’s server network. So, if you’re stationed in, say, Germany, Italy or Great Briatin, you’re good to go. But if you’re based in Japan, Kuwait or Afghanistan, you’re out of luck.
- Will have region-locked games. Games bought in the U.S. can be activated only in the U.S. That means no more ripping open the latest title that just arrived in a care package from home while you’re deployed. And forget about buying games locally when overseas — if your Xbox Live account isn’t tied to the region when you activate a game, it won’t play.
- Serious security concerns. Even when the Xbox One is in sleep mode, its built-in microphone can always listen in. It’s a feature developers say will provide quick voice-command access to games and apps — but that could spook commanders who might worry the always-connected device could also capture more than just idle chit-chat among troops.
OFFduty asked Microsoft officials if that empathy might translate into practical workarounds for the military.
“I don’t have additional details to share and can’t speculate on workarounds at this time,” wrote Xbox rep Danica Stickel in an emailed response to questions, repeating the suggestion that troops could just use the 360 instead. “Although we’re very excited about Xbox One, we remain dedicated to Xbox 360 now and for years to come. In fact, we are expecting some of the greatest blockbusters of 2013 and 2014 to come out on Xbox 360.”
She did offer some encouragement for Xbox One hopefuls, however, saying the regional lock restrictions aren’t much different from other content protections.
“Similar to the movie and music industry, games and other content must meet country-specific regulatory guidelines before they are cleared for sale — which means that games will work in the broad geographic regions for which they have been cleared, much as today with Xbox 360,” Stickel wrote.
“While the console itself is not geographically restricted, a user’s Xbox Live account, content, apps and experiences are all tied to the country of billing and residence,” she wrote.
“Military personnel will be able to take their Xbox One and play their games with them without an issue as long as the game has been ‘activated’ once in the U.S. Your games go with you and play, no issues,” she says.
“This is shameful, says Joel Hruska, a writer for Extreme Tech website. “Telling troops that you ‘empathize’ with them is both embarrassing and hands Sony perfect ammunition.”
“Do I think Microsoft is going to change?” writes Hruska in a recent post. “Honestly, no. The remarks that’ve come out to date paint a picture of a company that’s so drunk on its own Kool-Aid, they aren’t listening to outside criticism or commentary any longer.”