It’s really hard to believe, but it has been seven years since the disastrous Xbox One reveal that hung over an otherwise solid E3 2013 Microsoft conference like a rancid swamp ninja, smothering every last bit of potential hype that could have been generated from the show until the now infamous Xbox One80 ended the console gaming industry career of then-Xbox steward Don Mattrick. It was the most important news story of the year, gamers and pundits alike up in arms to support the sense of ownership that had, up until then, been unquestioned in the console space. I was fortunate enough to be SmashPad’s editorial voice on the matter, weighing in on both the deeply undermined Xbox conference at E3 (which would effectively preordain Microsoft’s bridesmaid status throughout the eighth generation) and the subsequent course correction, so it was a story I followed closely to say the least.
At the time, it felt like a victory. The games you bought in stores were yours forever. Even 20 or 30 years down the road, when the online services connected to the current crop of platforms would almost assuredly be taken down, we had secured our ability to walk into a brick-and-mortar reseller and buy a game off the shelf with confidence that we could put it in the consoles we still had at home and play them. The people had spoken, and justice had prevailed, or so we thought.
The fact of the matter is, the more insidious signs of trouble had already shown themselves, if only any of us had bothered to look. After all, how many times throughout the seventh generation had we brought a game home on release day only to be met with an online patch right then and there? Were we really inclined to believe that those patches would be limited to massaging the online functionality or mitigating load times forever, even when the very existence of these patches could allow publishers to have games “go gold” days, or even weeks, before development actually concludes?
With the benefit of hindsight, we really should have seen Assassins Creed Unity coming. Not only that, but its release should have been met with the same venom and vitriol that precipitated the Xbox One80, rather than the simple ridicule that actually ensued. We could have fought for assurance, then and there, that strict certification processes would be implemented to ensure that games would meet certain standards before ever finding their way onto retail discs. Failing to do so, I genuinely feel, is the moment we lost the fight for genuine ownership of the games we purchase. Now, we have all-digital models of the Xbox One and PlayStation 5, and it’s hard to say that their inevitably pricier, disc-enabled counterparts offer a meaningful advantage over them given the kind of garbage that all too often finds its way to store shelves – the kind of garbage we’ll be stuck with for the long haul in physical form regardless of whatever comes of the games in the here and now.
One can hope that increased awareness of the matter could spark a revitalized movement to set things right, but history shows us that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to regain the inches we give up to publishers once they’ve been conceded, knowingly or otherwise. Of course, if anyone wants to prove me wrong, I’d be ecstatic.
For now, just be very careful with your money going into this ninth generation. There are no longer any assurances about the state of any given game once they lose the benefit of update servers.
The bastards got us.