This is an article I wrote a couple months ago for Critical Gamer, but I feel like most of the points still stand. Splinter Cell Conviction is cool and all, but I still want to play Spies vs. Mercs in Chaos Theory!
April 15th is around the corner and that means the end of online play in original Xbox games. Plan your last minute parties accordingly, but also take a few minutes to consider whether Microsoft isn’t going about this all wrong. The reasons for the move have been made clear: features on Xbox 360 are limited in order to maintain support for older games. What isn’t clear is why other alternatives haven’t been considered.
As a consumer, I understand that video games are a business, time is money, etc. A solution that allows for both new Xbox 360 features and continued original Xbox support would require paying a team of programmers and designers. It could pull resources away from the next Xbox 360 update, taking away from the development of new and potentially profitable features. I understand this, and that is why I approach my argument against this move firstly as a consumer talking about a business.
When Xbox originals like Crimson Skies and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory are as old as they are, they’re typically only available to buy used at Gamestop. They are meant for a console that Microsoft no longer sells or supports. Under these circumstances, these games no longer provide profits for Microsoft. It is standard business practice to cut costs, to remove dead weight, and to only maintain that which is potentially profitable. In this regard, the move makes perfect sense.
But what Microsoft is doing here is much different. Not only are Crimson Skies and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory examples of games that can be played on Xbox 360s, but they are also games which are sold brand new on Xbox Live’s Game Marketplace. I can go buy Splinter Cell right now, and in a week, two-thirds of the game will be permanently disabled. Not only that, but I can go buy DLC levels for these games with no way to re-download them later on. (Update: Microsoft has said that all purchased DLC for Xbox Originals will still be redownloadable via your purchase history. They’ve also added text in the marketplace stating that online play is disabled for Xbox Originals)
Multiplayer games that you buy on Xbox 360, that use a service for which you probably pay a yearly fee, will no longer function. What’s worse is that none of these games need hefty servers to play online. Aside from Xbox Live specific features like friends lists and game invites, all of the actual action is hosted by the players themselves. While I’m not an expert on the technical complexities of online gaming, this set-up seems to open up several possibilities for making everyone happy.
Just a few ideas off the top of my head:
-Create a compatibility patch for Xbox that tells it to ignore all the new Xbox 360 features without crashing.
-Host a second version of Xbox Live specifically for original Xbox games.
-Stop selling and profiting from games you aren’t going to support.
Brilliant minds at Microsoft have obviously thought of these things, as well as several more ideas I can’t even fathom. That said, we haven’t heard about them or why they wouldn’t work, so the only safe assumption is that alternatives were shot down due to cost, time, and effort. Killing support is the most simple, cost effective solution.
Damage control came in the form of freebies for the thousands of Halo 2 players (the majority of the remaining original Xbox player base). This sign of good will may have been a boo-boo-healing lollipop for Halo fans, but it was a slap in the face to anyone who plays other games.
No one really seems too upset about this – I almost didn’t even bother writing this article because I didn’t think many people cared. That said, why don’t you care? Maybe you just haven’t thought about it, or maybe you haven’t even heard about it yet. Maybe you hadn’t considered some of the facts I’ve presented, or maybe you’d really rather have a bigger friends list over an opportunity to enjoy some really amazing older games. Feel free to comment below – let’s get a dialogue going.
There’s a bad precedent being set here. Microsoft is saying your older games don’t matter to them. They are dropping support without offering alternatives. But every game becomes old eventually. What happens to the hundreds of dollars worth of downloadable games you have sitting on your Xbox 360 when the next console rolls around? It’s time to start asking these questions now.