Microsoft’s Xbox One Access Requirements Create an Odd Double Standard

You can watch movies offline indefinitely, but games require 24-hour checkups.

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Microsoft‘s Xbox One will allow you to play games offline for up to 24 hours a pop, says the company in a fresh explainer, but you’ll have to connect to the Internet thereafter or forfeit access. If you’re playing on someone else’s system, that 24-hour window drops to just one hour. Think of it as Microsoft’s Cinderella clause, only instead of a pumpkin, your system turns into¬†a giant black-and-green brick.

That may seem something of a positive concession to players worried Microsoft’s next Xbox would require “always-online” connectivity, if only because it means modem-goofing power surges, your curious cat, your even more curious 10-month-old and whimsical, whimsical fate won’t drive your Xbox One off a gaming cliff. You have time to get it together, Microsoft’s saying in essence, though it’s unclear what the carrot is, and the stick is more like a high-voltage stun gun.

But let’s look closely as the statement, which has some…anomalies. Here’s the salient stuff:

While a persistent connection is not required, Xbox One is designed to verify if system, application or game updates are needed and to see if you have acquired new games, or resold, traded in, or given your game to a friend. Games that are designed to take advantage of the cloud may require a connection.

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, but you can still watch live TV and enjoy Blu-ray and DVD movies.

Watching live TV I get, but note that Microsoft’s saying you can also continue to watch physical Blu-ray and DVD movies if you exceed the 24-hour window. Hooray? Sort of. For reasons unknown, Microsoft’s chosen to distinguish between movies and video games, affording the former carte blanche in its puzzling hierarchy of accessibility. So why in the world are movies being accorded different rights than games?

There’s another hypothetical issue: Let’s say you leave your console behind for more than 24 hours, maybe for a weekend trip or a weeklong vacation, and when you return, for whatever reason, your Internet’s not working. If I understand this correctly, you won’t be able to play games on the console until you solve your connectivity issue, which is sort of a double kick in the pants.

What’s more, you’ll never, ever be able to tote your Xbox One with you on vacation if your vacation involves a destination that’s Internet-free — a shame, since some of us still visit such backwoods spots (hey, northern Michigan and northwest Iowa, what can you do). Steam, Valve’s digital gaming service, has a neat way of getting around this by allowing you to “unlock” offline play with games you’ve purchased so long as you logged in, at some point, while connected online (I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure Valve’s never imposed a periodic login time limit). Once you switch to offline play, so long as you’ve authenticated while online, you’re good to go.

In short, while I’m not opposed to the idea of an always-online console — the Internet’s more or less the 21st century equivalent of electricity — I’m surprised, given the level of scrutiny and worry here, that Microsoft hasn’t taken a gentler, more transitional approach. That, and it seems odd that the company would decree one connectivity standard for Blu-ray and DVD movies, but a completely different one for games.