Yesterday marked the end of Xbox Live for the original Xbox console and its games. As reported in February, at midnight last night, the plug was indeed pulled, the service was deemed to be a drain on resources when they could be much more effective elsewhere. Xbox's Mark Whitton claims the move will “provide the greatest benefit to the Xbox Live community”.
But at what cost does this action really weigh? Is this a state of things to come in terms of gaming? An 8 year reign may indeed be enough hours to wring from Halo 2 online, yes, but it marks the start of a worrying future. I'm talking of course towards the medium as a whole moving towards the reliance on digital distribution methods, where not only indie, bite-size titles are released on our online services, but full fledged titles, such as for example, Warhawk and SOCOM: Confrontation for the PS3. Furthermore, the announcement of services such as 'Gaikai' and 'OnLive', which is released in the US this summer (in which full titles are processed and streamed to users via the services own servers), it's hard not to question whether the content we buy now will be available to us, from day-to-day, like a regular disc-based product is. Granted, services such as Steam already exist within the gaming sphere and has been met with huge success since its initial release in 2003, ultimately, referred to as the saviour of PC gaming.
Microsoft's innocuous pull of Xbox Live's proverbial plug casts huge doubts in my mind. So all games still run, which is important to be reminded, however a title such as Halo 2 relies on its online capability, and is now, unplayable. It has been let known to the public that if for some reason Valve was to shut down the Steam service, then all games would be patched to allow to be run in offline mode. With services such as 'OnLive', it can not be this simple...
Now, imagine yourself, the proud owner of such titles as GTA VI and Final Fantasy XVII, all available through an online-only service such as 'OnLive' where the under-the-TV box is merely a thin client, a device that's only purpose is to send and receive digital signals, with little to no processing power of its own. What happens when a service like this is shut down? Does our legally downloaded content vanish into the virtual esther?
Sadly, it is an answer, that after much sifting, I can not locate, but it is worth thinking about. It seems we will only really find out once the service is made available to us. The shift to digital distribution and 'cloud computing' holds a tremendous amount of positives, but also, as covered, can hold its own problems. Is this the future we want, or should we be sticking to physical products?