The frustration of an always-connected game world

Here’s how yesterday went for me: I turned on my Xbox Series X in anticipation of spending a few relaxing hours playing Fortnite. After seeing the game’s title screen, a system warning popped up telling me I wouldn’t be able to play due to an online connection failure. I know my Xbox is connecting fine because I can see all the online functionality on the home screen. I assume this warning is a startup glitch – something I usually get when I restart my console. I’ve reset my Xbox, tried to relaunch Fortnite and as soon as it seems to connect I get rebooted again, now getting a warning that the owner of this game needs to sign in.

At this point, I know Xbox or Epic Games are having problems. Then I tried to play Devils – an offline single player game – and that also resulted in the claim. I restarted my Xbox a second time and tried relaunching both games. Similar errors appear. Xbox’s online service is down.

I didn’t blink at it. I checked Xbox’s Twitter to confirm the outage and run a support check on the console. Both info points tell me the service is having issues with people trying to buy and launch digital games. During the time I thought Microsoft would need to deal with the issues, I watched the first episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and the latest episode of Outer range. I feel that the more than two hours that I spend on other leisure activities (and eating a meal) will be enough for Microsoft to restore the service. Microsoft is usually quick to come up with solutions. I’m wrong. The service is still down. Again, though, I don’t think much of it.

My last attempt to play Devils (a game I’m reviewing) was to put my Xbox offline. Since it’s a single player experience, I think it’s likely it won’t require that stupid DRM handshake. I’ve made sure my Xbox is set as home and goes offline. Luckily the game doesn’t require a handshake and I can choose to “play offline”. Rarical’ title screen starts up fine, but when I enter the game the title screen options don’t go away, rendering the game unplayable. I tried restarting it twice and the same weird glitch occurs. I guess that playing offline didn’t get much focus during testing.

In today’s gaming era, connectivity issues are always present. Not very often, but they are so frequent that I am numb to them. By no means do I give Microsoft a free ticket. DRM and “always online” cause headaches for most gamers. Can’t play the games we pay for because it’s so bad especially the single player experience doesn’t need an internet connection.

Even though I can’t enjoy the games I want, my Xbox still has a bit of life in it. Since I’ve set it as my home machine, most of the games I’ve downloaded are playable offline. After today’s test, I can confirm Hades, Psychonauts 2 and Stardew Valley work fine on Xbox console in offline mode. However, when I try to play Halo Infinite’s campaign, it doesn’t register that I own the game and want me to buy it back, which I won’t be able to do because I can’t connect to the store. It’s another unusual error related to offline.

To get ready for the next outage, I recommend downloading and testing the games to see if they’re playable offline. Think of them as an “emergency kit.” The game compatibility is very deep. Just know some of these titles, like Elden Ring, wouldn’t be the same without the online component, and you could run into unforeseen problems like I did with the others.

From Xbox to PlayStation, all consoles have different online and offline functionality for their respective game libraries. These consoles are affected in different ways when their services go down. I know why DRM exists and understand why it is accepted, but I also despise it in times like these. When a network crashes or specific functions within it are disrupted, players often don’t know what’s going on.

I know what to do to investigate, where to look for information (both on the internet and on consoles) and understand what games would be unplayable without that stupid DRM handshake. I suppose it’s a trial and error process that frustrates most players. We need more visibility into what’s going on and better alerts letting players know they’re not doing anything wrong and the problem is with the service. Xbox issues a warning, but it has to be front, center, and inevitable when the service goes down. Getting warnings like “something is wrong, error code X235329drmsux320i” does nothing to inform or help.

Now the good news: The service is back up. The game can be played. Programs can be viewed. And each outage will hopefully bring further improvements from Microsoft. The world is always connected here is a good thing. We just need how to row our boat when the water gets turbulent.

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