Two things caught my interest today: one is the “Pros and Cons of an Always-Online Xbox 720” article on IGN.com for its blatant spin job there, and the other is Marcus Beer’s sudden hypocritical disinterest in next-gen console speculation, which is tucked into the most recent Annoyed Gamer (around the 6:20 mark).
(Be warned, this is going to be a pretty epic rant.)
Keep Calm and Shut Up
Let’s start with Mr. Beer’s change of mind. On January 31st, after seeing how Marcus Beer and IGN.com (hmm) ganged up on Sony for not revealing the specs of the PS4 in an interview with The Times, I declared that Kaz Hirai forfeited the console war to Microsoft before the PS4 was even officially announced. It was a sarcastic jab at the kind of bias Microsoft typically enjoys, because it seemed to me that when Microsoft does something evil — such as lobby for the most outrageous Internet censorship bill in history — we don’t hear much about it from these angry opinionated folks, but when Sony does something perfectly reasonable (like withholding their business strategy for a few months,) it’s spun as a fatal mistake, childish, and completely out of touch with reality. I noticed that, rather than grant Hirai a point about accidentally giving Microsoft the advantage of being able to react to the PS4’s specs and adapt accordingly, IGN said he was “letting Microsoft make the first move”, while Beer went further, and labelled it as “silly little secrets”, telling Hirai to “grow the fuck up”.
Fast forward to this last week, and suddenly he’s preaching the wisdom of waiting for news like a good little consumer. Of course, it must be pure coincidence that this epiphany of his perfectly synchronizes with the massive negative press that MS is attracting in the media due to — you guessed it — their refusal to share their plans! He’s now “getting sick of predictions”, although he admits he’s been guilty of making some himself; he’s going to try not to do it anymore, because “every time it’s a slow news day, some half-assed site is going to say the next Xbox is not always online, but it’s streaming, and it comes with a nose-picking device, and Kinect will have a sensor that farts, and gives you smells, and then there will be a rack for your sex toys, and a cupholder, and maybe a toilet seat.” And “all this shit we’re making up” is pointless because we’re only a few weeks away from finding out anyway!
Well first of all, what the fuck is up with those examples? Farting and toilet seats and picking your nose and sex toys? Did he just go down a list of bodily functions and hope that it would coalesce into some kind of point by the end? Who exactly has been predicting rumors so insane that they warrant this kind of vulgar rant? From what I’ve seen, trustworthy inside sources have agreed that the next console will require an online connection… so… is that the equivalent of “making up” stuff, about sex toys and toilet seats? Where is his sense of proportion? Why does it suddenly bother him so deeply that people are making negative rumors about the next console, when he was ready to skullfuck Kaz Hirai for not spilling the beans about the PS4 in January? As soon as Microsoft is in the public hot seat, he transcends all desire to speculate and wants to censor the discussion. Fantastic.
Pro(fessional) and Con(descending)
IGN’s piece about the pros and cons of the always-online situation is one of the worst propaganda pieces I’ve seen in my life. I swear, Ryan MacCaffrey must have been wearing a cheerleader outfit when he wrote this.
For those untrained in the art of spinning and counter-spinning, consider this your introduction. The whole point of spin is not to dispute the facts per se or to lie outright, but to reorient the entire discussion and change its focus so that you’re no longer dealing with the problems your opponents want to deal with, and you can emphasize whatever you want. Politicians love to do this, and so does everybody else trying to sell a piece of shit.
- PRO: Microsoft is not afraid to take bold risks
The article begins with a completely bullshit “Pro” about how courageous Microsoft is if they do decide to make their next Xbox always online. This ought to be evidence enough to dismiss the article. How the hell is DRM a brave choice, exactly? It’s panic and dictatorship, which is the opposite of confidence in their product.Oh wait, this editor doesn’t even consider the concerns about DRM control schemes! He’d rather remind us about the eventual success of Xbox Live, and pretend that the original Xbox somehow revolutionized online services and pushed broadband into millions of homes across America back in 2002. Meanwhile, Valve’s massively popular Steam service was released around the same time and was infinitely more popular, but oh well! Bold risks, Micorosft!
“The point is, if Microsoft does go through with the always-online ‘threat,’ then we’ll all be fine, if the Xbox Live experiment is any indication.”
Yes, editor Ryan MacCaffrey would have us believe there’s no big difference between the gradual adoption of an optional service introduced a decade ago for an unpopular console, and the possibility of an extremely burdensome broadband prerequisite in Microsoft’s future console. They’re just being innovative and not afraid to take risks, like always!
I also have to wonder why Sony’s less popular ideas are never hailed as “bold risks” by IGN? Ah, it’s a double standard, as usual.
- CON: People fear change
“This is a simple fact of human nature”, observes our trained psychologist, Ryan McCaffrey. Dismissing everyone’s concerns by saying people “fear change” is about as idiotic as saying that people “love change” and that explains why new things can be successful! He points to Apple’s success with the iPhone, which doesn’t make any sense logically, but draws an important connection between the next Xbox and something extremely popular in the tech world. Association is a crucial spin tactic. He could just as easily have connected it with a myriad of failed devices that included bothersome online-only schemes, but no, he decided to pick the iPhone, which also happened to have a shitload of other important factors in its favor, but whatever. “People fear change, but the iPhone was successful!” Herp derp!Strangely, this is all undermined by the last line of the paragraph, which is about how some game developer sent him a message on Twitter, saying that he embraced the iPhone “like a fat man embraces cake”. If people all embraced the iPhone, what happened to that “simple fact of human nature” about people “fearing change”? What the fuck does anything have to do with anything in this article?
I mean, you probably didn’t even notice the real trick of this con, which is that it’s not a fucking “Con” in the first place! When you click on a list of pros and cons about a new idea, you expect them to actually dig into the potential problems that it could present. So what is this? How is some disjointed speech about how “people fear change” and the success of the iPhone a fucking negative thing related to always online DRM?
…It goes on and on.
Like Marcus Beer, MacCaffrey dismisses people’s concerns by exaggeration them. Instead of talking about dildos and fart sensors and shitty websites that make stuff up, we’re told that the mainstream skepticism coming from respected outlets is, instead, “incendiary outrage” that has “lit up message boards”. Well yes, you can always make your opponent’s side look foolish by tracking the activity in message boards and pretending that’s where the real opposition is coming from, can’t you? When you ignore your real critics and focus on angry 9-year-olds who spit foam as they scream into their pillows as your enemy, you’re giving yourself an unfair advantage to say the least.
“Is this rage justified, or is it simply a knee-jerk overreaction without the benefit of key facts?” he asks, wording it so as to make it impossible to reach any other conclusion than the one he wants. I suppose the “rage” is not actually “justified”, and it is “simply” a “knee-jerk overreaction” without the “benefit of facts”. But the fact that he provides absolutely no facts himself is ironic; a case of the doctor not taking his own medicine. Nevertheless, the tone of the piece is the most important part, not the logic — this is spin 101.
Funnily, one of the later “Pros” is that it might not require an always-online connection. Umm, sorry to break it to you, dipshit, but that’s not a “Pro”, it’s a separate article entitled “Hey, What If The Next Xbox Doesn’t Need Always-Online!” How dirty.
I noticed that every single one of the “Cons” except the absurd “people fear change” one revolves around the inconvenience of having a slow or unstable internet connection, too. Knowing that practically everyone who is reading the article (on IGN.com) likely has a reliable internet connection, it’s obvious why these are the only problems allowed into the discussion. People will read the piece, think about how they actually do have a pretty reliable and fast internet connection most of the time, and therefore there’s nothing to worry about! We don’t see any concerns about DRM abuse, user privacy, customer’s rights, system lifespan, or slippery corporate slopes of any kind. Keeping gamers as ignorant as possible, focusing on cherry-picked bullshit, spinning everything to favor their buddies — that’s what it’s all about.
When I started reading, I joked to myself that they’d throw the PSN outage into the article with a link to some old article for good measure, and they actually did it! Nevermind that just recently the Xbox service has been fucking up for no apparent reason. Nope, let’s get a link to some old, blown out of proportion scare story about your bank accounts being hacked thanks to Sony. Marcus and IGN both hammered Sony in January for something as harmless as keeping their cards close to their chest, but now they’re leaping to the defense of Microsoft, despite arrogant anti-consumer rhetoric from their employees and growing confirmation that — at least at some point in the past — Microsoft was planning to do exactly what the rumors suggest.
It could be that Microsoft changes their mind one way or the other, and I won’t pretend to know what they’ll do, but this double-standard stuff is disgraceful.