At the start of the current, soon-to-be-over console generation, I worked as an associate at a popular video game retailer. My coworkers and I all loved games, and played them all the time. We stayed on top of sites like Kotaku and IGN, read reviews and previews and debated what we thought would be good and what we thought would suck. Typical gamer stuff.
With remarkable frequency, we'd get questions at work that, to us, seemed downright silly. Will this Xbox game work on my son's Playstation? What's a hard drive? Do I have to have an internet connection to get on Xbox Live/Playstation Network? Sometimes we'd take these questions in stride, especially around the holiday season. Other times we'd make fun of those who asked them, shaking our heads at our customers ignorance or laughing at a kid's obvious efforts to take advantage of a parent's lack of expertise.
Now I have a question, and it's my turn to seem a little silly. Who's job is it to tell consumers these things?
It's a fair question, and one that's going to be even more important once the consoles like the Xbox One actually go on the market. We must remember that a large portion of the people who will end up buying these things are not knowledgeable, are not well-versed in the state of the industry and may not even be aware of how they manage their own online privacy. I personally believe that a lot of people are going to hear about this new Xbox, see the slick new games on TV, and go to a store to buy one, expecting something that they can plug into their TV and just start playing, with minimal hassle.
I feel really sorry for all the men and women behind cash registers who will have to tell them that's not how it works these days. If they even do. It was bad enough having to explain the difference between all the SKUs the 360 and PS3 went through, and even worse since the old ones never went away, kept perpetually in circulation by the used hardware market.
The Xbox One requires an internet connection. The Xbox One can record all manner of personal information (sure, it needs your permission to do anything with it, but hey, isn't that what EULAs are for?). The Xbox One has strict limitations on what you can do with your games. These are all things every single person who buys a console needs to know.
So again. Who's job is it to tell them?
This week's official Xbox information from Microsoft has been absolutely stunning in it's lack of clarity or definitiveness. They're not all that helpful.
Retailers will probably be asked the most questions, but retailers are there to make money and move units. The people pushing you to preorder a console the day it is announced aren't really the ones that should be trusted to appropriately caution consumers. So again, not the most helpful.
There is, however, a lot of good journalism being done. But a lot of it is being done in niche publications, and there are plenty of gamers—better yet, consumers—who don't read Kotaku, Polygon, or any other video game news outlet. There are people who only get news via more traditional means—means that a reader of this very post might find downright archaic. Still, I'm reasonably confident coverage will go mainstream soon enough. However, this needs to be addressed as something that's not merely of interest to "gamers," but of interest to everyone.
And it needs to be addressed, because not only are we giving up all of our power as consumers, but we are actively contributing to an environment that will take advantage of countless people who may not be made aware of just what they are buying into by plugging a box into their house.
Conventional wisdom in an economy like ours would dictate that it's an individual's responsibility to educate themselves, lest they be taken advantage of. And there's truth to that. But there are a lot of people out there who see video game consoles as no different from their stereo or DVD player or television set. It's a box that they turn on to be entertained. That's not their fault, either. That's what consoles have always been. But a line is being crossed this generation, and now your entertainment is asking something of you, asking for your data, for bits of your life, ostensibly to serve you better—but really just to make other people wealthy. The game has changed.
Who's going to tell everyone?