Tyranny of the Default: Game Console Broadcasts

Over the holidays, I inadvertently sang for an unwilling audience from my couch. Multiplayer games on the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One broadcast your microphone to other players by default. There is no clear indication that this is happening.

There is no standard system wide graphical or a hardware indicator to show that the microphone is streaming. With webcams (and their built-in microphones), we have all gotten used to a little hardware light turning on when the device is in use. There is nothing like that on the new game consoles. (Nor the old ones, for that matter.)

I believe Microsoft and Sony wanted it to be up to the game developers to make their own decisions and user interface for social gaming. The trouble is that, for the most part, it looks like the games just wanted to stream everyone to everyone else in their session. Without making it complicated for the players. Games are launched, online sessions with other players are found and joined automatically, and then the microphone is turned on. Simple but a bit creepy.

After becoming aware of this, I have heard quite a lot of private conversations and phone calls from other players. No one seem to be aware that they are broadcasting their conversations.

I think the game platforms should do a much better job of notifying the players when their microphones or cameras are broadcasting. It should also be much easier to turn it off. I would personally prefer an opt-in scheme per-session to broadcast everything as the default. I hope there will be updates to these new platforms down the road to address this issue.

To all my fellow gamers out there: I apologies for my somewhat crazy and probably horrible singing. (I sometimes sing when I am alone.)

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