Tag Archives | Xbox Live

Windows Phone Gaming Gets Some Stuff, Still Needs Some Stuff

Xbox Live is supposed to be a big hook for Windows Phone, but until now Microsoft hasn’t fully described what the platform’s upcoming “Mango” update will do for gamers. We now have a better idea thanks to a blog post by Microsoft’s Michael Stroh.

Unlike Mango in general, Windows Phone’s fall Xbox Live update isn’t a major overhaul. Instead, Microsoft is filling in a couple of key omissions — in-app purchases and parental controls — and adding wearable avatar badges to reward in-game achievements. Xbox Live will also get “Fast Async,” which is supposed to improve turn-by-turn multiplayer games.

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Microsoft’s Xbox Live Rewards Actually Have Value

Five years after the Xbox 360 launched, Microsoft has created a loyalty rewards program. It’s about time.

Xbox Live Rewards doles out Microsoft Points — the currency used for games and other content — for things like renewing a subscription, activating Netflix and buying specific downloadable games.

Sony launched its own rewards program for the Playstation 3 in late October, but the perks are inferior. Instead of getting points that you can spend anywhere on the Playstation Network, you get “exclusive” avatars and themes and a chance to win prizes. In other words, buying lots of stuff doesn’t bring you any closer to getting free games or movies.

But Sony and Microsoft have different reasons for offering rewards in the first place. Sony, quite simply, wants you to buy more stuff, while Microsoft is trying to enroll more people in Xbox Live. Many of its rewards are aimed at new users — you can get 400 points ($5) for getting an Xbox Live family plan, or 100 points for buying your first item on the Xbox Live marketplace — and the biggest payouts come from staying enrolled. Clearly, Microsoft is trying to get all those Kinect buyers onto paid subscriptions.

Still, you don’t need an Xbox Live Gold plan to earn rewards from Microsoft. Buying select games and taking monthly surveys are enough to get a couple bucks in points every year. Maybe I’m just not enough of an avatar junkie, but I’ll take the points over Sony’s incentives any day.


Xbox 360’s New Software: An Incomplete Review

Microsoft is making a yearly tradition of updating the Xbox 360, once again bringing new features to the console.

This time around, the main attractions are ESPN, Zune Pass (if you have a subscription) and a better version of Netflix. The Xbox 360 software also gets a minor face lift. Microsoft let me try the new Xbox 360 software before its public release, and while I can’t take full advantage of ESPN (more on that later), the other changes are still enough to solidify the Xbox 360’s standing as the best software experience on a game console — provided you’re willing to pay for Xbox Live.

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Xbox Live Price Hike: A Higher Cost for Microsoft

This wasn’t entirely unexpected, but Microsoft announced that it’s raising the price of Xbox Live Gold, effective November 1.

Yearly subscriptions will increase from $50 to $60, quarterly subscriptions will jump from $20 to $25, and monthly subscriptions will go up from $8 to $10. Before the price hike, Microsoft is giving subscribers a chance to get one more year for $40, effectively negating the new price until 2012. Joystiq points out that several retailers are also selling $40 yearly subscription cards, which you can stock up on now and use over a longer period of time.

The troubling thing about this price hike is not so much the $10 difference itself, but the feeling of powerlessness that it instills.

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Windows Phone 7 Gaming: What We Know So Far

At a presentation for developers in March, Microsoft showed a single Xbox Live game running on three different platforms. First came the PC, then Windows Phone 7, and finally the Xbox 360, each one picking up where the last left off. Developing games for all three would be a breeze, Microsoft promised, and it seemed that by connecting the three screens, the company’s gaming strategy would go where the competition hadn’t.

Five months later, Windows Phone 7 gaming is still somewhat of a mystery. Microsoft has missed a couple opportunities to show that Windows Phone 7 is a serious gaming platform. The phone was mostly absent from E3, a major video game industry trade show, and when several publications tested Windows Phone 7 prototypes in July, the Xbox Live section was an empty shell, with no actual games to speak of.

Microsoft still has until the holiday season to impress gamers with Windows Phone 7, but there are a lot of blanks to be filled in. For now, I’ve learned enough to paint a blurry picture of what Windows Phone 7 gaming will be like.

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Microsoft Might've Killed Xbox 360 vs. PC Gaming

Ever wish you could play Gears of War for Xbox 360 against someone who owned the PC version, or vice versa? Microsoft reportedly did too, but might’ve killed the concept of PC vs. Xbox 360 gaming because console controls just aren’t accurate enough.

That’s the rumor coming from Rahul Sood, the founder of Voodoo PC and chief technical officer of HP’s gaming business. He cites “reliable sources” who say Microsoft was working on a way for PC gamers and Xbox 360 gamers to play together, but problems arose during testing. Mediocre PC gamers were able to wipe the floor with even the best console players, because the PC’s mouse-and-keyboard combination was so precise.

Sood doesn’t say definitively that Microsoft killed the project because of the accuracy issue, but he lays heavy blame on Microsoft for not seeing the project through. The rest of his blog post is a ramble on the decline of PC gaming, the threat from Apple and a strange plug for WebOS game development (“and while it may take time for new devices to start showing up, you can rest assured that the wait will be worth it”).

If Microsoft was working on a way to connect Xbox 360 and PC gamers, control differences seem like a petty reason to ax the project. Why not require PC gamers to use an Xbox 360 controller in order to dive in with the console crowd? Or limit connected play to cooperative games such as Borderlands, instead of competitive ones in which the PC gamer has the advantage?

I hope Microsoft revisits (or visits) the issue some day, especially with Windows Phone 7 presenting its own opportunities for gaming. If Microsoft really wants to unify the PC, television and phone, there needs to be a way for gamers to interact across all three platforms.


Microsoft Cancels 1 vs. 100, Xbox Live's First Game Show

One of Xbox Live’s most innovative features, the online game show 1 vs. 100, won’t return for another season.

If you missed it, 1 vs. 100 was a trivia show in which one contestant would try to outlast a “mob” of 100 others, each of whom face elimination with wrong answers. Players who weren’t competing could still answer questions from the sidelines, with a chance to rotate into the main game. Semiweekly live shows, hosted by comedian Chris Cashman, offered prizes to the winners.

The game was included with an Xbox Live Gold subscription, and at one point attracted more than 60,000 players to the live show. Microsoft didn’t say why it canned the show, only noting that the development team will move on to other projects. It’s rumored that the original 1 vs. 100 television show, hosted by Bob Saget for two seasons on NBC, could return, so maybe that was an issue for Microsoft.

Whatever the reason, I hope Microsoft comes up with a suitable replacement. As several commenters on Kotaku wisely point out, 1 vs. 100 is a social, casual game that draws in exactly the same crowd Microsoft will try to capture with the Kinect motion-sensing camera. And Kinect support seems like an obvious choice for game shows; imagine waving your arms in celebration and seeing an avatar do the same, or raising your hand to answer a question and speaking the answer.

Kinect aside, the idea of a massive multiplayer online game show is just plain cool. Half the fun of watching game shows on television is trying to answer questions yourself, and 1 vs. 100 let spectators do that by sectioning non-players into small groups to compete amongst themselves. I think 1 vs. 100 had a chance to revolutionize game shows, but like an anxious TV network, Microsoft pulled the plug too soon.


Social Settings Are Halo: Reach's Coolest New Feature

My level of excitement for new Halo games has dropped off over the years, as the series’ refinements stopped adding up to anything radically different. But a new feature in the upcoming Halo: Reach sounds like a game-changer, and it has nothing to do with shooting.

I’ll just quote Ars Technica’s Ben Kuchera, who got to sample the game’s multiplayer ahead of next month’s public beta:

You also have social settings to choose from, to make sure you play with people who match your style. Do you talk? Are you quiet? Do you play competitively, or simply to enjoy yourself? Do you go Rambo, or enjoy teamwork? Do you like a polite game, or are you a trash talker? By adjusting all these options you’ll be able to filter out people whose play styles may be distasteful, allowing you a better play experience.

The idea is so simple, yet so smart, that I wonder why no one’s thought of it before. Essentially, you’ll be able to play with like-minded people without manually cultivating lists of online friends. Given how obnoxious some online gamers can be, this could breathe new life into Xbox Live.

I’m reminded of when Halo 2 introduced matchmaking more than five years ago. The game automatically found players, created teams and chose maps to play on. At the time, online console games made you manually select from a list of open matches, and if you weren’t quick to join one, they’d fill up and you’d have to refresh the list. This system became unpopular as other games mimicked what Halo 2 pioneered.

The same thing ought to happen with Halo: Reach’s social settings, provided the developer, Bungie, can properly execute the concept.


Time to Play Some Original Xbox

As promised, Microsoft will shut down Xbox Live support for the original Xbox at midnight Pacific time, so this is your last chance to play any of your favorite online games from the previous generation.

I’ve pulled out all the online-enabled Xbox games in my library, and while in all honesty I’d rather be playing something newer (and should actually be finishing up my taxes instead), I’ll probably run through all the games for old time’s sake. I’m mostly curious to see if anyone’s still enjoying Doom 3, or whether any players of Mortal Kombat Deception are bad enough to at least let me win a round.

Also, if you fire up Halo 2 today, Bungie says you’ll get “a piece of visual flair” to be used in multiplayer for the upcoming Halo: Reach, and the developer is giving away prizes as well. You’ll also apparently see some funky messages while waiting for games to begin.

Microsoft isn’t doing anything special to say goodbye to the previous console, and that’s okay. But soon after service shuts down, the company should offer more details on what players stand to gain. Microsoft said in February that it needs to make changes to Xbox Live that are incompatible with original Xbox games, without giving specifics.

With online play for original Xbox shutting down, the time for answers is now. The 100-person cap on friends lists will probably be lifted, as that was apparently a technical limitation of the original Xbox, but I hope that won’t be the only benefit for Xbox 360 owners. Not all of us are popular enough to say the trade off is justified.


The Ups and Downs of Microsoft Game Room

Microsoft Game Room launched yesterday for the Xbox 360 and Windows PCs. At its core, the Game Room is a fancy menu for playing classic arcade games such as Combat, Centipede and Lunar Lander, but with a few extra features that Microsoft hopes will get you to stick around and spend lots of money. After playing around in the arcade last night, I’m on the fence as to whether I’ll be an arcade junkie once again.

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