Tag Archives | Xbox Live

Gay Xbox Live Gamers May Now Spell It Out

Microsoft took a bold step today by letting gamers include their sexual orientation in their Xbox Live nicknames, or Gamertags.

Previously, Microsoft deemed the words “gay,” “straight,” “lesbian,” “bi” and “transgender” to be unacceptable, fearing that players would use them in a derogatory way. Those fears are justified to anyone who spends a few hours playing Modern Warfare 2 or Halo 3. Anonymity does some revolting things to human behavior.

Players’ Gamertags can now include all the words mentioned above, but the service’s updated code of conduct strictly limits the terminology to those five words only. Marc Whitten, Xbox Live’s general manager, explained Microsoft’s reasoning in an open letter:

Under our previous policy, some of these expressions of self-identification were not allowed in Gamertags or profiles to prevent the use of these terms as insults or slurs. However we have since heard feedback from our customers that while the spirit of this approach was genuine, it inadvertently excluded a part of our Xbox LIVE community.

It took a while to get here. In 2008, a player named theGAYERgamer made his case public after Microsoft banned his Gamertag. In late February, a player claimed her account was suspended because her profile said she is a lesbian. This prompted a blog post from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, among other responses, so I’m guessing Microsoft finally felt there was enough pressure to make some policy changes.

Whitten promised that the code of conduct will be enforced more stringently to prevent misuse of the terms. That probably entails taking a closer look at Gamertags to make sure they’re not being used as insults. But the real hard part will be monitoring players’ responses to these nicknames. Hopefully Xbox Live’s moderators can do a better job of booting people who toss around homophobic, ethnic and racial slurs without fear of repercussion.


Windows Phone 7 and Xbox Live: A Feature Wish List

It was only a matter of time before Microsoft brought Xbox Live to a mobile device, as it will with Windows Phone 7 Series. Still, Microsoft hasn’t described this feature of its upcoming mobile OS in detail. All we know is that Windows Phone 7 will be able to play select Xbox Live games, view friends’ avatars and check in on profiles and achievements. I hope there’s more in store than just a few board and card games, plus a native replica of the 360 Live iPhone App. Here’s my unsolicited wish list for Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7:

The following Xbox Live Arcade Games: Braid, Marble Blast Ultra, Trials HD, Castle Crashers, Peggle, Worms 2: Armegeddon, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved and Catan. All would translate well, or at least well enough, to a virtual joystick, touch buttons or accelerometer controls, and they’re great games.

Xbox Live Game Room: This is the virtual arcade Microsoft introduced at CES this year, to launch this spring. You’ll already be able to play the classic games on either the Xbox 360 or Windows (for an extra charge, unfortunately), so why not throw the third screen into the mix?

1 vs. 100: The massive multiplayer quiz show seems perfect for mobile devices. Imagine getting a text message before one of the live shows, and being able to participate from the road.

Bonus content for Xbox 360 Games: Here’s an idea floated by Gizmodo’s Mark Wilson. Instead of isolating retail Xbox 360 games from Windows Phone 7, Microsoft should include extras for people who own both products. A game like Call of Duty: World at War: Zombies would be so much better if it were tied to the Xbox 360, or bundled with its parent console game.

Windows Phone as Xbox 360 controller: Microsoft already plans to reach a casual gaming audience this year with Project Natal, a 3D motion-sensing camera. Adding a touch screen controller for media and an occasional gaming seems like a natural fit. It’d at least be cooler than the button-driven interface of Sony’s Remote Play for Playstation 3 and PSP.


10 Games You’ll Miss for First-Gen Xbox Live

On April 15, Microsoft will kill online play for original Xbox games. Even if you own an Xbox 360, you’ll no longer be able to play original Xbox games online, including backwards-compatible discs and downloadable Xbox Originals. While it’s probably for the best — Microsoft is promising new, yet-unspecified features that weren’t possible while still supporting the old Xbox — some games are just irreplaceable. Here are 10 original Xbox games that have no equal on the Xbox 360 (which means no Halo 2 or Call of Duty 3):

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Microsoft’s Game Room: The Arcade Reborn?

With the Game Room, Microsoft’s hoping to capture the old magic of video game arcades, minus the stale air, sugar highs and wasted quarters.

I got some questions answered on service, which will be available on Windows and Xbox Live this spring. Here are the important details (if you’re a retro game nerd):

-30 games will be available at launch, including Centipede, Lunar Lander and Night Driver (full list here), from arcade systems as well as the Atari 2600 and Intellivision. Microsoft says it’ll release 7 new games per week after launch.

-Games cost $3 each for either Xbox Live or Windows, and $5 if you want the luxury of playing on both. The arcade itself is open to any level of Xbox Live (no Gold subscription necessary).

-Unlike some of the classic games Microsoft released earlier this year, these are straight emulators with no boosts in resolution or graphics. Unfortunately, that means if there’s any overlap, you’ll have to pay for the Game Room titles again.

-Players build their own virtual arcades, with cabinets that mimic the hulking monstrosities of yesteryear. As your arcade grows, you get new rooms or entire new floors that can be decorated differently. But you don’t navigate these with an avatar — the camera simply slides between each room and cabinet.

-Other players can visit your arcade, and they’ll earn free play tokens based on how many games you have. They can also demo any game once, or can pay 40 Xbox Live points (50 cents) for extra plays.

-Downer: You can’t directly play against another player online (so no head-to-head in Combat). Instead, online multiplayer consists of high score or other challenges you send to your friends. Two-player games will work locally.

The service seems promising, and I particularly like all the ways Microsoft will give players to try games. It’s like we’re getting allowance all over again.

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Dumb Crook Logs into Xbox Live on Stolen Console, Gets Caught

Here’s a tip for you folks out there planning to steal somebody’s Xbox 360: don’t log into their Xbox Live account and start playing games online. That’s exactly what 22-year-old Jeremiah Gilliam of Bronx, N.Y. did, allowing the police to track his IP address to his grandmother’s home.

When Pelham, N.Y. detectives arrived at the house, they did not only find the victim’s Xbox, but also “dozens” of pilfered electronics, ranging from video games to laptops, 53 items in total.

It is believed that Gilliam may have stolen the goods from as many as 200 break-ins across New York’s Westchester County. He was already under investigation for 13 robberies where he broke into unlocked cars, say police.

Gilliam is charged with grand larceny. No word on whether the grandmother will be charged since her home housed the stolen property.


Microsoft Pats Its Back for New Xbox Live Features

Last week, Microsoft brought Facebook, Twitter, Last.fm and the Zune Marketplace to Xbox Live. And it’s been a rousing success! According to Microsoft, at least.

The company says nearly two million people signed into Facebook from Xbox Live in less than a week since the feature launched on November 17. Almost one million people created Last.fm Internet radio profiles, and 1.7 million people checked out the Zune Marketplace, which is the Xbox 360’s new digital storefront for 1080p video. Microsoft suspiciously left out usage numbers for Twitter, saying only that the service “was abuzz” with Xbox-based tweets.

There is, of course, reason to be skeptical about these numbers and what they mean. Usually, Facebook and Twitter are only open to paid Xbox Live Gold subscribers, but from November 20 until yesterday, those services along with the rest of Xbox Live Gold were open to everyone in the United States, including non-paid Silver members. That means more of Xbox Live’s 20 million total active users may have tried the new services than usual.

And besides, trying doesn’t mean liking. I signed in to Facebook and sent a Tweet from Twitter, but didn’t particularly enjoy either experience. I fired up the Zune Marketplace but didn’t buy anything (and actually, I was sort of offended that music videos cost $1 to $2, when you can easily find them for free on YouTube). The only service I used in earnest was Last.fm, which came in handy for a party I happened be throwing over the weekend.

There was one statistic from Microsoft that was truly impressive: On November 10, launch day for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, more than 2.2 million people logged in to play. It’s proof that no matter how hard Microsoft tries to show the value in all of Xbox Live’s extra services, it’s still all about the games.

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Xbox Live, Facebook and Twitter: Incompatible

Here’s a telling moment from my first experiences with social networking on Xbox Live: While rifling through status updates on Facebook, I spotted a comment that seemed worthy of a response, which would’ve taken forever to type on my controller. Also, there was a Web link which the Xbox 360 couldn’t access. So I got off the couch, walked into the next room, and typed out a response on my computer, then spent the next five minutes looking at the Web site in question.

That’s a failure, and it carries over to Xbox Live’s Twitter implementation as well. Both features went live on the Xbox 360 today along with Last.fm’s Internet radio service and the Zune Marketplace, a facelift for the console’s existing video storefront that includes 1080p video and online movie-watching parties.

Of all the new features, I’m mostly interested in how the Xbox 360 does social networking. With Sony readying Facebook support on the Playstation 3, and the PS3 blockbuster Uncharted 2 allowing you to post in-game progress to Twitter, the games industry seems to be latching on to social networking.

Input is the obvious problem. Unless you spring for a $30 Xbox 360 Messenger Kit (which you’re cheerily reminded about when starting up Facebook), both networks feel trapped behind glass. You can read what other people are doing, but participating is a chore.

However, the feeling of looking-but-no-touching goes beyond input. On Twitter, you can’t visit Web pages because the console doesn’t have a Web browser. That’s too bad, because external links are as much a part of Twitter as the things people say. Facebook suffers from the same problem, and more: You can’t add friends, you can’t use apps and you can’t modify your profile. You can’t even poke people.

The major problem is that Facebook and Twitter are made for the open Internet, while the Xbox 360 is a walled garden. Looking at full-screen photo albums in Facebook is a redeeming quality, but ultimately social networking is incompatible with the closed system of consoles. I don’t expect to use Facebook or Twitter on the Xbox 360 too often, and when Facebook comes to the Playstation 3, I’m not expecting a markedly better experience.


No Netflix for Xbox Live-Averse

Xbox_NetflixThe Playstation 3’s upcoming support for Netflix isn’t enough to shake Microsoft, which will still require an Xbox Live Gold subscription to stream Netflix movies through the console.

IGN confirmed that Microsoft won’t offer Netflix streaming to users of the free Xbox Live Silver service, a bare-bones offering that doesn’t include online play, among other features. A Gold subscription costs $50 per year, while access to the Playstation Network has always been free, though both consoles require you to have a Netflix subscription as well.

The official line from Microsoft is that Xbox Live is “a generation ahead of the competition” despite the extra costs. A company representative cited Facebook, Twitter and Last.fm support, which are coming soon, along with Netflix and the quiz show 1 vs. 100.

This argument seems to validate what I’ve said before, that Microsoft really wants to build a case for Xbox Live even if you don’t play too many games online. Multiplayer remains the best reason to grab an Xbox Live Gold subscription, but it’s not for everyone. Once Microsoft reaches for the casual crowd with Project Natal, other lures will be necessary.

None of Microsoft’s non-gaming incentives stand on their own, but when combined, Xbox Live Gold becomes attractive, and Netflix is a piece of the puzzle. That’s why the Microsoft representative used the phrase “best value in home entertainment” when referring to Xbox Live Gold as a whole. Microsoft can’t afford to diminish that value, even if parts of the service can be had for free elsewhere.


An Xbox Live Price Hike? Pachter Says Yes!

xboxlivecardI should know better than to springboard off the thoughts of video game industry analyst Michael Pachter, but sometimes it’s irresistable. The guy’s got a knack for being provocative.

His latest theory? Microsoft will, over time, double the Xbox Live subscription cost from $50 to $100 per year. Speaking on Game Trailers’ Bonus Round broadcast, Pachter said Microsoft “wants to hook every gamer who has a 360 to play everything multiplayer, and pay 50 bucks a year; and then in a couple of years it’s 100 bucks,” adding that “it’s a profit deal” for the company.

If Microsoft so much as touches the cost of an Xbox Live Gold subscription, it’ll be huge news. Since the online gaming service debuted for the original Xbox in 2002, the price has held firm at $50 per year. And earlier this year, there was a downward trend, with many third-party retailers selling discounted annual subscription cards. The fact that Xbox Live costs anything at all has also proven great fodder for Sony loyalists, who get their Playstation 3 online gaming gratis.

I’ve always felt that Xbox Live is worth the cost of admission, which is less than you’d spend on one game per year. It’s better integrated into the console’s DNA than Sony’s network, and cross-game voice chat makes communicating with friends nearly effortless. Is it worth an extra $50? Tough call.

See, Microsoft is adding new features, such as Twitter and Facebook integration, the 1 vs. 100 quiz show and the ability to watch movies with online buddies, so you can’t say that a price hike isn’t at all justified. But the core service of online play hasn’t evolved much over the years, or at least not since Halo 2 pioneered an automatic matchmaking system for finding other players. Online play remains a hotbed for foul-mouthed sore losers and spoiled winners, and bigger picture ideas such as tournaments and clans are largely missing.

The extra services aren’t worth an added cost. If Microsoft were to inch up the subscription price, I’d probably think hard about what I’d miss with the Playstation Network alone, an then set a limit on what I’d pay for Xbox Live ($60 seems reasonable). If you’re not blessed with both consoles, just hope that Pachter is wrong this time.


Facebook and Twitter Will Cost Money on Xbox 360

XboxLiveTwitterOne of the nice things about Facebook and Twitter is that they’re free to use, but won’t really be the case on the Xbox 360.

Microsoft confirmed to G4 that an Xbox Live Gold subscription will be required to use either service, at least beyond a “free trial period.” A Gold subscription costs $50 per year, and also includes online play, access to Netflix streaming and other perks.

I understand what Microsoft is trying to do here. Xbox Live, traditionally, has been a venue for fiercely competitive online play. Despite most games’ ability to match players based on skill, it can be difficult for a casual player to find fair competition. I consider myself fairly skilled at video games, but I’ve been beaten down countless times in Street Fighter IV, Gears of War and Fight Night Round 4.

That’s not a bad thing, except it doesn’t appeal to the so-called casual crowd that Microsoft will be trying to attract in the years ahead. Slowly, we see that Microsoft is trying to build a compelling case for Xbox Live Gold even if you’re not an online gamer. Aside from Twitter, Facebook and Netflix, Gold subscribers will soon be able to stream music using Last.fm and play in the 1 vs. 100 online quiz show (currently in open beta).

But unlike those other services, Facebook and Twitter aren’t worth paying for. Microsoft can talk all it wants about how the social networking is “seamlessly integrated” into the console, but I don’t think they’ll gain many converts with a free trial.

A better solution might be to offer “Lite” versions of Facebook and Twitter. We know that the services will include advanced features, such as the ability to upload game screenshots into your Facebook profile, so maybe Microsoft should withhold those features for Xbox Live Silver members. That way, people could slowly become persuaded of Xbox Live’s overall value, instead of being forced to make a decision when their trial period runs out.