Master Chief wants you... To stop being an asshole.
So there is a great article on gamasutra right now on how to fix online gaming, and I definitely recommend reading it if you are at all interested in online multiplayer. (And who isn't these days?) Go ahead and read it right now. Seriously, I won't mind.
As an avid gamer whose only online option tends to be Xbox Live, this article got me thinking about things that Microsoft could do to really help improve Xbox Live. Microsoft really hits the nail on the head when it comes to most aspects of the online multiplayer experience. With the exception of the most recently bemoaned outages and hiccups, Xbox Live has a pretty solid network and most games run smoothly with little lag or disruptions in service. But anyone who has played a game over Live has probably had the occasional, if not frequent, bad experience and the community (or lack thereof) is typically to blame. There are many reasons for this, such as the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory from Penny Arcade mentioned in the above article, or an overabundance of idiots now that Microsoft has succeeded in pushing online gaming into a fairly mainstream gaming population.
Here ere are some things I think Microsoft should do to improve the quality of community on Xbox Live.
1) Matchmaking... Make it mandatory for competitive games. Halo has a great system that always seems to match me with players of comparative skill, Call of Duty 4 does not. Now, I've played far more Call of Duty than Halo, but often I find myself leaving sessions after one or two rounds because either the gamers I'm with are too challenging, or conversely, not challenging enough. It seems like matching gamers of similar skill levels is something that should be a no-brainer, so why not do it? Microsoft puts other draconian requirements on pretty much all games published for its system either retail or through Live Arcade, so what's the harm in having one more?
This is the last thing you will see before being head shotted from 100 yards with a P90.
2) Real Community aspects... Add them please. When I first signed up for Xbox Live, I had to choose a "community." Because I have a full time job and don't have countless hours to spend memorizing maps and weapon placements and helpful glitches, I chose "Recreation." In case you're unfamiliar with the other choices, they are "Underground," "Pro," and "Family Friendly." Unfortunately, these choices are apparently cosmetic only. Why does Microsoft have these so-called communities if they aren't for anything? Personally, I think self-segregation based on these communities would be a great idea for public matchmaking, and would be a method of reinforcing or supplanting idea #1. Since it's determined only by the choice of the gamer, these communities could potentially be abused (someone tagging themselves as family friendly only to go into games and swear up a storm) but in general it would most likely be better than the way these "communities" work now.
Right now, someone is playing this game while high, and they are letting everyone know exactly how high they are.
3) Consequences... Where are they? I'm not easily offended, but arrogant pricks tossing around racial slurs really get to me. I've heard no shortage of them while playing, "niggers" and "spics" and "wetbacks," and it gets especially worse when playing with foriegn gamers. Usually I'm terribly embarrassed at the behavior of the actions of (predominately) American gamers. (Although, I've definitely experienced dickish behavior from Brits as well). Supposedly Microsoft takes reports of racism and harrassment seriously, and I've reported my share of assholes, but the amount of truly offensive hate speech being thrown around in the average match leads me to believe that perhaps the enforcement isn't as strict as Microsoft would like us to believe. And I didn't even bother to touch on the homophobic remarks...
So there you have it. Three things that could greatly improve the experience of Xbox Live. And it's going to need it when 2008 looks like it could be the year of the Playstation.
EDIT: dvddesign brought up a point that I want to address; the mute button. I think that in general thatís a great short term solution to a long term problem. Itís nice to mute jerks for the current session, but in the end, developing communities of gamers with similar interests and personalities would seem to be a better ideal (like Dtoid, natch!) It could never be perfect, but it would certainly be a positive step in the right direction.
Sony wants you to bring it, Micro$$$$oft...