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Preview: UFC on Xbox Live

5:30 PM on 10.07.2011 // Wesley Ruscher

Think you know the more about the Ultimate Fighting Championship than any of your Xbox Live friends? Starting December 1, you will be able to put your mixed martial arts knowledge to the test when the UFC on Xbox Live superman punches its way onto the dashboard.

At its core, UFC on Xbox Live is just another way for MMA patrons to watch UFC pay-per-view events from the comfort of their couch. You won’t find any special exclusive matches on the service since the Xbox Live platform is being treated the same as all PPV providers in terms of fight content. Basically, this means all the pre-PPV fights that happen on Spike or Facebook will stay on those services to keep the market as balanced as possible.

So that begs the question: why should UFC and Xbox Live users alike care about this service?

Meeting with Mike Mahar, producer of UFC on Xbox Live earlier this week, I was given the tour of this new, exciting service and the answer to my question. As I stated above, UFC on Xbox Live at its core is just one more device to access the latest live UFC PPV event. If this was all the service offered, most would be satisfied -- especially those, like me, without cable -- but Microsoft isn’t content with just being another PPV avenue. What they want to be is the one-stop shop, the “ultimate fight center” for UFC fans around the world.

The interface of the service borrows heavily from the format that the upcoming dashboard is going to incorporate. Clean, fast, Kinect-enabled navigation gives users of all levels easy access to the plethora of content that the UFC app offers.

The biggest and most exciting of this content is the interactive fight cards and predictions interface. Before and even during a PPV, information on each participating fighter, their tale of the tape, and previous fight results are available to check instantly without stopping any currently viewed content.

While all this information is cool to have at a moment's notice for fans of all levels, Microsoft’s biggest use of this is for making pre-fight predictions. At the moment, viewers can make decisions on who they think is going to win a fight and by what method up to the start of a PPV event. As the fights conclude a live leader board -- currently only with Live friends -- will award a yet undetermined amount of points to rank who the best fight predictor is. At the moment, correctly calling fights really only lets people brag about their skills to friends, but Microsoft plans to keep and close eye on how the service is being used to continue to build upon it.

During my preview, Mahar couldn’t stress enough that the plan at launch is to keep it simple, but as big UFC fan himself he can’t wait for the service to grow. Right now updates are expected at least once every month, but if needed I was told that the means to pass certain patch procedures can happen. I personally would like to see more variety in the fight predictions, such as round of defeat and perhaps in the case of submission, type, but from what Mahar eluded to I don’t think I will have to wait to long for such dynamic predictions.

One aspect of the fight predictions that struck me as a clever way for Microsoft to get the word out on this service is its Facebook integration. Every fight prediction made can be uploaded to the social media site to let more than just your Xbox Live friends know who you think is going to pound whose face in.

The social integration doesn’t just start and stop with Facebook. UFC on Xbox Live itself is very social by nature. Besides seeing what picks your friends have made, and how you stack up on the leaderboard, you can also see what on-demand videos they have been watching to help confirm that you too possess an equal amount of knowledge before each PPV.

Outside of ordering the latest fights -- which begin December 10 with UFC 140 -- the majority of video content that is found on the UFC’s website will be available for instant streaming through the app. Pre-fight interviews, live weigh-ins, and highlights are amongst some of the content that is accessible anytime, completely free and in HD.

The tech behind the streaming is impressive. Using technology from iStreamPlanet -- who’ve previously handled Olympic coverage for NBC -- Microsoft is pulling no stops when it comes to insure that the live HD, on-demand experience for users is as smooth as possibly. Every PPV has the option to be purchased in SD or HD for their respective prices and based on your connection speeds you will know ahead of time what the best option is. If your HD connection ever begins to dip, similar to how Netflix adjusts, UFC on Xbox Live has 3-4 different bit rates in HD to adjust to, keeping the action flowing at its promised 60 fps.

To help secure that everyone using the app has the best UFC PPV experience, Microsoft also plans to have reachable customer service reps to contact in case of performance issues. UFC on Xbox Live will have an easy to read widget that can be pulled up on the fly for users to relay information such as current framerate, bandwidth, and bitrates quick and efficiently to solve whatever the performance issue may be.

This app is so much more than watching PPV through your Xbox. The amount of interaction that will be present at launch is already enough to separate itself from the same old cable PPV experience, but Microsoft is not set on delivering just an adequate experience. Whether you're a fan or not of the UFC and MMA in general, what Microsoft is doing here is exciting for both the Xbox and the future of online entertainment.

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Wesley Ruscher, Former Contributor
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