So with xbox live reaching the grand old age of Ten recently I felt it was time to have a bit of a look back at it and look how its changed a bit. Throughout the years and how its shaped the gaming world and how in the future it must be shaped by it.
You know what though, those who have read my stuff before you know this isnít going to be some heartfelt thank you to Microsoft for creating it, and that all plays into the title.
In the early days of Online gaming there was the NES............. oh no wait a moment we donít live in Japan so yeh we didnít get that service. For me and most others probably online play began as something you did using a PC. My first experience of online play being on Tribes 2 (which you can now legally download free here ) , most others will say it was some doom online or mod or quake. Online gaming was for the most part something PCs did and consoles didnít. Mostly console multiplayer games were designed for playing sitting of the sofa with others and playing split screen. Sure they were a bit basic but people really loved them for the madness that came with them. The turning point came really when bots were introduced on console. While I can be sure the first multiplayer game that used bots to add to the numbers on console might well have been perfect dark . Little could anyone of known then that the spiritual sequel to the father of console multiplayer was also sowing the initial seeds of demise for sofa multiplayer.
Next came the stop gap generation that brought online gaming to console for the first actual time, the Dreamcast, while it flopped (still not sure how that one happened as it was kind of a huge thing). With it the Dreamcast brought the idea of online gaming and showed it could be done, along with continued product support via downloadable extra for free....... Thatís right the Dreamcast did DLC and it did it for free.
The next actual generation launched without the online component working but later introduced it. Nintendo managed to get their service hacked and filled with viruses so it went down and while it came back up most developers didnít care as Nintendo wasnít handling it they were letting the devs do their own thing which as it turns out was not give a damn as you know servers and stuff are costly and fiddly to run and more so before the modern days where people could turn their £1k PC into a private Minecraft server. Sony were next with the PS2, which also left it to developers to do as they wanted really. Turns out ever back then some developers (or more than likely publishers) when left to their own devices were a little too prepared to screw over consumers with tales of games charging anything from £5 to £15 per month to play online and that wasnít flat fee this was £5 - £15 per month per actual game you wanted to play online. Suffice to say it became a bit of a joke amongst people. So that left Microsoft, they created their own network, did most of the match making server set up and hosted the match making servers for companies and hereís the kicker. They charged a flat fee and you could buy your online time in shops. Itís really as simple as that a £30 box in shop with the headset and your subscription code is what made xbox live so well used. In its day it not only offered the most games but was supported, worked and wasnít going to charge you the earth to play online. Xbox Live even did DLC back then for Halo 2 and Fable. So this generation launched and Microsoft were riding well on the wave of success from the original Xbox and as such live came to the 360 too, this time letting more people play thanks to the wireless receiver you could buy. At the time it was good, Voice over internet Protocal for voice chats and online gaming, roughly the same fee and the blades dashboard along with the shop where initially it was pretty much old arcade games that turned up to download. Life for Xbox live was good and it expanded with more game coming to the marketplace and plenty of subscribers playing online, even having its own currency in the form of Microsoft points.
Then along came Sony, Sony having seen the trend xbox live had created and realising how its previous method had failed decided to move towards running their service themselves and not letting publishers go money mad. How true this is or not I donít know but while Microsoftís method was ďthe customers will pay for the serversĒ Sony adopted a different one, by charging higher licence fees to publishers / developers Sony would operate the match making servers and critically unlike Microsoft have less need to charge the users. While the PS3 was sluggish of the starting blocks the fact it had online play free just like PC won it some favour with gamers. As did the Playstation network store which operate in regular money, ok sure Xbox live had more features and stuff but after all it was the paid service while PSN was free. The idea of a premium for the services was accepted by me just like many others on xbox live.
This view was one I held until the launch of playstation home. This is where Xbox Live in an attempt to impress would begin to mess up. While the change to the NXE dashboard had some people pinning for the system blades I was quite happy with it, going to the store on there seemed more logical than a little section tucked away as you scrolled up through the menus to find it. Apparently the NXE dashboard did have adverts but I really have to say I barely noticed as mostly they were confined to some tab I never looked in. Microsoft even started to have some shows made just for xbox live.
gone but not forgotten system blades
With the NXE dashboard started Microsoft to try and copy others. The avatar was introduced to try and pull in the Wii casual audience and Microsoft tried to cash in by selling you all kinds of clothing to add to your avatar. Personally it didnít really do.............. oooohhhhh an earth Worm Jim Spacesuit for my avatar donít mind if I do.
What was I saying, oh yeh while Nintendo had online due to the idea of friend codes and game codes etc (Possibly due to Nintendo going a little overboard with the idea of protecting the kids) Nintendo had some issues with their online still. Not helped in part by the Wii Speak which while a good idea to an extent mean some developers (and rightly so) were worried about putting their games in the system as essentially it meant all the team talk being played not through the headset but through the speakers. This sounds good until you think about the COD community, and while Wii speak cost extra unlike XBL where you got a Mic with the console you can bet at some point someone has shouted abuse through it.
However also in an attempt to compete with PSN home Microsoft launched what at the time was being pushed as the next big thing for live. Rather than being a social hub it turned out to be game room which rather than being your own individual space was more like an empty arcade and just like any good Scooby Doo Villain Microsoft wanted something more from this arcade. The plan was simple enough, give people an arcade, give them cabinets for the machines and give them the option to pay points to play like a real arcade or pay more to get the machine with unlimited plays, after giving them say 3 free plays of course. Yes Microsoft were after the money from it and unfortunately due to all them meddling kids the plan quickly fell apart and no game room is whispered about round campfires in hushed voices as this was the first fairly major failure from Microsoft as far as ideas went. Not just a bit of a failure but a major one.
As time rolled on Microsoft got a bit of praise with the release of Doritos crash course a game that was free thanks to Doritos sponsoring it and unlike the previous Dash of destruction it did try a bit harder at the whole being a game thing. Along with crash course came Harms way another free title. All very good and worth playing, Microsoft was sort of riding high. With the Summer of arcade promotion bringing new concepts and the great games to 360.
Then came the year of the PSN hack. Oh boy did Microsoft think they had won the jackpot there as people who had their details stolen thought ďYou know what maybe paying for online play is good because then they can afford better securityĒ at one point there was even suggestion of XBL going up in price. Sony were done, they really had to pull it out of the bag. They have done and since the hack Sony have turned their network from the loser and joke to being seen as the good one. They are the goofy kid who had his braces removed and suddenly is being seen as the cool kid sure they had to give away some games as compensation but it worked and got them to work harder. Suddenly what made XBL seem unique wasn't there any more.
So what has really changed in XBL to do this ? Well Microsoft have. Part of the gold subscription was now for the use of media apps like Youtube, 4OD, Netflix, Sky OD. The problem was while the first to do it, Modern TVs are having that built in now, so why pay for gold for that ?
(BBC iplayer was not included in the list of media apps for subscribers only due to the fact that is available for silver users due to TV liscence regulations here in the UK)
Last FM ? No because you might as well use your computer for that, the same as Twitter and Facebook (though Iím sure some TVs have that integrated too).
While PSN launched playstation plus an optional service costing the same as live offering Forty five games a year apparently to play on at various points essentially creating a £30 a year rental service instead of £60 a year of Lovefilm and other or the high cost of blockbuster rentals (£6.50 for a two night rental when I can buy the DVD for £12 really ?). Offering discounts and not the Microsoft Deals of the week kind which tend to have one or two decent things and maybe 1 sale worth really going for a year. Premium stuff like avatar items on PSN for free (well the PS+ cost ) and cloud storage.
While in the past year Microsoft havenít really done that well, with Sony getting Journey it showed the PSN could do indie games too, with the recent retiring of the Facebook and Twitter apps Microsoft pretty much pointed out how useless they were for most things except some freaky Viral marketing / achievement combination on some Cabellaís games.
Now to give Microsoft a minor due they have given people free games in their time. Before this year they gave four , five if you count the dashboard game they did years ago just for summer which was very basic and didnít stay with you.
The free games are;
Hexic HD Ageis Wing (US & CA only)
Harms Way Doritos Crash Course Doritos dash of destruction (no longer available)
Yaris (US& CA only)
Totem Ball (A game free for the Xbox live vision Camera, seriously remember when games were including this before all this better with kinect stuff, do these games work with Kinect I wonder ?)
So this year Microsoft did do some free games, 5 of them infact. Yes Microsoft giving away games free what madness is this now, so what were they ?
Mars Rover Lander (Kinect only)
Haunt (Kinect only)
Intel Discovered (Kinect only)
Happy wars (a free to play game with micro transactions)
Wreckateer (given away free for 48 hours to celebrate xbox live being 10)
So can anyone spot the main issue with that list as to why Microsoft didnít get a good standing with its subscribers ?
If you answered all but one require a £100 piece of extra kit then give yourself a pat on the back. Add to this possibly the worst summer of arcade yet in terms of games quality. Seeing Wreckateer, tony Hawks HD, Dead Light and Hybrid. All of which didnít do great and HybridI even slammed). Only Dust an Elysian tale was that good, and no-one talks about that like Journey on PSN. The summer of arcade failed Oh but this wasnít the end of Microsoftís bad year oh now. They did a new dashboard update, tow in fact. Now you remember how I said I was fine with the NXE update ? Well I wasnít with the new Metro dashboard as it can pretty much be said to be this.
Welcome to the Metro Dashboard or at least how I see it
Before the Metro dashboard I was fine as I had the ďmy xboxĒ section where all my stuff was. I didnít need to venture out of it unless I wanted to go the Marketplace to buy something or I actually wanted to browse that tab where all the adverts were along with shows etc. The adverts were apparently there but they never bothered me as I never really saw them. What annoyed me was the introduction of Metro was to ďstreamline and improve the menu system to allow users a better experienceĒ or in reality allow Kinect users a better experience while the regular players instead of having all their stuff in one tab had it separated out between multiple ones each with their own tab and large selection of adverts related to them. No Microsoft I do not want to rent Casino Royale, I own it on DVD already (I pity the US and their animated adverts , if that actually got off the ground). Metro made navigation harder for users and more annoying as the service they were paying for now presents them with adverts. If I disconnect from live I donít have to deal with the adverts. The annoyance is furthered by the fact PSN even free doesnít have such obtrusive adverts. Microsoft managed to make paying for the service actually seem less worthwhile. Sure if the adverts were silver user only people would understand as itís another advantage of being gold but no, gold users to have the adverts. More worryingly was the concept displayed on Microsofts own tech channel on Youtube (Original video has since vanished or canít be tracked down easily) so hereís a copy.
As you saw or didnít itís all about being able to tell Kinect to tweet for you or Facebook link and advert and pre-determined message from the advertisers, meaning turning your own twitter into an advertisers tool if you sneezed and Kinect thought you said tweet.
So this leads onto the article title. Xbox live is in for a rough puberty as while previously it was the cool kid doing everything right. The things it brought arenít seen as that unique any more just like fake girl gamers picking up gaming as being female alone isnít getting them noticed despite them having no real interest and simply moving on to other things.
(Ok naughty me I said I was done with this non issue and I am )
The point is though Microsoft seem to be jumping from one thing to another so often as a reason for the service and not concentrating on improving the service itself only trying to make the reason for the service because it caters to the latest flashy thing be it; the vision camera, avatars, media apps or Kinect.
Next generation has begun and with Nintendo almost having this online thing down with the Nintendo network giving 10% back from purchases (compared to the 1-2% live subscribers now get back along with something like 20 MS points a year on their birthday) Nintendo is giving people reason to subscribe and still as far as Iím aware letting people use the rest of the network features. Nintendo have even done the seemingly impossible and managed to add Chlorine to the cess poll online has started to turn into. With the ability to file complaints about peoples posts and a piece of automated penis detection software to filter out up to 8 penises in pictures theyíve managed to prevent the little 12 year old CODpieces from filling their network with bile at least until people start using voice chat on there. The Miiverse or whatever itís called is taking the social idea of PSN home and expanding on it with almost a twitter style system and the facebook idea of being able to leave notes about.
All Sony really has to do is port over the present PSN and it will get plenty of people there, porting over and backwards compatible enabling games from PSN titles will have already invested people carrying on as they can play their games still as a sort of expanded launch lineup. New people will be coming over like me to play them as free online gaming on a console and the chance to play the games Iíve missed due to not wanting the expense of a PS3 just for a few PSN titles. Sure Iím tempted by the Wii U but Iím always late to the next generation as I want to see my options. While I did enter the previous (as in before wii) generation with a Gamecube I then went to PS2 then Xbox and this generation I didnít bother with the PS3 as thereís been little reason to. I have a 360 and while some PS3 exclusives are good (Damn it I want to play Journey already even a PC port come on just something) Iíve never felt buying a PS3 just for them was worth it, unlike the Wii which Iíll happily admit I bought initially for skyward sword. With a lot of shared cross platform titles the PS3 just didnít feel worth it to me however the PS4 might do thanks to the present state of PSN.
Thatís not to say PSN is perfect with its slow updates but the fact the PS3 has evolved from a launch almost failure akin to the North Korean satellite rocket, with consumers selling their consoles 2 weeks on for Ĺ the price on Ebay. PSN is now the network people look to and Iím sure Nintendo have finally carved their niche out with the Miiverse.
PS3 launch or the North Korean launch failure........ ok its the later
The question is what does XBL do now ?
Games on demand ? Sure pay twice the price for a digital copy of a game some of which donít even include online codes etc that the boxed copies do.
XBLIG ? Well sure it has this but with Nintendo signing a deal with the makers of the Unity engine it looks like Nintendo might be securing the indie market too as well as the social market.
The entertainment market ? Well no as TVs are starting to beat it out there.
Funding its own content /shows ? Well no theyíve canned the Xbox live video production studio and all the staff deciding to buy content from other sources instead so it wonít be exclusive to Xbox stuff anyway.
This is the issue, Microsoft are no longer the cool kid. Theyíve moved up to big school to find out what made them cool in little school has already been heard of by others who have furthered it beyond what Microsoft has already. They are no longer the special one in the marketplace and are being shunned and rightfully so. Not condoning shunning in real life here but if you were charging people to be friends then this comparison might work better for you as if someone would be friend free youíd probably go to them if they were as good as the person charging you.
So Happy Birthday Xbox live and enjoy it as the way things are going the next few years don't look too good for you.
So do you think Xbox live is in for a tough puberty ?