Oct 132008
 

I’m a huge fan of XBox Live. I’ve already dipped into this when I described it as the “new arcade” in an earlier post. When I see comments in reviews like “it’s got leaderboards if you really want to see you have a better score than MasterKillPwnz666”, I just feel these people totally miss the point. I guess that a reasonable portion of my makeup is a Participant or social gamer, but of course it’s the unbeatable agon of real human competition that is the real crux for me.

Although I have little first-hand experience of them I’ve heard that other systems like PSN and Steam and others like it on the PC are gaining ground on it, so I’m keenly awaiting the new XBox Live “Experience” to see how this enhances XBox Live it on November 19th. Since Live is rather notably the exception in that it is not free – they really do need to add features if they aren’t willing to cut the cost. I’m really happy to pay for what, so far, is a superior service though.

However nice the new avatars and friend-group functionality is though, I suspect they won’t cover all the things I’ve personally being seeing the potential for, honestly, for years now. So here’s a run down of some of them. I’ll be interested to come back to this post and see if Microsoft actually ‘hits’ on any of these.

1. “Now fight a new rival”

What is the the most frustrating screen in any Live-enabled game? “Your opponent cannot be found” following the pathetic early quit of one of life’s losers?… close. But actually I’d give it to the “Waiting for Opponent” screen. I’d hate to add up the time I’ve ‘wasted’ sat there waiting for a challenger at any number of games since the advent of XBox Live. I used to attempt to allieviate this by reading a magazine or a paper at the time, and it has become a lot less frequent a problem now the community on the 360 is simply so large & games have become better designed to cause more frequent re-matches, but this can also make it seem even more irritating when it is unexpected and you’re not so prepared to deal with it. It would at least be better if games showed you how many players were online at that time in the game, to give you some idea if your wait is truely fruitless. Oddly the one game that manages this in a really excellent fashion, Halo 3, is arguably the game that least needs this feature. When I’m sat waiting and wondering if I am totally alone in the world in wanting a game of Speedball 2 or Joust, it would be nice to know if I really am alone!

However, there’s something even better that could be done. I don’t remember sitting at an arcade cabinet listening to the remixed Street Fighter Anniversary Edition menu music for an hour… because of course I was playing against the CPU instead of being sat there looking at a blue screen. I really don’t know why games don’t incorporate this feature – allowing you to play the game in 1 player mode whilst being available for a multiplayer match. I presume it would often add an unnecessary pause when a match is found and the game would need to load more; but regardless, it would be a worthwhile trade off. On so many games this simple feature would be a godsend.

But one problem is that many games that need this the most are the older and more obscure titles. Expecting the game’s producers to patch this kind of add on onto old games is obviously a forlorn hope, but a retroactive ‘fix’ could be done, if it was Live-wide. eg: As part of the Guide button overlay, have some kind of simple game, or games, that can be played over the top of any other game whilst you are ‘waiting’ and effectively in pause online. This would be a huge upgrade for me that would revitalise a number of older titles, especially if available in XBox 1 emulation mode.

At the very least I hope to see some new fighting game come out that uses this idea to some extent.. yes Street Fighter 4 – I am looking at you!

2. Metacritical

It’s really nice to be able to see what my friends are playing online. As some companies have noted, this is even a huge free advertising stream for them. I see a lot of my friends playing COD4, it makes me interested in COD4, at least until I remember it’s another flippin’ FPS anyway 😉

But I also like, and use, the ability to send a “recommendation” to a friend for an XBox Live Arcade game. But this could be taken much, much further. For example a review feature where you could rate games you’ve played. You could then search for data on the most popular games from the entirety of XBox Live, or what your friend’s recommend. A simple 5 star review system would be simple and could work well. I’d be really interested to see what the highest rated game would be from my friend’s list for example. Time to get some new friends if you find your friends list rates Halolz higher than Braid perhaps? 😉

Time-played data for games amongst my friends would also be something I’d find useful – although I guess this would need to be opt-in only or it could get rather intrusive.

You could even combine these ideas, and combine it with Achievements, and allow people to re-review games at a later point. Do people with huge time-played and Achievement scores tend to rate the game higher?.. you’d expect so but it may not always be the case. You could potentially filter out to only see review scores from players that had a certain amount of Achievements on a game – to see what players that really play that kind of game think of it for example.

It would also be great to have an easier method to see which games your friends actually play. The only way you can do this really right now, other than trawling through all your friend’s gamercards, or just taking a mental note when you see them online, is with an XBLA game that has an effective “View friends leaderboard”. For example last night I found out that a couple of my newer XBL friends actually play & own Joust! Something I will hopefully remember next time I see them online and I can potentially offer them an invite to a co-op game.

It really intrigued me when it was said MS may use metacritic scores and download rates as their guide for ‘purging’ old Arcade games from their burgeoning download list – when you think how much more data they could easily have available for this kind of thing.

3. “Remy77077 is . “

Ok, I’ve got my XBL ‘motto’. I’ve gone from “Complex Competition” to “Team Shiity Shotty” recently… but will anyone actually notice this update? Some kind of facebook-like comments and updates would really add to the Live experience for me. Maybe I’m just too much of a socialite and other people wouldn’t like this, but again, with the right privacy and opt-in options, I don’t see how it could do any harm. I’d also love the ability to tag comments against people on my own friends list. Something like “Lives in London, met playing HD Remix beta test” or something would be great to help you manage a large friend’s list – as many people’s profiles are annoyingly sparse. I often find myself using the “Compare Games” feature just to figure out how I even know someone.

4. “It is a gift”

I was wanting to give some MS Points to a friend for a birthday recently and I was bemused that the only way I could do it was to hand him an actual real-life MS Points card. Surely there should be a simple digital way to manage this? Why not allow me to spend my MS Points to send a full game to a friend at least?

5. PeeCee

I’ve noted a few more games these days using the “Live For Windows” moniker and I wonder why there is so little intregration between the systems. I really like the ability to use certain features of Live through XBox.com, but I’d really love it if I could link my PC games more readily into one system. Obviously with a platform as open as the PC, versus the closed system of 360 this is never going to fully intregrate – but I am still shocked at how little has been done so far. Perhaps MS has it’s reasons for keeping it that way, but as noted, it seems to be making baby-steps in this direction.

I don’t think any of this is rocket science…

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