The lights are on
Xbox Live is long overdue for a remodeling project. Though most of the Game Informer staff believes the functionality is far superior to the rival PlayStation Network (we're still waiting for Nintendo to seriously arrive in this conversation), a major update that simultaneously appeases fan, developer, and publisher concerns could cement Xbox Live's position as a leading platform and smooth the transition to next-generation consoles. Here are a few of our recommendations.
Open Up The PlatformAlmost every time we broach the subject with a developer or publisher, they bemoan the draconian hold Microsoft keeps over its online service. Most admit that having a curated marketplace keeps product standards high, but they also believe that by giving more control to the game creators the platform could explode. As we move toward an always connected future, publishers want more control over the speed and frequency that updates are pushed to users. Loosening up the oversight (and Microsoft's cut of cash) could open the floodgates for MMOs to finally come to consoles. Indie developers would also appreciate the flexibility to control the price of their games.
Give Users A Larger Friends ListFacebook and Twitter allow us to have an unlimited amount of friends. Xbox Live? You're capped at 100. Having to shuffle friends on and off the list when you hit your cap is a hassle that could easily be avoided by giving users a larger list. Depending on how large Microsoft decides to go, it would be extremely helpful if you could prioritize who shows up at the top of your friends list as well.
Reorganize The MarketplaceSpeaking of the marketplace, even with the slowly operating Bing search functionality finding a product in the marketplace is a frustrating exercise. Microsoft needs to reconfigure its store to surface more content and make it easier to find what you're looking for. We would love to have a wish list for saving games or add-ons you plan to purchase down the road as well.
Create Faster Responding AppsOpening apps like HBO Go and Netflix takes FOREVER. Maybe if the advertisements weren't hogging the processing power we could get into these apps without having to stare blank screens or watch the loading wheel spin so long. Whatever the problem, Microsoft needs to address this.
Diversify The Media AppsWith ESPN, HBO Go, UFC, MLB, Netflix, Verizon Fios, and Hulu Plus, Microsoft has done a great job of enhancing the Xbox Live functionality beyond gaming. So what's next? We would love to see the NFL Sunday Ticket, NHL Center Ice, NBA League Pass, Comedy Central, Adult Swim, F/X come to the service. Microsoft could also expand beyond these core-centric additions like Apple has done with its App Store. Lifestyle apps that allow you to watch cooking recipes, page through encyclopedias, etc. could be another way to leverage Kinect and draw in more non-gamers.
Redesign The User InterfaceMicrosoft loves the Windows Phone 7's tile-based interface so much that it has taken this Metro design philosophy and applied it both to Xbox Live and the upcoming Windows 8. While it looks slick, it has several flaws we would like to see addressed. Most users I talk to wish you could customize the homepage to lock your frequently used apps or games into an easily accessible place. Quickplay is a nice idea, but why stash frequently used apps in a second menu when they could greet us every time we boot up our systems? We also wish the dashboard used more of the screen space, because it can be hard to see where you're navigating when using a smaller monitor.
Streamline The Invitation ProcessWhen a friend invites you into a party or game, right now you need to open up the invitation to accept it. That's one step too many for me. If you're sitting in a menu either on the dashboard or within the game, Xbox Live should recognize this and allow you to press a button to automatically accept the invite without having to dive deeper into the menu.
Drop The Xbox Live Points SystemLet's hope the rumors are true and Microsoft stop's making people purchase carnival tickets before purchasing their games. What will it take for Microsoft to convert the old points into regular currency and let people know on first look how much a game or expansion pack costs without having to convert an arcane point system in their heads?
What would you like Microsoft to address with its next Xbox Live service update? Tell us in the comments section.
Email the author Matt Bertz, or follow on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Game Informer.