Increasingly it’s not just those blockbusting triple-A exclusive software titles that sell games consoles to consumers – it’s their online offering too.
With generations ever more adept with the workings and possibilities of the ‘net, it’s no longer enough to just play single player campaigns for many consumers. And it’s not just the massive demand to play online against others across the net – consumers want to be able to download demos and trailers, and go beyond gaming by customising, downloading entertainment and more.
It’s probably fair to say that Xbox Live is the best known of all the consoles’ online facilities, and that’s why the new Xbox Experience, arriving next Wednesday (November 19th), is such big news for the industry.
But what will the changes entail exactly, what difference will they make – and why are they coming now?
“The New Xbox Experience (NXE) will change the way consumers interact with their Xbox 360 console,” Stephen McGill, Microsoft’s head of gaming and entertainment from the entertainment and devices division, tells MCV. “With over 14 million members connected to the service, we’re providing an enormous raft of content to users.
“No other entertainment device has completely refreshed the experience it provides to consumers through the power of software – Xbox Live enables us to do this for the Xbox 360 console, and we feel great about that,” he adds.
Crucially, times have changed since Live made its first appearance on the Xbox 360, which is one of the reasons behind the massive overhaul. McGill explains: “When we started out, the dashboard was designed to host around 200 pieces of content. Now we’ve got over 20,000 pieces, and the UI needed an overhaul to make the most of this.
“The New Xbox Experience is very accessible and intuitive to use – consumers will be able to discover the wealth of content we’ve got on the service a lot more easily. The NXE will also allow users to customise and personalise their dashboard and Xbox Experience like never before.”
One of the biggest and most obvious changes coming through from the New Xbox Experience is the visual style. More pleasing to the eye and simpler to navigate, the new look for Live also includes a fresh feature that is sure to attract column inches as well as spark the interest of the ever more crucial mass market consumers – the introduction of Avatars to Live.
“We love the Avatars in NXE,” enthuses McGill. “Consumers have the chance to really customise and personalise their experience through the use of Avatars. They’ll represent the way a user is feeling, what their interests are, and what they’re currently doing.”
The Avatars will feature directly in gameplay on selected games too: “They’ll be the visual representation of yourself to all of your friends, and as you know, they feature in the upcoming Scene It: Box Office Smash. They’ll also be used in a number of other upcoming titles – including A Kingdom for Keflings, and plenty more we haven’t announced yet. The response from the development community has been fantastic – third party publishers are coming to us, asking us about the Avatar architecture, and figuring out how they can build franchises around them.
“There’s also the option of using your Avatar’s head as your Gamerpic, again to really personalise your experience. Of course this isn’t compulsory, you can keep the Gamerpics you’ve already downloaded from Marketplace and continue to use them if you so wish.
Playing online will remain a core part of Xbox Live, with the new Experience set to develop those all-important Achievements and Gamerscores.
McGill informs: “Of course we know our fans feel very passionately about their Achievements and Gamerscores – as do we! The new dash allows players to share and express their Gamerscores in a much more visible way than before. You can instantly see from the browsing menu your friend’s Achievements all laid out across their recent games – it’s a more visual experience than endless lists.”
Gaming online is something that it’s generally acknowledged by gamers that Xbox Live gets spot on, but Microsoft has taken the opportunity to tune up and enhance the area. McGill adds:
“The NXE will absolutely improve online gaming for the better. We’ve introduced the new Party system that allows friends to connect in the dash, then move around together, sharing entertainment experiences as they go. You can have up to eight people in your party, all chatting in the dashboard. Then you all may fancy playing a game, so you all jump right into, say, Gears 2 together. You don’t have to separate up and then reconvene in the game – you all move around together.”
And it is that community experience that is key to the new version:
“We’re really trying to build the spirit of friends and community with the new Xbox Experience.”
But it’s not just gaming that will benefit. As well as having eight people chat in your party at one time, you’ll also be able to browse photos together.
“One of the party can stream their digital photos from their camera, PC, or any other USB storage device, and all of the other members of your party can view them together – all the while chatting together too.”
ON THE MARKET
But it’s not just about looks, Avatars and improved online gaming. The all-important Live Marketplace will also be enhanced, as McGill explains: “As well as hosting a wealth of content, the new UI makes finding the content that’s right for you a lot easier. Select a game image, and you’ll immediately get access to all related themes, Gamerpics, additional game content etc. When you’re browsing movies, for example, you can now view alphabetically, by genre, view New Additions, ‘What’s Hot’ and so on – everything is geared towards making the discovery of content a slicker and more accessible experience.”
“I’d encourage you to go and download it on the November 19th,” McGill concludes. “As I said, we’re really excited about the NXE, and really believe it will enhance the experience of current and new users. We’re thrilled to be able to deliver it to our consumers.”