The Xbox Live Handbook is a book in progress. What is Xbox Live is part two of the epic walkthrough of Microsoft’s console. You can check out other parts of the Handbook here. Feel free to make suggestions for changes in the margins — I mean comments.

It’s hard to grasp what Xbox Live is if you are new to video game consoles. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

Xbox Live is the service that ties every Xbox One feature and Xbox One gamer together. When you want to play with someone else, it’s Xbox Live that finds a person playing the same game at the same time you are. Xbox Live also stores your game saves and lets you easily download new games. It’s even responsible for making sure the games installed on your Xbox are games you actually own.

Xbox Live: The Social Network

Xbox Live: The Social Network

At its core, Xbox Live is a free social network. There are three ways to use Xbox Live: from the Xbox on Windows, Xbox One, and Xbox 360.

Your Gamertag

Crucial to the social experience on Xbox Live is your Gamertag. By choosing a Gamertag, you decide what you want to be called by other gamers. You’re automatically assigned a Gamertag when you sign up for Xbox Live, but you can change it once for free after that. Gamertag’s can say almost anything – provided they aren’t offensive to other gamers in any way.
Xbox Live also lets you add your real name to your Xbox Live Profile, but that’s completely optional. I will say this: It does make it easier for your friends to find you on their friends list if your profile has your real name in it.

My Xbox Live profile in the Xbox Guide.

Friends and Followers

Speaking of friends, Xbox Live gives you two ways to add people to your profile. Either other gamers are your friend or your follower.

Being a Follower is a one-sided relationship. If someone follows you, they see your status updates and shares in their Activity Feed. The same goes for you if you follow someone. If two people follow each other, they become Friends. Friends can see your complete Xbox Live profile and set you as a favorite so they know when you’re on and gaming. Friends also see each other’s Looking For Group posts automatically.

My Friends inside the Xbox Guide.

The easiest way to find friends on Xbox Live is to link your profile to your Facebook Account. This adds a Suggested Friends section to the Xbox on Windows app and your console. Any of your Facebook friends who have also linked their profiles to Facebook will automatically show up as a friend suggestion going forward.

Check out Game Hubs and Xbox Live Clubs if you’re looking for new people to follow and new friends to game with. Game Hubs are Xbox Live’s dedicated areas for game news updates and cool posts from other players of a specific game. Clubs are dedicated areas for like-minded gamers to talk, share clips and plan their next multiplayer session.

Xbox Live Parties, Activity Feed and Messages

The Activity Feed is a running river of news from Game Hubs you follow, screenshots and videos from games your friends are playing, and updates from Clubs you’ve joined. The newest posts are always at the top of an Activity Feed. You can find your Activity Feed in the Community area of the Xbox.

The Activity Feed on Xbox Home.

When you want to communicate directly with someone, Send them messages and voicemails. Additionally, Xbox Live lets you share videos, status updates, screenshots and Achievements directly to other people. Let me be clear, make sure whatever you send someone else on Xbox Live is something you wouldn’t mind receiving. Otherwise, expect to get reported to Xbox Live’s enforcement team.

Party Chat

The best way to communicate with someone over Xbox Live is to simply open a Party Chat. Think of them as phone calls. You can send Party Chat invites to someone or open a Party Chat and let anyone join on their own. You can also make sure that only the people you want to chat with are in your Party Chat.

All these things – Party Chat, Messages, and Clubs — are always available by pressing the glowing Xbox logo on your controller.

Your Xbox Live Profile

Every Xbox Live user’s profile is their phone book entry. Profiles have an Avatar or a custom picture and all the Achievements you’ve earned in your games. They also include a tenure medallion that lets other gamers know how long it been since you joined Xbox Live.

Everything else that appears on your profile is up to you. You can add a short biography, your location and a picture of yourself to your profile. The accent color you set from the Xbox One’s settings gets used as your profile’s accent color. If you want, other people can see the Clubs you follow and the friends you’ve made. Privacy Settings on Xbox.com let you share as little or as much of this information with other people as you want to.

My Xbox Live Profile.

Other Xbox Live gamers can also compare your Gamerscore to theirs from your profile. Gamerscore is the total number of points you’ve earned for doing things in games. It’s for that reason that some people use Gamerscore as a measurement of how much you’re into gaming. We all know the type.

As you can see, from a social networking standpoint, Xbox Live has it all. Really, it almost feels like a gaming-oriented version of Facebook. The best thing about the service is that you can practically use it from anywhere. When you’re away from your console, just open the Xbox on Windows, Xbox for iPhone or Xbox for Android apps to respond to messages and see what your friends are up to.

Xbox Live: The Gaming Platform

Xbox Live: The Game Platform

Because you will interact with Xbox Live’s social features the most, it’s easy to forget it’s also a gaming platform.

Say you purchased Titanfall for the Xbox One. The Xbox Live service acts as a pipeline, letting you and anyone else who wants to play Titanfall get together for a game or two. Your console communicates with a server, which then communicates with the console of other people playing. Xbox Live is also responsible for keeping track of the games you own and storing your game saves. (You need an Xbox Live Gold subscription to play with other people too.)
Even games that don’t have multiplayer modes connect to Xbox Live. Batman Arkham Knight is a single-player game, but it uses Xbox Live to show you how your scores compare to the scores of others in its leaderboards. Achievements, those awards that make up your Gamerscore, are powered by Xbox Live. Xbox Live is how your backgrounds and digital game collection get synced to whatever Xbox One you log into.

I bring up all of this because no service is flawless. There are times when Xbox Live stops working and you can’t play online with other people or buy a new game from the Microsoft Store. When this happens, check Xbox Support for news on when the service might return to normal. You also need a high-speed internet connection for Xbox Live to work correctly. If you don’t have that, all the social features we’ve talked about won’t work.
For the most part, Microsoft balances the need to be online and connected to Xbox Live with the realities of everyone’s gaming situation. That’s why you can still buy games in store on a disc. That is also why Xbox One stores a local copy of your game saves. If Xbox Live goes down, your disc games still work. Your digital games still work too, provided you’ve set that Xbox One as your Home console.

Now that you know everything about Xbox Live, it’s time to talk about Xbox Live Gold. Again, you’ll need it to play games with other people. Subscribers also get big discounts on digital games and accents to other new titles at no additional charge.