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.

More than anything else at Microsoft, the answer to what is Xbox Live is an evolving question. It’s not enough for you to think of Xbox Live as simply the features you get your hands on thanks to Xbox Live Gold. What started out as a way for users to connect with other players for games has turned into a world-class service that does a bit of everything.

Xbox Live is the way you get streaming videos on the Xbox One, Xbox 360 and the web directly from Microsoft. Microsoft’s Xbox Music service – in all of its forms – is powered by Xbox Live. On the Xbox One and Xbox 360, Xbox Live is the service that allows you to buy games and other content. Xbox Live is also the system doing the hard work that you probably take advantage of as a gamer.

Every Xbox Live account is free. Microsoft lets users create them manually from its Xbox.com website, or login for instant account creation with a Microsoft Account.

Xbox Live: The Social Network

Xbox Live: The Social Network

For a lot of people it is easier to grasp what Xbox Live is if you start at the core. To the mild-mannered person at home who doesn’t know a lot about gaming, Xbox Live is a way for you to connect with your friends.

Crucial to the social experience on Xbox Live is your Gamertag. Choosing a Gamertag is like deciding want you want to be called in a different world because Xbox Live is really a different world. If you can’t come up with anything you like Xbox Live will let you choose one from its database. Gamertag’s can say almost anything – provided they aren’t offensive in anyway. Microsoft lets users change them for free just once, so there’s no pressure.

The Gamertag is how people identify you on Xbox Live, but recently Microsoft added real name capabilities. To your friends and family you can now simply be Travis Pope and not harlemS. It finally takes the guess work out of trying to remember who you’ve followed.

Speaking of Followers, Xbox Live is in the midst of a big social networking upgrade. Friends and Followers are part of the upgrade. With the Xbox 360, you sent someone a friend request and if they accepted you saw each other’s activity online. The Xbox One treats Friends and Followers very differently. Follow anyone and you see their activities. This only makes you a Follower, they’ll need to follow you too before you two become Friends. When you become a Friend with someone on Xbox Live you see each other’s status updates and their real name. Depending on their privacy settings, you can see what games they are playing and what apps they are in. Microsoft doesn’t just want you to find your real life friends. Suggested Friends helps you find new people to play with. Xbox Live VIPs give you a chance to check out the profiles of notable Xbox Live members. You can also follow individual games with Game Hubs for the latest news and more.

Communications on Xbox Live go further than just the Activity Feed. The Xbox One doesn’t yet have Voice Messages like the Xbox 360 does. Hopefully, that’ll change soon. For now, you can send other members of Xbox Live text Messages. Additionally, Xbox Live lets users share Videos, Status Updates, Screenshots and Achievements. Microsoft also lets Xbox One owners Voice Chat with each other using the built-in Party app. You’ll need an Xbox Live headset or a Kinect for Xbox One sensor for those things.

Every Xbox Live user has a profile that they can customize to their heart’s content. The profile on the Xbox One is your phone book entry, your way of telling other gamers and entertainment lovers who you are. Today, you can pin a few different things to your Xbox Live Profile. The Showcase is were you show-off the achievements you’ve earned. Screenshots and a list of your most played games in the last month are stored there too. From your Profile on the console itself you can add a biography, your location, decide whether to share your real name with friends and block other users.

To track how good of a player you are, Xbox Live has Gamescore, a number that represents every achievement you’ve earned in a game thus far. Each Xbox One game is allowed to award users a total number of achievements. Unofficially, the more of a game’s achievements you earn, the more dedicated to the game you come off as. Your Xbox Live Profile also shows off how many years you’ve had an Xbox Live Gold account. More on Xbox Live Gold in just a bit.

Xbox Live: The Gaming Platform

Xbox Live: The Game Platform

Xbox Live is designed to bring gamers together. What we traditionally thought of as Xbox Live is the part of the system that facilitate those connections.

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. With the Xbox One Microsoft rolled out Xbox Live Cloud Compute. You absolutely don’t need to know what Cloud Compute is, but for the purposes of completeness in this guide, Cloud Compute is a set of resources that game developers can all upon to help their titles calculate things away from your Xbox One. For example, tracking how many points your character has earned in Forza 5 even though you’ve been away is something Cloud Compute is perfect for.

Even games that don’t have multiplayer specifically, connect to Xbox Live. Some games offer Leaderboards that let you compare your progress in a game with others. Achievements, those little numbers that make up your Gamerscore are powered by Xbox Live. Xbox Live is how your backgrounds get synced too.

Xbox Live is also how Microsoft keeps track of your game saves and purchases. For the Xbox One Microsoft moved a ton of purchasing opportunities to Xbox Live. You can still buy a game on a disc, but when you buy one in the Xbox Store Xbox Live is how that game is available for you to download when you log into any console.

All of this integration definitely comes at a price though. For the most part, Microsoft tries to balance out the need to be online with the realization that not everyone has internet access. That’s why you can still buy games in store on a disc. It’s also why a local copy of your game saves are stored on your Xbox One. When Xbox Live goes down, users run into trouble playing their digital games – plus anything that requires an Xbox Live server like multiplayer.

What is Xbox Live Gold

What is Xbox Live Gold?

“What is Xbox Live Gold?” This was an easy question. For years, if it involved online activities like watching subscription services like Netflix or playing Halo 4: with friends. Xbox Live Gold was the monthly or yearly subscription you paid for to use the console’s apps and play games on Xbox Live servers. Today Xbox Live Gold is different.

Watching something in Netflix or Hulu Plus no longer requires that users purchase an Xbox Live Gold subscription. Instead, for that price Xbox One owners get four free games a month. Two are available on the Xbox 360. The other two are for the Xbox One. On the Xbox 360, those free games are yours to keep forever. On the Xbox One, they stick around for as long as you keep paying. Besides that, Microsoft hands out big discounts each week to Xbox Live Gold members. The Xbox Live Deals with Gold promotion is how you get hot titles like Dragon Age: Inquisition for $35 and less.

Other perks besides discounted and free games revolve around specific Xbox One features. Those game clips that you can add to your Xbox Live Profile? You’ll need an Xbox Live Gold account for that. You also need to have Xbox Live Gold for Party Chatting.

In the United States, Xbox Live Gold is $59.99 a year or $10 a month. Luckily you can save big if you have a family. Moving those game licenses to Xbox Live meant that Microsoft can keep track of them for digital titles. When you log into an Xbox One with Xbox Live Gold everyone on that console gets access to your games and the benefits of Xbox Live. What’s more, you can designate a single console as your Home console. No matter where you are, everyone on that console will get access to your games and Xbox Live Gold benefits. Microsoft calls this Xbox Live Gold Home.

Xbox Live is a great online community for connecting with other games. Don’t think that just because you’re away from your Xbox One or Xbox 360 you can’t stay in touch. Xbox has apps on the iPhone, Android and devices running Windows Phone.