It’s finally happening. We’re barreling closer and closer to the next generation of the Xbox console and with it, what we hope will be a large overhaul of Xbox LIVE, the service that powers all of the console’s online interactions. There’s no doubt it. The Xbox consoles and Xbox LIVE service are the Michael Knight and KITT of the last two console generations.

The Xbox 360 is Michael, a leather jacket wearing also-ran who thinks he can fight the rampant crime of southern California single handedly or you know, the entrenched competition of Sony and Nintendo. Xbox LIVE on the other hand is KITT, an ever-evolving work horse dedicated to enabling shenanigans, kicking hind quarters, and being cool and enabling new online scenarios like Netflix and Hulu Plus.

While we’ve heard non-stop chatter about new Xbox consoles with whizz-bang features, the real truth is that any possible innovation to come away from this next Xbox console must begin with a revamped Xbox LIVE that delivers what users expect from online services in 2013.


Xbox LIVE needs large scale changes in all of it’s forms across Microsoft’s products.


The transformation has to start with the fundamentals of Xbox LIVE as a service itself. To this day, consumers – yes, many of them gamers, fail to understand why they should have to pay for Xbox LIVE at all.

The Xbox LIVE service, as it exists today is built mainly for gamers. With it gamers, can go head-to-head against their friends and have access to special Xbox LIVE Gold Deal of the Week specials. With a subscription to the service, users can also make use of subscriptions they have for other services like Netflix, and Amazon Prime.

That last bit happens to perfectly represent the fundamental problem with LIVE. In a world where users can play against each other, online for free on other consoles, Microsoft is the only company to hide that kind of functionality behind a pay wall.  For gamers, that’s ridiculous. Yes, Xbox LIVE is more robust than its PlayStation counterpart, but that’s still a $7.99 up sale on top of the price of a console, and the game that a user would like to play.

To make matters worse, Microsoft insists on displaying ads to all Xbox LIVE users regardless of their subscription status. These ads now also show up on the LIVE enabled applications for Windows 8. For the record, I’m obliged to think these complaints are a bit over blown, but I could very well be the strange person. Microsoft faces an uphill battle in convincing users that Xbox LIVE is worth the amount of money they have to fork into.

Lastly, the company also has to actually create a cohesive Xbox LIVE. As it exists today, Xbox LIVE surfaces in many of Microsoft’s products including Windows 8, Windows Phone, Xbox 360, on, and on iOS through that platform’s LIVE enabled games like Kinectimals. By itself, that’s an amazing feat for a company who is routinely accused of not supporting its initiatives company wide.

Unfortunately this also means, that Xbox LIVE or the backend services that are branded Xbox LIVE are used in so many different places and with a feature set that varies so much that it’s hard to keep the features straight. For example Xbox Games on Windows 8 allows users to purchase Windows 8 applications with Xbox LIVE achievements however these games lack the multiplayer elements and matchmaking features that make Xbox LIVE such a power house in the living room. Xbox LIVE games on Windows Phone only offer users the ability to earn achievements as well.

In my opinion Microsoft will need to unify the user scenarios across the board if it hopes to create the cohesive media experience its corporate executives seem to be eyeing. In fact, I’d argue that it would take nothing short of a fundamental reimaging of what the service is and what it does for consumers. At the very least, the company will need more precise Xbox LIVE branding.

Anywho, get your sleep ladies and gents. Tomorrow we feast on all things related to the next generation Xbox and its accompanying services. Excited? You bet your ass we are.

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