Technologizer posts about Xbox Live

Windows Phone Gaming Gets Some Stuff, Still Needs Some Stuff

By  |  Posted at 9:19 am on Wednesday, August 17, 2011

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Xbox Live is supposed to be a big hook for Windows Phone, but until now Microsoft hasn’t fully described what the platform’s upcoming “Mango” update will do for gamers. We now have a better idea thanks to a blog post by Microsoft’s Michael Stroh.

Unlike Mango in general, Windows Phone’s fall Xbox Live update isn’t a major overhaul. Instead, Microsoft is filling in a couple of key omissions — in-app purchases and parental controls — and adding wearable avatar badges to reward in-game achievements. Xbox Live will also get “Fast Async,” which is supposed to improve turn-by-turn multiplayer games.

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Microsoft’s Xbox Live Rewards Actually Have Value

By  |  Posted at 9:32 am on Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Five years after the Xbox 360 launched, Microsoft has created a loyalty rewards program. It’s about time.

Xbox Live Rewards doles out Microsoft Points — the currency used for games and other content — for things like renewing a subscription, activating Netflix and buying specific downloadable games.

Sony launched its own rewards program for the Playstation 3 in late October, but the perks are inferior. Instead of getting points that you can spend anywhere on the Playstation Network, you get “exclusive” avatars and themes and a chance to win prizes. In other words, buying lots of stuff doesn’t bring you any closer to getting free games or movies.

But Sony and Microsoft have different reasons for offering rewards in the first place. Sony, quite simply, wants you to buy more stuff, while Microsoft is trying to enroll more people in Xbox Live. Many of its rewards are aimed at new users — you can get 400 points ($5) for getting an Xbox Live family plan, or 100 points for buying your first item on the Xbox Live marketplace — and the biggest payouts come from staying enrolled. Clearly, Microsoft is trying to get all those Kinect buyers onto paid subscriptions.

Still, you don’t need an Xbox Live Gold plan to earn rewards from Microsoft. Buying select games and taking monthly surveys are enough to get a couple bucks in points every year. Maybe I’m just not enough of an avatar junkie, but I’ll take the points over Sony’s incentives any day.


Xbox 360′s New Software: An Incomplete Review

By  |  Posted at 9:00 am on Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Microsoft is making a yearly tradition of updating the Xbox 360, once again bringing new features to the console.

This time around, the main attractions are ESPN, Zune Pass (if you have a subscription) and a better version of Netflix. The Xbox 360 software also gets a minor face lift. Microsoft let me try the new Xbox 360 software before its public release, and while I can’t take full advantage of ESPN (more on that later), the other changes are still enough to solidify the Xbox 360′s standing as the best software experience on a game console — provided you’re willing to pay for Xbox Live.

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Xbox Live Price Hike: A Higher Cost for Microsoft

By  |  Posted at 1:06 pm on Monday, August 30, 2010


This wasn’t entirely unexpected, but Microsoft announced that it’s raising the price of Xbox Live Gold, effective November 1.

Yearly subscriptions will increase from $50 to $60, quarterly subscriptions will jump from $20 to $25, and monthly subscriptions will go up from $8 to $10. Before the price hike, Microsoft is giving subscribers a chance to get one more year for $40, effectively negating the new price until 2012. Joystiq points out that several retailers are also selling $40 yearly subscription cards, which you can stock up on now and use over a longer period of time.

The troubling thing about this price hike is not so much the $10 difference itself, but the feeling of powerlessness that it instills.

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Windows Phone 7 Gaming: What We Know So Far

By  |  Posted at 10:14 pm on Thursday, August 12, 2010


At a presentation for developers in March, Microsoft showed a single Xbox Live game running on three different platforms. First came the PC, then Windows Phone 7, and finally the Xbox 360, each one picking up where the last left off. Developing games for all three would be a breeze, Microsoft promised, and it seemed that by connecting the three screens, the company’s gaming strategy would go where the competition hadn’t.

Five months later, Windows Phone 7 gaming is still somewhat of a mystery. Microsoft has missed a couple opportunities to show that Windows Phone 7 is a serious gaming platform. The phone was mostly absent from E3, a major video game industry trade show, and when several publications tested Windows Phone 7 prototypes in July, the Xbox Live section was an empty shell, with no actual games to speak of.

Microsoft still has until the holiday season to impress gamers with Windows Phone 7, but there are a lot of blanks to be filled in. For now, I’ve learned enough to paint a blurry picture of what Windows Phone 7 gaming will be like.

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Microsoft Might’ve Killed Xbox 360 vs. PC Gaming

By  |  Posted at 8:45 am on Thursday, July 22, 2010


Ever wish you could play Gears of War for Xbox 360 against someone who owned the PC version, or vice versa? Microsoft reportedly did too, but might’ve killed the concept of PC vs. Xbox 360 gaming because console controls just aren’t accurate enough.

That’s the rumor coming from Rahul Sood, the founder of Voodoo PC and chief technical officer of HP’s gaming business. He cites “reliable sources” who say Microsoft was working on a way for PC gamers and Xbox 360 gamers to play together, but problems arose during testing. Mediocre PC gamers were able to wipe the floor with even the best console players, because the PC’s mouse-and-keyboard combination was so precise.

Sood doesn’t say definitively that Microsoft killed the project because of the accuracy issue, but he lays heavy blame on Microsoft for not seeing the project through. The rest of his blog post is a ramble on the decline of PC gaming, the threat from Apple and a strange plug for WebOS game development (“and while it may take time for new devices to start showing up, you can rest assured that the wait will be worth it”).

If Microsoft was working on a way to connect Xbox 360 and PC gamers, control differences seem like a petty reason to ax the project. Why not require PC gamers to use an Xbox 360 controller in order to dive in with the console crowd? Or limit connected play to cooperative games such as Borderlands, instead of competitive ones in which the PC gamer has the advantage?

I hope Microsoft revisits (or visits) the issue some day, especially with Windows Phone 7 presenting its own opportunities for gaming. If Microsoft really wants to unify the PC, television and phone, there needs to be a way for gamers to interact across all three platforms.

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Microsoft Cancels 1 vs. 100, Xbox Live’s First Game Show

By  |  Posted at 10:01 am on Thursday, July 15, 2010


One of Xbox Live’s most innovative features, the online game show 1 vs. 100, won’t return for another season.

If you missed it, 1 vs. 100 was a trivia show in which one contestant would try to outlast a “mob” of 100 others, each of whom face elimination with wrong answers. Players who weren’t competing could still answer questions from the sidelines, with a chance to rotate into the main game. Semiweekly live shows, hosted by comedian Chris Cashman, offered prizes to the winners.

The game was included with an Xbox Live Gold subscription, and at one point attracted more than 60,000 players to the live show. Microsoft didn’t say why it canned the show, only noting that the development team will move on to other projects. It’s rumored that the original 1 vs. 100 television show, hosted by Bob Saget for two seasons on NBC, could return, so maybe that was an issue for Microsoft.

Whatever the reason, I hope Microsoft comes up with a suitable replacement. As several commenters on Kotaku wisely point out, 1 vs. 100 is a social, casual game that draws in exactly the same crowd Microsoft will try to capture with the Kinect motion-sensing camera. And Kinect support seems like an obvious choice for game shows; imagine waving your arms in celebration and seeing an avatar do the same, or raising your hand to answer a question and speaking the answer.

Kinect aside, the idea of a massive multiplayer online game show is just plain cool. Half the fun of watching game shows on television is trying to answer questions yourself, and 1 vs. 100 let spectators do that by sectioning non-players into small groups to compete amongst themselves. I think 1 vs. 100 had a chance to revolutionize game shows, but like an anxious TV network, Microsoft pulled the plug too soon.

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Social Settings Are Halo: Reach’s Coolest New Feature

By  |  Posted at 3:38 pm on Wednesday, April 21, 2010


My level of excitement for new Halo games has dropped off over the years, as the series’ refinements stopped adding up to anything radically different. But a new feature in the upcoming Halo: Reach sounds like a game-changer, and it has nothing to do with shooting.

I’ll just quote Ars Technica’s Ben Kuchera, who got to sample the game’s multiplayer ahead of next month’s public beta:

You also have social settings to choose from, to make sure you play with people who match your style. Do you talk? Are you quiet? Do you play competitively, or simply to enjoy yourself? Do you go Rambo, or enjoy teamwork? Do you like a polite game, or are you a trash talker? By adjusting all these options you’ll be able to filter out people whose play styles may be distasteful, allowing you a better play experience.

The idea is so simple, yet so smart, that I wonder why no one’s thought of it before. Essentially, you’ll be able to play with like-minded people without manually cultivating lists of online friends. Given how obnoxious some online gamers can be, this could breathe new life into Xbox Live.

I’m reminded of when Halo 2 introduced matchmaking more than five years ago. The game automatically found players, created teams and chose maps to play on. At the time, online console games made you manually select from a list of open matches, and if you weren’t quick to join one, they’d fill up and you’d have to refresh the list. This system became unpopular as other games mimicked what Halo 2 pioneered.

The same thing ought to happen with Halo: Reach’s social settings, provided the developer, Bungie, can properly execute the concept.

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Time to Play Some Original Xbox

By  |  Posted at 4:42 pm on Wednesday, April 14, 2010


As promised, Microsoft will shut down Xbox Live support for the original Xbox at midnight Pacific time, so this is your last chance to play any of your favorite online games from the previous generation.

I’ve pulled out all the online-enabled Xbox games in my library, and while in all honesty I’d rather be playing something newer (and should actually be finishing up my taxes instead), I’ll probably run through all the games for old time’s sake. I’m mostly curious to see if anyone’s still enjoying Doom 3, or whether any players of Mortal Kombat Deception are bad enough to at least let me win a round.

Also, if you fire up Halo 2 today, Bungie says you’ll get “a piece of visual flair” to be used in multiplayer for the upcoming Halo: Reach, and the developer is giving away prizes as well. You’ll also apparently see some funky messages while waiting for games to begin.

Microsoft isn’t doing anything special to say goodbye to the previous console, and that’s okay. But soon after service shuts down, the company should offer more details on what players stand to gain. Microsoft said in February that it needs to make changes to Xbox Live that are incompatible with original Xbox games, without giving specifics.

With online play for original Xbox shutting down, the time for answers is now. The 100-person cap on friends lists will probably be lifted, as that was apparently a technical limitation of the original Xbox, but I hope that won’t be the only benefit for Xbox 360 owners. Not all of us are popular enough to say the trade off is justified.

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The Ups and Downs of Microsoft Game Room

By  |  Posted at 9:28 am on Thursday, March 25, 2010


Microsoft Game Room launched yesterday for the Xbox 360 and Windows PCs. At its core, the Game Room is a fancy menu for playing classic arcade games such as Combat, Centipede and Lunar Lander, but with a few extra features that Microsoft hopes will get you to stick around and spend lots of money. After playing around in the arcade last night, I’m on the fence as to whether I’ll be an arcade junkie once again.

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Gay Xbox Live Gamers May Now Spell It Out

By  |  Posted at 3:42 pm on Friday, March 5, 2010


Microsoft took a bold step today by letting gamers include their sexual orientation in their Xbox Live nicknames, or Gamertags.

Previously, Microsoft deemed the words “gay,” “straight,” “lesbian,” “bi” and “transgender” to be unacceptable, fearing that players would use them in a derogatory way. Those fears are justified to anyone who spends a few hours playing Modern Warfare 2 or Halo 3. Anonymity does some revolting things to human behavior.

Players’ Gamertags can now include all the words mentioned above, but the service’s updated code of conduct strictly limits the terminology to those five words only. Marc Whitten, Xbox Live’s general manager, explained Microsoft’s reasoning in an open letter:

Under our previous policy, some of these expressions of self-identification were not allowed in Gamertags or profiles to prevent the use of these terms as insults or slurs. However we have since heard feedback from our customers that while the spirit of this approach was genuine, it inadvertently excluded a part of our Xbox LIVE community.

It took a while to get here. In 2008, a player named theGAYERgamer made his case public after Microsoft banned his Gamertag. In late February, a player claimed her account was suspended because her profile said she is a lesbian. This prompted a blog post from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, among other responses, so I’m guessing Microsoft finally felt there was enough pressure to make some policy changes.

Whitten promised that the code of conduct will be enforced more stringently to prevent misuse of the terms. That probably entails taking a closer look at Gamertags to make sure they’re not being used as insults. But the real hard part will be monitoring players’ responses to these nicknames. Hopefully Xbox Live’s moderators can do a better job of booting people who toss around homophobic, ethnic and racial slurs without fear of repercussion.

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Windows Phone 7 and Xbox Live: A Feature Wish List

By  |  Posted at 4:05 pm on Monday, February 15, 2010


It was only a matter of time before Microsoft brought Xbox Live to a mobile device, as it will with Windows Phone 7 Series. Still, Microsoft hasn’t described this feature of its upcoming mobile OS in detail. All we know is that Windows Phone 7 will be able to play select Xbox Live games, view friends’ avatars and check in on profiles and achievements. I hope there’s more in store than just a few board and card games, plus a native replica of the 360 Live iPhone App. Here’s my unsolicited wish list for Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7:

The following Xbox Live Arcade Games: Braid, Marble Blast Ultra, Trials HD, Castle Crashers, Peggle, Worms 2: Armegeddon, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved and Catan. All would translate well, or at least well enough, to a virtual joystick, touch buttons or accelerometer controls, and they’re great games.

Xbox Live Game Room: This is the virtual arcade Microsoft introduced at CES this year, to launch this spring. You’ll already be able to play the classic games on either the Xbox 360 or Windows (for an extra charge, unfortunately), so why not throw the third screen into the mix?

1 vs. 100: The massive multiplayer quiz show seems perfect for mobile devices. Imagine getting a text message before one of the live shows, and being able to participate from the road.

Bonus content for Xbox 360 Games: Here’s an idea floated by Gizmodo’s Mark Wilson. Instead of isolating retail Xbox 360 games from Windows Phone 7, Microsoft should include extras for people who own both products. A game like Call of Duty: World at War: Zombies would be so much better if it were tied to the Xbox 360, or bundled with its parent console game.

Windows Phone as Xbox 360 controller: Microsoft already plans to reach a casual gaming audience this year with Project Natal, a 3D motion-sensing camera. Adding a touch screen controller for media and an occasional gaming seems like a natural fit. It’d at least be cooler than the button-driven interface of Sony’s Remote Play for Playstation 3 and PSP.

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10 Games You’ll Miss for First-Gen Xbox Live

By  |  Posted at 4:52 pm on Friday, February 5, 2010


On April 15, Microsoft will kill online play for original Xbox games. Even if you own an Xbox 360, you’ll no longer be able to play original Xbox games online, including backwards-compatible discs and downloadable Xbox Originals. While it’s probably for the best — Microsoft is promising new, yet-unspecified features that weren’t possible while still supporting the old Xbox — some games are just irreplaceable. Here are 10 original Xbox games that have no equal on the Xbox 360 (which means no Halo 2 or Call of Duty 3):

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Microsoft’s Game Room: The Arcade Reborn?

By  |  Posted at 4:59 pm on Thursday, January 7, 2010

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With the Game Room, Microsoft’s hoping to capture the old magic of video game arcades, minus the stale air, sugar highs and wasted quarters.

I got some questions answered on service, which will be available on Windows and Xbox Live this spring. Here are the important details (if you’re a retro game nerd):

-30 games will be available at launch, including Centipede, Lunar Lander and Night Driver (full list here), from arcade systems as well as the Atari 2600 and Intellivision. Microsoft says it’ll release 7 new games per week after launch.

-Games cost $3 each for either Xbox Live or Windows, and $5 if you want the luxury of playing on both. The arcade itself is open to any level of Xbox Live (no Gold subscription necessary).

-Unlike some of the classic games Microsoft released earlier this year, these are straight emulators with no boosts in resolution or graphics. Unfortunately, that means if there’s any overlap, you’ll have to pay for the Game Room titles again.

-Players build their own virtual arcades, with cabinets that mimic the hulking monstrosities of yesteryear. As your arcade grows, you get new rooms or entire new floors that can be decorated differently. But you don’t navigate these with an avatar — the camera simply slides between each room and cabinet.

-Other players can visit your arcade, and they’ll earn free play tokens based on how many games you have. They can also demo any game once, or can pay 40 Xbox Live points (50 cents) for extra plays.

-Downer: You can’t directly play against another player online (so no head-to-head in Combat). Instead, online multiplayer consists of high score or other challenges you send to your friends. Two-player games will work locally.

The service seems promising, and I particularly like all the ways Microsoft will give players to try games. It’s like we’re getting allowance all over again.

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Dumb Crook Logs into Xbox Live on Stolen Console, Gets Caught

By  |  Posted at 10:44 am on Monday, December 28, 2009


Here’s a tip for you folks out there planning to steal somebody’s Xbox 360: don’t log into their Xbox Live account and start playing games online. That’s exactly what 22-year-old Jeremiah Gilliam of Bronx, N.Y. did, allowing the police to track his IP address to his grandmother’s home.

When Pelham, N.Y. detectives arrived at the house, they did not only find the victim’s Xbox, but also “dozens” of pilfered electronics, ranging from video games to laptops, 53 items in total.

It is believed that Gilliam may have stolen the goods from as many as 200 break-ins across New York’s Westchester County. He was already under investigation for 13 robberies where he broke into unlocked cars, say police.

Gilliam is charged with grand larceny. No word on whether the grandmother will be charged since her home housed the stolen property.


Microsoft Pats Its Back for New Xbox Live Features

By  |  Posted at 8:00 pm on Tuesday, November 24, 2009

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Last week, Microsoft brought Facebook, Twitter, and the Zune Marketplace to Xbox Live. And it’s been a rousing success! According to Microsoft, at least.

The company says nearly two million people signed into Facebook from Xbox Live in less than a week since the feature launched on November 17. Almost one million people created Internet radio profiles, and 1.7 million people checked out the Zune Marketplace, which is the Xbox 360′s new digital storefront for 1080p video. Microsoft suspiciously left out usage numbers for Twitter, saying only that the service “was abuzz” with Xbox-based tweets.

There is, of course, reason to be skeptical about these numbers and what they mean. Usually, Facebook and Twitter are only open to paid Xbox Live Gold subscribers, but from November 20 until yesterday, those services along with the rest of Xbox Live Gold were open to everyone in the United States, including non-paid Silver members. That means more of Xbox Live’s 20 million total active users may have tried the new services than usual.

And besides, trying doesn’t mean liking. I signed in to Facebook and sent a Tweet from Twitter, but didn’t particularly enjoy either experience. I fired up the Zune Marketplace but didn’t buy anything (and actually, I was sort of offended that music videos cost $1 to $2, when you can easily find them for free on YouTube). The only service I used in earnest was, which came in handy for a party I happened be throwing over the weekend.

There was one statistic from Microsoft that was truly impressive: On November 10, launch day for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, more than 2.2 million people logged in to play. It’s proof that no matter how hard Microsoft tries to show the value in all of Xbox Live’s extra services, it’s still all about the games.

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