We've come a long way since the system first graced entertainment centers around the world and “Gamerscores” and “Achievements” have become a common discussion point when talking about your progress in a game. In some cases the discussion isn't necessarily about where you are in a game but what achievements you've gotten so far. I know I've checked out the achievements of friends to see where they are. Hell, I have to admit a bit of Gamerscore envy when checking out friends with a Gamerscore in the five digit range. It's hard to play any game now without expecting to see the little "Achievement Unlocked" window popping up at some point even when playing games on other systems. It's hard not to be disappointed when you complete a level or discover a secret alcove somewhere and not get rewarded for it. I'm pretty stoked that Microsoft will be porting this over to the PC side next year with their Live Anywhere program as I may finally catch up to Dan.
Backwards compatibility is something of a sore spot with 360 owners as well. Microsoft promised the moon and delivered Apollo 13. While a lot of major titles now have backwards compatibility patches, there are still a lot of popular games out there that have yet to receive their call to fame and like the astronauts they can see the goodness that is backwards compatibility in the Nintendo Wii and PS3 but can't quite touch it. I realize this is mostly a technical issue and a lot of developers did some cool programming tricks to get their game running on the old system, tricks that make it exceedingly difficult to port to the next generation system but it's still a bit of a sore spot and it seems to have completely slipped off Microsoft's radar.
Going into the launch we knew that Microsoft's Xbox Live service was going to be rock solid Microsoft hasn't let anyone down. With easy to use friends lists, leader boards, and easy communication between users Xbox Live is still the best online service of any next gen system. Not only can you send and receive messages through the console but you can also access a lot of the tools through Xbox.com. This might not sound like a lot but for those who hate using on screen keyboards to send messages, this is a real bonus. Plus it's nice to be able to check who's online before logging in so you can see if there's anyone you want to frag before you turn on your console.
With the 360 Xbox Live added two new major areas of functionality, Xbox Live Marketplace and Xbox Live Arcade. Xbox Live Marketplace was touted as the major harbinger of Micro transactions, a way to buy small bits of content without having to fork over a ton of dough. For the most part this is still an on going experiment as publishers are still feeling there way around what is and isn't going to sell. A good example of this is Bethesda's ongoing content packs for Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The first release of decorative armor for the system was widely ridiculed as a waste of time and money and even something that maybe should have been included with the game but since then Bethesda has come out with better content at better price points. Their latest Knights of the Nine patch included a ton of new content along with all the old content for $10 and I think that feels about right. I expect another year or so of this feeling out process until the supply and the demand lines find a nice place to cross.
Any discussions about micro transactions wouldn't be complete without talking about what Electronic Arts is doing with their recent releases for the 360. Electronic Arts has started offering gamers the ability to buy cheat codes and shortcuts through Xbox Live Marketplace. This is nothing new except for the fact that these codes are available for free on the the previous gen versions of the game.. I'd like to think that EA is also just experimenting with the new technology as well but it doesn't necessarily feel as innocent as what Bethesda has been going through. This feels a little worse and even exploitive but that might just be some of my pre-conceived notions of EA seeping in. Time will tell how well this will add to the system as future games are already working on jacking into the system with upcoming games like Mass Effect and Grand Theft Auto IV promising to release new content after the launch of the system through XBLM.
Xbox Live Arcade was the other big promise of online goodness from Microsoft. What started as a collection of titles at retail on the Xbox turned into a wonderful place for niche and retro games on the Xbox 360. It was a little rough at the start as new content was few and far between but with Microsoft releasing new games on a weekly basis the service has finally gotten into a rhythm. Outside of Geometry Wars Evolved there really hasn't been one ginormous hit or the service. Sure there have been a few good titles (including the excellent port of Doom) but there really hasn't been that one game that creates a monster buzz about the service. That looks to change with some of the upcoming games such as Roboblitz and Castle Crashers.
Of course one of the big knocks against Microsoft’s Xbox Live service is that you have to pay a fee to play against people online and that was about it in terms of benefits. Microsoft recently added the benefit of allowing their premium members first access to demos and some content and while it’s a nice start and I’m hoping that Microsoft has a more things up their sleeves. It would be nice to get just a little bit more for my annual fee such as a few free MS points or a free Xbox Live game when I renew my membership
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