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Xbox Live is Microsoft’s multiplayer gaming platform, built to support online interaction between Xbox users - whether that's playing video games or one of the many other functions it allows.
Those include enabling players to communicate with their friends, manage their apps, and it also acts as a digital storefront for new games and content.
22/08/2016: EA is "100% behind" Microsoft's plans for the Xbox Scorpio, the company has announced.
The idea of building a scaleable hardware ecosystem is "an interesting, smart approach", Electronic Arts executive vice president Patrick Soderland told Game Informer.
"I got super excited when I saw what they are working on," he said, "and without giving you any information, the same is true of Sony. In general, this is a good thing."
The central idea behind Project Scorpio and its counterpart, the Sony PlayStation 4 Neo, is to provide a mid-generation upgrade with more powerful hardware, but the same basic architecture.
This will offer enhanced performance over the original Xbox One, whilst also remaining backwards-compatible with its games and peripherals.
"We haven't seen this whole idea of upgrading since the Mega CD in 1991 or something," Soderland said. "At the time, that might not have worked, but this is different."
For publishers like EA, said Soderland, this new hardware release model is ideal. "From a technical and developer perspective, it's actually really straightforward for us," he said. "Given that these machines are almost PC architecture inside of them, they are not that difficult for us to develop for."
"Scaling up and down is something we're in a good position for. If you're a developer, when you make games, you always want more capacity. You always want to bring more to the players. We're truly excited about this."
16/08/2016: Two new Xbox One S bundles will be launching in the UK next month, Microsoft has confirmed.
The company has announced that a 500GB and 1TB will hit stores on 22 September, retailing for £249 and £299 respectively.
The new bundles will also include a free digital download code for FIFA 17 and a 30-day trial membership for EA Access, the company's subscription service for on-demand gaming.
The Xbox One S originally debuted as part of a 2TB launch bundle, supplies of which ran out within less than a day.
This is reportedly due to the fact that Microsoft manufactured less than 7,000 units of the console, and reports from MCV claim that no more will be released in that configuration.
Customers who want increased storage space, however, can still pre-order the special edition Gears Of War bundle, which also comes with a 2TB Xbox One S.
12/08/2016: Microsoft has announced that it has acquired gaming form Beam in a bid to compete against rival streaming services Twitch and YouTube.
What makes Beam different from other services is that it allows viewers to influence and interact with the video game being streamed.
“With Beam you don’t just watch your favourite streamer play, you play along with them. You can give them new challenges and make real-time choices that affect their gameplay, from tool selection to quests to movement; all through simple visual controls,” said Chad Gibson, Partner Group program manager at Xbox Live in a blog post.
He added that the firm was “excited about this convergence between playing and watching, and want to provide gamers with the freedom and choice to have great multiplayer experiences across all of Beam’s platforms.”
"This acquisition will help gamers enjoy the games they want, with the people they want, and on the devices they want."
02/08/2016: The Xbox One S, Microsoft's mid-generation upgrade to its flagship console, has sold out mere hours after going on sale.
Officially announced at E3 following substantial leaks, the new console is purportedly 40 per cent smaller than the original Xbox One and includes support for 4K video playback.
Microsoft is selling the console for £349.99 (including VAT), but the company's store page (as well as that of retail partner Game) lists the 2TB Xbox One S as 'out of stock'.
Microsoft has confirmed that the console is currently sold out, which would appear to disprove the negative predictions of those who were sceptical about the company's new console.
The Xbox One S was announced alongside 'Project Scorpio', a much more powerful Xbox capable of native support for 4K resolutions and 60FPS output, which is due out in 2017.
Many were concerned, however, that announcing them both at the same time would cause the majority of consumers to simply wait for the release of the more advanced Scorpio next year.
These fears would seem to be unfounded, and demand for the Xbox One S seems to be high enough to place the company's supply chain under some pressure. The company has not responded to questions regarding when new stock will be made available.
28/07/2016: Xbox Live Gold members will be able to play Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege for free this weekend. The free gaming starts at 9am PT Thursday, July 28 until 11:59pm PT Sunday, July 31, during which time Gold members will be allowed to download and play the first-person tactical shooter.
“The game will also be on sale all week, so if you decide to purchase the game, you will be able to start again right where you left off,” said Xbox Wire's Will Tuttle in a blog post.
Users can download Rainbow Six Siege by clicking on the Gold Member area on the home dashboard or downloading directly from the Xbox store.
25/07/2016: Xbox Live users will now be required to log into the service at least once every five years or else they will lose the Gamertag, according to Microsoft.
In an amended services agreement, the firm is putting into effect in mid-September, gamers will have to log in otherwise Microsoft will purge their account. The rule appears to be retroactive, so users that haven’t logged in since 2011 may lose their accounts with Gamertags becoming available for others to use.
However, the account is not totally deleted and content purchased via the account will still remain, only the Gamertag go.
"We've also added that if your account is compromised, we may be required to disable access to certain content," Microsoft in an update.
The update, which also covers Microsoft user accounts, also added a ban on posting terrorist content.
21/07/2016: The first Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps have started appearing on Xbox One, giving an idea of how the feature will look when it hits the console.
Users who have signed up to the Xbox preview program are able to download Netflix and MSN Weather, with an updated version of Groove Music listed on the store but unavailable for installation.
Universal Apps are designed to give a seamless, identical user experience across any device, so the interface looks largely identical, except for the increased size.
There will sometimes need to be slight tweaks to adapt to controller-based input rather than mouse and keyboard, but these are likely to be minimal, and will be on an app-by-app basis.
Universal Apps are still very few in number but are expected to feature heavily in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, due to roll out to Xbox One users over the next fortnight.
20/07/2016: Microsoft reported a decrease in its gaming revenues. It blamed lower Xbox hardware revenue, offset in part by higher revenue from Xbox Live.
The firm said that Xbox hardware revenue decreased 33 per cent, mainly due to a decline in consoles sold and lower prices of consoles sold. Xbox Live revenue increased four per cent, driven by higher volume of transactions and revenue per transaction.
But its Xbox Live monthly active users grew 33 per cent year-over-year to 49 million.
18/07/2016: The Microsoft Xbox One S is set to launch on August 2nd in 'select regions,' although it's not yet known whether that includes the UK.
The Xbox One S is a slimmer version of the Xbox One and it'll come in three different capacities - 2TB, which will be the first to launch, then the smaller 1TB and 500GB versions, the availability of which hasn't been announced quite yet.
The Xbox One S can be pre-ordered from Amazon or Microsoft direct. It'll also be available from a number of other electrical retailers as you'd expect from a next-generation console.
In addition to being smaller and lighter than the original Xbox One, the One S adds a whole host of new features into the mix, such as an IR blaster and new controller, which connects via Bluetooth to the console. It will also support 4K and HDR video, providing your TV supports such resolutions too.
August 2nd is set to be a big day for Microsoft, with the launch of Windows 10 Anniversary Edition and its regular-sized Xbox One update.
The 2TB Xbox One S is expected to cost $399 (around £300 at the current exchange rate).
12/07/2016: Microsoft has dropped the price of its Xbox One, and other Microsoft hardware, for today only.
UK and US customers can get savings on a range of the company’s products directly from the Microsoft Store.
There are discounts on the Xbox One console, Surface tablets, and Lumia series handsets, as well as freebies on selected items.
Some of the deals listed will continue after today’s one-day sale.
Customers can pick up an Xbox One bundle, with 1TB of storage and Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, for £219.99, save £80 off of the £299.99 RRP.
Other deals include saving £50 on the Xbox One Gears of War: Ultimate Edition bundle and up to £25 off Microsoft-published Xbox One games, such as Halo 5 and Rare Replay. Selected Xbox One accessories have also been reduced.
Saving can also be made on Microsoft’s Surface 3 tablet and Lumia 950 XL.
05/07/2016: Xbox Live will soon be adding avatars for wheelchair users, according to top execs.
The company reinstated the Avatar Store - a popular feature that allowed players to customise their digital representation with clothes and accessories – as part of Xbox Live’s February update.
After game developer Seamus Blackley suggested on Twitter that avatars for disabled gamers might be easy to implement, Xbox chief Phil Spencer confirmed that the feature was “not far off”.
Further details were revealed by Xbox’s director of program management, Mike Ybarra, who tweeted out a “sneak peek” of two wheelchair avatars.
The wheelchairs appear to be customisable, with coloured wheel spokes and flags attached to the back. They also appear to have unique emotes and animations, such as one avatar popping a wheelie.
04/07/2016: Microsoft is finally bringing custom soundtracks to Xbox One next month in its summer update, adding the frequently requested feature almost three years after the console's launch.
Support for custom soundtracks, or background music, chosen by the user to play during games or other operations, will be included as part of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, Microsoft said.
Little is known about how the custom soundtrack support will work, but if it's anything like on the PS4, PS3 and Xbox 360, then music playback will be restricted in some games.
As well as custom soundtracks, Cortana will also be coming to Xbox One in Microsoft’s summer update, giving users the ability to control their console using their voice.
13/06/2016, 19:24 BST: Microsoft E3 2016 press conference report
Microsoft has confirmed it will release two new Xbox consoles in its effort to take on gaming rivals and remain relevant in the changing entertainment market.
The much-rumoured Project Scorpio is capable of native-4K resolutions and VR-ready, has been set for a holiday 2017 release.
“Project Scorpio is our vision for delivering the future of gaming beyond generations,” Phil Spencer, head of Xbox, said on stage, during the company’s E3 press conference in Los Angeles on Monday.
According to Microsoft, the console will boast eight CPUs, with six teraflops of GPU power, and achieve bandwidths larger than any console before it.
Xbox One S coming in August
The second console, which was also rumoured, is called Xbox One S, and will launch this August for $299. It is 40 per cent smaller than the original Xbox One and sports a matt white finish.
As part of its slim-down, the console now has a built-in power supply – scrapping the bulky power brick its predecessor had.
Under the hood, the console will also support 4K Ultra HD video – including 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray – and HDR capabilities for both video playback and gaming.
The console now has a USB port at the front of the system for quick access, as well as the controller pairing button, and a new built-in IR panel.
One of the features that have been removed is the Kinect sensor port. Those that want to hook up a Kinect for voice controls will need a separate USB adaptor. Microsoft said it will offer a programme to provider the adaptors for free to existing Xbox One owners who decide to upgrade.
The Xbox One S will launch in selected regions, including the UK, Europe and the US, in early August as a special, limited edition with a 2TB hard drive for £349 ($399).
Two standard versions will be made available soon after: a 500GB edition for £249 ($299), and 1TB for £299 ($349).
With the Xbox One family now features three separate versions, Microsoft has been quick to claim fears off inoperability between games and consoles.
The company said all Xbox one games and accessories will play across on all three consoles.
Xbox and Windows 10 unified through the cloud
Microsoft also had a number of significant cloud gaming announcements during its E3 press conference.
Its new Xbox Play Anywhere programme lets players cross-buy, cross-play, and cross-save their Xbox and Windows 10 games.
The cloud-powered service will be available for all Microsoft Studios titles coming to the system in future.
In tandem with this announcement, many of Microsoft’s previously announced first-party Xbox One exclusives will now also come to Windows 10. Those include Gears of War 4, Halo Wars 2, Sea of Thieves and Scalebound, and the newly-revealed Forza Horizon 3.
Gears of War 4 is now coming to Xbox One and Windows 10
New Xbox Live features
Along with this cross-play initiative, Microsoft also announced new community features for Xbox Live.
Clubs and groups will offer players new ways to connect with each other, and help them find friends to play a particular title with. And a dedicated online tournament platform, called Arena on Xbox Live, will serve as a proving ground for players looking to break into Xbox’s competitive gaming scene.
As previously announced, Cortana, the virtual assistant found on Windows 10 will also be coming to Xbox Live, initially in the US and the UK.
While other countries will have to wait, Microsoft said it does intend to make language region settings independent, meaning users can now play games in a language other than their chosen primary without adjusting their location in the system settings.
13/06/2016, 10:00 BST: Xbox One S leaks ahead of Microsoft E3 briefing
Rumours of a slimmer Xbox One look to have been confirmed by a leaked images of the hardware, ahead of Microsoft’s E3 press conference.
Images of the console surfaced on gaming forum NeoGAF, and appear to have come from a Xbox webpage.
Image: Xbox One S (NeoGAF/KawabataSan)
The new console, known as Xbox One S, is 40 per cent smaller than original hulk. It reportedly measures 33.3 x 27.4 x 7.9cm, and weights 3kg, making it a fair shade lighter, too.
Previous rumours had suggested that the console would be more of a cut-price version of the existing Xbox, possibly offering less features than the 2013 original. However, the slimmer box is believed to offer some advancements over the original, which include a 2TB internal hard drive, and be capable of 4K video – a feature also touted by Sony’s forthcoming PS4 Neo.
The exact playback capabilities of the console’s 4K digital video output – say Xbox Video, Netflix or other video services – is still to be confirmed. And it is not they known if it will be able to upscale Xbox One games to 4K, which would be a considered strain on its processor.
A second, more advanced Xbox, codenamed ‘Scorpio’, it is also thought to be in development.
New Xbox apps for iOS and Android
In addition to its new slim console, Microsoft has also updated its Xbox gaming apps for iOS and Android.
Both apps were previously known as ‘Xbox SmartGlass’, but have now been renamed to ‘Xbox’.
A new suite of features have been included as part of the updates – version 3.1606 for iOS, and 3.1606.0610 for Android.
Those include an updated home page with the Activity Feed of a user’s Xbox Live network. Microsoft also said it has made a more “personalised” activity feed, added trending content, the ability to find Facebook friends who are also on Xbox and real name sharing.
Xbox game hubs can now be viewed directly from the app. And it is possible to update the Xbox One navigation and media control of your console, as well as your profile, from the app.
More details should follow later today at the Microsoft E3 conference, which takes place in Los Angeles, today at 17:30 BST. You can watch Microsoft’s press conference at Xbox Wire.
10/06/2016: Microsoft shoots down hopes of Halo 5 for PC
Microsoft has admitted it will not be bringing Halo 5: Guardians to Windows 10, or any PCs for that matter.
Dashing hopes the game would come to computers, a Microsoft spokesperson told PC Gamer: “Our approach is to deliver epic Halo experiences designed for PC gamers and Windows 10, such as Halo Wars 2 and the recently announced Halo 5: Forge. There are no plans to port Halo 5: Guardians to PC.”
The fifth main game in Microsoft’s iconic first-person shooter series was released on Xbox One last October. At the time, Halo franchise director Frank O'Connor said: “there is plenty of chance that Halo 5 could appear on the PC”.
In the months since then, speculation rose that the game many come to the PC, especially in the wake of Microsoft announcing Quantum Break for Windows 10.
Things were looking even more likely with the announcement of real-time strategy game, Halo Wars 2, and the series custom level creator for Windows 10, titled Halo 5: Forge.
Microsoft has been throwing its weight behind Windows 10 as a gaming platform. It has been incentivising players with exclusives for its Windows Store, such as Forza Motorsport 6: Apex, and recently announced that a cross-platform store will soon incorporate both PC and Xbox apps.
Expect Microsoft to share plans for what’s next for Halo at its E3 press conference on Monday, 13 June.
09/06/2016: Xbox announces free multiplayer weekend for non-Gold members
Microsoft has announced that Xbox Live's online multiplayer will be free for non-Gold members this weekend.
Xbox Live's Larry 'Major Nelson' Hryb - director of programming and the public face of the service - made the announcement on his personal website.
"For the first time ever all Xbox Live members without a Gold membership can play online with friends for FREE during Free Multiplayer Weekend on BOTH Xbox One and Xbox 360," he wrote.
Ordinarily, access to Xbox games' online multiplayer functionality is only available to players with a paid Xbox Live Gold membership. This promotion marks the first time that the feature has been made freely available.
The event will run from today to 12 June, and in addition to free multiplayer access, gamers will also be able to play smash hit RC football game Rocket League for free.
The event comes immediately ahead of Microsoft's press conference at 2016's E3 conference, which takes place on 13 June. The company is expected to release an updated version of the Xbox One, as well as announcing deeper integrations between the Xbox platform and PC gaming.
07/06/2016: Microsoft will introduce its virtual assistant, Cortana, to Xbox Live this summer, and plans to begin unifying its console with its Windows 10 platform.
Aligning its console with its current PC operating system will open up greater cross-platform gaming potential, and give the company new clout when addressing the development community.
On Xbox One, Microsoft is calling Cortana a “personal gaming assistant”. As on the desktop and smartphone versions, the virtual assistant is able to learn players’ likes and entertainment patterns. Microsoft said Cortana can be used to find news titles, see what Xbox Live friends are up to, start a party, as well as navigate to desired apps on the Xbox dashboard.
Information requested from Cortana will be displayed on a panel at the side of the screen. Cortana will work with both headsets and Kinect.
A preview of Cortana for Xbox One is coming first to the US, UK, France, Italy, Germany and Spain, with other countries to follow there after.
More significant, however, will be Microsoft’s plan to converge its console with Windows 10, and ultimately its cross-platform apps initiative, Universal Windows Apps (UWP).
As part of the company’s new plan, Microsoft is introducing a digital store that will serve both Xbox and Windows 10 PCs. PC games will also be given their own hubs on Xbox One, and players will be able to see their PC achievements, and those of their friends, on console.
At a March press event, Xbox head Phil Spencer said bringing its two platforms closer together was central to the company’s strategy.
UWPs will not be supported as yet, but a Microsoft spokesperson told the Guardian that “the groundwork is now there”.
In additional to these changes, Xbox One is also receiving updates to its Twitter and Facebook apps. Its video steaming and game DVR features have been overhaul to allow players to manage content more easily and record at 60 frames per second (fps).
You can read more about Xbox Live summer update here, and expect to hear more about Xbox’ plans at E3 next week.
06/06/2016: Microsoft has added a fresh set of titles to the Games with Gold selection on Xbox One and Xbox 360 for June.
Each month, Xbox Live Gold members are able to download four new free games – two on Xbox One and two on Xbox 360. These games are typically available for a period of two weeks.
The May collection, which included Defense Grid 2 and Peggle, can no longer be downloaded. An exception to this is Costume Quest 2, which will remain available until 15 June.
Instead, Xbox One Gold members can now download Goat Simulator for free, while Xbox 360 fans will have the opportunity to get Super Meat Boy.
Goat Simulator is available for download until 30 June on Xbox One, and The Crew will be available from 16 June until 15 July.
On Xbox 360, Super Meat Boy is available until 15 June, and XCOM: Enemy Unknown, is available until 30 June.
02/06/2016: Microsoft is working on two new Xbox consoles, one of which will be four times as powerful as its current system and support 4K video, according to new reports.
Rumours have been circulating about a slimmer Xbox One following comments by Xbox head Phil Spencer in March. Now news sites Kotaku and Polygon claim Microsoft is likely to reveal details on it console at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) this month.
The slim Xbox One will reportedly be 40 per cent smaller than the current model, and support 4K for video content only.
This slimmer, lighter Xbox will likely be announce at Microsoft’s E3 press conference, or hours before. It could launch as early as August, Polygon claims. A final price is has not been suggested, but considering Microsoft cut the price of Xbox One this week, in the UK and US, to £279.99 ($299), that’s good indicator of where the slim Xbox One could start at.
As for the second console, codenamed ‘Scorpio’, reports suggest it won’t see a release until late 2017. Specifications has not been unearthed, but Microsoft is apparently targeting six teraflops for Scorpio. This would make its raw speed approximately four times as fast as its predecessor, and a third faster than the Neo’s rumoured 4.14 teraflops.
Microsoft has reportedly accelerated the timeline for its Xbox One revision in response to leaks about Sony’s plans to release an upgraded PS4 – known as ‘Neo’. Both of these consoles represent a shift in business for the console makers as they shift towards an iterative upgrade cycle, which is closer to that of traditional PCs or current smartphones.
For more on Xbox Scorpio, take a look at our sister site, Alphr.
And though new machines will undoubtedly give some reason to hold off purchasing, for those that want to take advange of Microsoft’s new price cut, Alphr has a guide to the best Xbox One bargains.
16/05/2016: Microsoft adds backward compatibility for multi-disc 360 games
Microsoft has added backward compatibility support for multi-disc Xbox 360 games on Xbox One.
Xbox community manager, Larry Hryb, better known by the pseudonym Major Nelson, made the following comment on Reddit: “I can confirm that the BC (backward compatability) team has done work to support multi disc scenarios. Be sure to thank the BC engineers.”
That was followed by an official statement from Microsoft explaining that Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Directors’ Cut was the first multi-disc 360 game to be added to the backward compatibility programme. Microsoft said it is planning to add more multi-disc games to its library in future.
Support for multi-disc games means popular 360 titles, such as Final Fantasy XIII, Grand Theft Auto IV and the Mass Effect trilogy, could be possible top play in future.
Multi-discs games became something of a regular sight on Xbox 360 versions of multi-format games in the last console generation. The 360’s DVD format meant there was less storage space available for developers, compared to the Blu-ray-based PS3 discs.
The total number of 360 games that can be played on Xbox One currently stands at 182.
05/05/2016: An update to the Xbox One's user interface is in the works and will shortly be arriving, according to programme director Mike Ybarra.
The Xbox dashboard has long been criticised for the slightly clunky way it lists apps and games in a long, scrolling list.
In response to one Xbox user's frustrations with the system, Ybarra cryptically tweeted "soon", spurring speculation that a major refit could be on the way.
The rest of the Xbox UI received a major overhaul earlier last year, a change that was well received by console owners.
26/04/2016: The multiplayer beta for Gears of War 4, successor to Microsoft's popular third-person shooter franchise, is now available to all Xbox Live gold members.
The beta, which includes classic Team Deathmatch and the new 'Dodgeball' mode, was originally opened on 18 April, but is now open to all paid Xbox Live members. The beta will run until 1 May and can be found through the Xbox dashboard.
While any progress and rankings achieved in the beta will be reset when the game officially launches (as is common with pre-release betas), players who reach Level 20 will be awarded a special set of goodies, including a special emblem and character model, and weapon skins for some of the default guns.
The full game will launch October, and has been described by critics as "a real game, for real men, about a real war, with real guns".
The title is currently an Xbox One exclusive, but there have also been hints that the game will follow a similar path to the recently released Quantum Break, which was originally announced as an exclusive before launching simultaneously on Xbox One and Windows 10.
21/04/2016: Microsoft has laid its Xbox 360 games console to rest after a little over 10 years in production.
More than 78 billion hours have been spent gaming on console, Xbox boss Phil Spencer said in a blog post about Microsoft’s decision to end production of the console.
“I am incredibly proud of all of the work and dedication that went into development of the Xbox 360 hardware, services and games portfolio over the last decade. And I’m grateful to the fans for their continued passion and support,” wrote Spencer.
“While we’ve had an amazing run, the realities of manufacturing a product over a decade old are starting to creep up on us. Which is why we have made the decision to stop manufacturing new Xbox 360 consoles. We will continue to sell existing inventory of Xbox 360 consoles, with availability varying by country.”
The Xbox 360 E, the final version of the console released in 2013
The 360 may have come to the end of its life, but its games will still be playable on Microsoft’s latest console, Xbox One. The manufacturer announced software-based backwards compatibility for Xbox One last year and has steadily been adding titles to the console’s digital library.
Xbox 360 launched in 2005, succeeding the original Xbox, and was Microsoft’s big play to win market share at the start of the previous generation’s console race. At that time, Sony had dominated with its PlayStation 2 home console and had an enviable hold on the US, European and Japanese markets.
The 360 was Microsoft’s ambitious play to win new markets, and beat Sony’s PlayStation 3 to the punch. The console’s original convex casing – or its iconic “inhale” – was specifically designed to make it appeal to the European and Japanese markets. The ability to personalise the console with interchangeable faceplates was also a thing for a time.
The biggest achievement of Microsoft’s second console was how it ushered in many of the cloud-powered network gaming features that players take for granted nowadays. User profiles, friends lists, achievement systems, party play and chat options and a marketplace for digital games were all conceiving for the Xbox Live service, which has evolved far beyond its original concept.
Spencer added: “The soul of Xbox 360 was about putting gamers at the centre of every decision we make – and we apply this principle across our business to this day.”
13/04/2016: Microsoft may be preparing to release a slimmer version of the Xbox One.
According to a posting on the Neogaf forum, a couple of filings made to the FCC by Microsoft point to the possibility that it may be readying a thinner games console.
Forum poster Ekim, said that Microsoft is testing a wireless chip for FCC approval and this uses the same manual as the Xbox One. They concluded that, from this piece of information, Microsoft was working on a redesign of the console.
However, the theory may well come to naught as Microsoft recently denied is was working on a new console.
11/04/2016: TheXbox One is not having the success the PS4 appears to be enjoying. According to Gamerant, the Sony rival is dominating sales and outpacing the XBox One.
According to claims by Wargaming creative director TJ Wagner, here are 36 million active PlayStation 4 units on the market, compared with 19 million active Xbox One units. What is telling is that Microsoft doesn't report Xbox One sales figures, meaning sales are based on analyst reports.
The comments came during a discussion at the Game Developers Conference, Wagner added that by 2019, the PS4 will have 69 million active units on the market, compared with Wagner's prediction of 39 million active Xbox One units.
Of course, if Wagner is wrong, no doubt Microsoft will publish its own figures to contradict this information. Cloud Pro will update this blog should such figures be published.
23/03/2016: Xbox boss Phil Spencer has publicly apologised for a developer party that featured female go-go dancers in what have been described as schoolgirl outfits.
The evening party took place in San Francisco during the week of the Game Developers Conference (GDC) and on the same day as Microsoft-sponsored ‘women in games’ lunch.
The dancers were dressed in miniskirts and crop tops.
Kamina Vincent, an editor at Australian game studio Tin Man Games, said she felt unwelcome at the event, and shared her annoyance on Twitter.
Vincent told the Huffington Post one of the dancers had said she had been hired to “speak with attendees and encourage them to the dance floor”.
Other female developers – such as Brianna Wu – also voiced their disappointment at Microsoft’s use of “scantily clad dancing girls”.
Head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, responded to the criticism in an email to staff that was post publically on Xbox’s news site.
“It has come to my attention that at Xbox-hosted events at GDC this past week, we represented Xbox and Microsoft in a way that was absolutely not consistent or aligned to our values,” he wrote.
“This matter is being handled internally, but let me be very clear - how we represent ourselves as individuals, who we hire and partner with and how we engage with others is a direct reflection of our brand and what we stand for.
“When we do the opposite, and create an environment that alienates or offends any group, we justly deserve the criticism.”
Women continue to be underrepresented in the game development industry. Only 12 per cent of Britain’s game development workforce is female, according to industry body TIGA. Harassment is also a major issue the industry is yet to tackle, with Gamergate in particular casting a cloud of negativity over the industry.
However, indstury bodies, such as TIGA and UKIE are attempting to redress the imbalance. At GDC 2014, Aya Kyogoku, a project leader at Nintendo, said diversity and collaboration were core to the success of the company's games.
17/03/2016: The Xbox Store and Windows Store are going to be rolled into one, Microsoft has announced.
Xbox's head of advanced technology, Jason Ronald, revealed the news to attendees at this week's Game Developers Conference 2016, along with further plans for unifying its portfolio.
This includes the news that, starting this summer, Xbox One will be compatible with Universal Windows Apps (UWAs), building on a previous announcement that the company will soon be enabling cross-play between games on Windows and Xbox One, allowing gamers to switch between the two platforms.
Microsoft has made it clear that it plans to move all its products to its Universal Windows Platform, with Windows 10 apps running seamlessly on desktop, mobile and Xbox One.
The core premise is that it would cut down on the time and effort that multi-platform developers have to invest in creating applications, as well as providing a boost to Windows' historically threadbare library of third-party apps.
This idea seems to have met with little objection from business software developers, but has proved controversial with many games developers.
Some industry figures - including Epic's Tim Sweeney - have accused Microsoft of trying to move the traditionally open PC gaming industry into a space it can control by strong-arming studios into developing their games as UWAs.
15/03/2016: Xbox Live will now support cross-play between Xbox One and PS4, Microsoft has announced.
"Players on Xbox One and Windows 10 using Xbox Live will be able to play with players on different online multiplayer networks -- including other console and PC networks", he wrote.
"It's up to game developers to support this feature," explained Charla, meaning that it will not be enabled for all games by default.
The first game to directly integrate the new capabilities will be smash-hit Rocket League. Players on Xbox One and Windows 10 will be able to play together, with "an open invitation for other networks to participate as well.
The company had previously announced that it would be enabling crossplay between Xbox One and PC games using its Windows gaming platform.
However, this marks the first time that it has authorised crossplay between its own systems and networks it does not directly control.
While Microsoft has not said so outright, the implication is that Xbox and PS4 players will now be able to game together, but it also means that Xbox gamers could now be playing with Steam users -- something that was previously not an option.
Also included in the announcement was the news that MonoGame -- an open source solution for porting Microsoft's XNA programming framework to the Xbox One -- would be natively supported by the console, allowing developers to bring their games to Xbox One more easily.
11/03/2016: Sony is hoping to steal developers from the recently axed Lionhead Studios, the company has revealed.
Following Microsoft's announcement that it would be closing veteran British development house Lionhead Studios, creators of the Fable franchise, rival Sony will be hosting a recruitment event in the studio's hometown of Guildford.
The event, hosted on Monday, will feature representatives from all of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe's studios, who will be looking to sign up some of Lionhead's developers.
It's unlikely that Sony will pick up the entire studio as a single entity - instead, any staff that wish to join the company are probably going to be parceled off to various different places separately.
Lionhead's now-cancelled game, Fable Legends, will not be resurrected even if its creators move to Sony, however, as Microsoft retains the rights to the property. The game's beta version will be permanently switched off on 13 April.
10/03/2016: Microsoft may be forced to offer compensation to gamers affected by Xbox Live's repeated outages.
The online service has been plagued by downtime over the past month or so, experiencing, at least, ten major blackouts since Valentines Day.
Gamers have been vocal about their dissatisfaction on social media sites like Reddit and Twitter, with even rapper Snoop Dogg calling for Microsoft to improve its service.
Many fans have called for the company to offer some form of compensation to make up for the problems, and Microsoft is apparently considering it as an option.
Xbox Live's director of programming Larry Hryb - also known as Major Nelson - took to Reddit to confirm that the company was aware of fans' wishes.
"I've taken some of the more thoughtful comments and shared them with a few folks on the Xbox team to make them aware of this request," he said.
"That's about all I've got right now - but when I am back in the office I am going to stop by and chat 1:1 with some folks about this as well."
Microsoft has yet to confirm whether or not it plans to offer any compensation, but if it does, it will likely take the form of Xbox Live store credit or temporary free subscription to the service.
07/03/2016: Microsoft's Xbox Live service is experiencing the latest in a month-long string of outages that has left customers angry and frustrated.
The latest batch of problems - which have been cropping up since Valentine's Day - appear to mostly affect sign-in and online gaming.
Reported incidents have died down in the last few hours, but Down Detector still warns of chances of patchy service across the UK, Europe and parts of the US.
The issue is not restricted to Xbox One, however. Games purchased via the Windows App Store are also affected.
This includes titles such as the recently launched Gears of War Ultimate Edition, which requires users to sign into an Xbox Live account in order to access the single-player campaign.
With Microsoft pushing to cement its Xbox and Windows platforms as a cohesive gaming ecosystem, Xbox Live's notoriously unreliable service faces yet more potential network load.
Xbox's userbase has been getting increasingly impatient with Microsoft's outages, and PC gamers are even more demanding when it comes to the reliability of online gaming.
02/03/2016: Xbox One gamers will soon be able to buy Xbox 360 games via Xbox Live’s digital storefront.
Previously, Xbox users had to go through a reasonably convoluted process in order to access their backwards-compatible games. Now, however, they will be able to purchase them direct from Xbox Live and play them instantly.
Unveiled as part of the company’s upcoming software patch, the new feature will be rolling out to users at some point over the next few weeks, alongside improvements to the Party Chat system and Game DVR.
This comes after last year’s announcement of backwards-compatibility for certain 360 titles, and the news earlier this week that the company would be combining both its Windows and Xbox gaming platforms.
Backwards compatibility looks to be a cornerstone of Microsoft’s strategy for uniting Xbox and Windows, so appears to be prioritising this area over others.
01/03/2016: Microsoft is planning to fully integrate its Xbox One and Windows gaming platforms.
Speaking at a press event in San Francisco last week, the company's head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, announced that Microsoft's strategy going forward would be to focus on "building out a complete gaming ecosystem for Universal Windows Applications".
As part of the company's focus on a 'Universal Windows Platform', this would entail games being built as Universal Windows Apps (UWAs), designed to run on both Xbox and PC.
The gaming division at Microsoft is also working on a slew of cross-compatibility features, including cross-purchasing, meaning users that buy an Xbox One copy of a game will also get the PC version for free.
This follows Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's confirmation last week that Universal Windows Apps would be coming to the Xbox One. It also confirms Cloud Pro's prediction from earlier this year that Microsoft was about to massively overhaul its Windows gaming ecosystem.
Creating games as UWAs from the ground-up could deepen Xbox's backwards compatibility in the future as different hardware generations would still be using the same software platform.
"We can effectively feel a little bit more like what we see on PC, where I can still go back and run my old Quake and Doom games," Spencer said, "but then I can also see the best 4K games coming out."
"Hardware innovation continues and software takes advantage. I don't have to jump a generation and lose everything I played before."
He also hinted during his speech that this increased backwards compatibility could see the Xbox One eschewing the traditional console release cycle, opting instead for more regular iterative updates.
This may see Microsoft releasing a new Xbox every year or so, rather than every decade. The company can now "come out with new hardware capability during a generation and allow the same games to run backwards and forward compatible because we have UWAs running on top of UWP".
26/02/2016: Xbox One will soon be getting Windows 10's universal apps, Microsoft has confirmed.
Speaking at the dotNet conference in Madrid, CEO Satya Nadella told the assembled developers that support was on the way, according to Spanish site Microsoft Insider.
Although the company is perhaps best known for its Office productivity software, Microsoft is unlikely to lead with apps like Word and Excel.
Instead, it is much more likely to emphasise sharing and entertainment apps. Social networks like Twitter, Twitch and Facebook are likely to play a big role, as are Netflix and other video streaming services.
Universal Windows app support is expected to come with the console's next major update, which will roll out at some point over Summer.
25/02/2016: The New World Hackers group has claimed responsibility for global outages affecting Xbox Live.
Microsoft's gaming service has experienced intermittent problems for around a week, the latest of which has resulted in 12 hours of downtime for its core services.
New World Hackers has now taken the credit for these problems, stating that they are part of a DDoS attack on the service, and claiming that they could "honestly knock Xbox off the face of the Earth".
The group's alleged goal is to expose a lack of security surrounding Xbox's servers and to force Microsoft's hand in improving their protection.
"We attacked Xbox to protest", someone claiming to be a member of the group told Newsweek, adding "[the attack] didn't even take as long as I thought".
"Major companies like this have massive servers but no real protection", they said. "We want Xbox to update the protection they have, which isn't much."
The group is the same one that was reportedly behind the BBC website's outage on New Year's Day and has also been linked to attacks on the website of presidential hopeful Donald Trump.
Any time a major gaming service goes down, there is no shortage of groups claiming responsibility, however, and security expert Graham Cluley advised that such claims must be taken with a pinch of salt.
"Even if Xbox Live is down because of a DDoS attack then there is also the risk that anyone can claim responsibility with varying levels of reliability," he said.
"Whether Xbox Live's current problems are due to a DDoS attack or not is hard for outsiders to confirm," he said. "We really need Microsoft to share some details of what's going on."
Noting that such attacks are sadly inevitable, he also added: "The typical person that engages in a DDoS attack against a gaming service eventually grows up and finds better things to do with their time.
"If it is a DDoS attack, Microsoft would do well to explore what it can do to mitigate against future attacks and make them less likely to succeed."
18/02/2016: Xbox Live has now been down for three consecutive days, Microsoft has confirmed.
The online gaming service has been experiencing continuing problems, focusing largely on 'core services' such as sign-in, multiplayer matchmaking and cloud storage.
Xbox Live's official support staff has tweeted that "earlier issues... are now resolved". However, it also issued similar tweets on 15 and 16 February, only for fresh problems to crop up.
The company has not commented on the source of the issues, but Cloud Pro has asked it what the root cause is.
15/02/2016: Xbox Live was hit with another outage over Valentines day, with gamers reporting problems logging in and accessing online functionality.
The system reportedly started experiencing problems at around 9PM GMT, with uptime monitoring site DownDetector registering a surge of more than 2,500 user complaints around 11PM.
In response to Xbox owners' tweets, Xbox's support staff confirmed that they were "aware of the problem", and were "working to resolve the issue".
The fault was evidently addressed, and normal service was resumed around 1AM. Xbox Live's status monitoring page now shows green lights across the board.
The company has not explained what caused the outage. Often, a major occurrence like the launch of a popular new title or an in-game event leads to a surge in server load.
It's possible that the service buckled under the weight of single gamers trying to escape from Valentines day - or with couples playing together.
Whatever the cause, this marks the latest in a persistent string of outages that is drawing increasing criticism from players, who have called on Microsoft to improve its infrastructure in order to safeguard against this type of disruption.
12/02/2016: Xbox Live hosted over one billion hours of online gaming in January.
This is according to a Microsoft statement, in response to the monthly gaming sales charts from market research group NDP.
"Looking ahead to this spring, fans can enjoy more great games with the upcoming releases of 'Quantum Break,' 'Rocket League' and 'Tom Clancy's The Division'," said corporate vice president of Xbox marketing Mike Nichols.
"We can't thank our fans enough for their continued support and passion for Xbox, and we're looking forward to bringing more of the games and experiences our fans want most in 2016."
The data showed that while Microsoft's console continued to trail behind rival Sony in terms of both hardware and software sales, gamers still spend huge amounts of time on Xbox Live.
This implies that Xbox owners are buying fewer games but playing them for far longer, and building thriving communities around online multiplayer.
This would appear to be borne out by the rabid followings games like Destiny, Call of Duty and GTA Online have amassed.
While all of these titles are available on multiple platforms, Xbox has built up something of a reputation for being the platform with the biggest emphasis on multiplayer, which seems to have been proven accurate.
05/02/2016: Smash-hit car football game Rocket League could arrive on Xbox One in the next few weeks.
Developer Psyonix announced that the game, currently available on PS4 and PC, would be coming to the console back in 2015, but has yet to specify a firm launch date.
However, the company gave fans a clue on Twitter this week, in response to queries about a potential release date.
The game is essentially football as played by teams of turbo-charged RC cars with rocket boosts. Despite being an independent title, Rocket League has received substantial critical acclaim and has already become a staple of eSports events.
Psyonix has been pursuing a robust schedule of updates and has stated that the Xbox One version will launch with access to all the content from other platforms, as well as unique extra content based on games like Halo and Gears of War.
01/02/2016: Microsoft has revealed a record-breaking 48 million Xbox Live subscribers, representing year-on-year growth of 30 per cent.
The number has risen by almost 10 million in the last quarter alone, Redmond's latest financial results for the three months ending December 2015 demonstrate.
This increase is largely thanks to the traditional spike in sign-ups that accompany the holiday season, with a large number of Xbox consoles given as gifts.
While Xbox Live is doing good trade on its namesake consoles, Microsoft has shown further signs of wanting to deepen its integrations with Windows gaming.
The Xbox Beta app for Windows, which allows users to preview new features, has been updated with a host of changes. These bring the Xbox experience on Windows much closer to that of the Xbox One.
The main changes concern how users interact with friends. You can now preview who’s in a party before joining it, see who’s got the highest Gamerscore, and get improved friend suggestions.
The much-beloved Avatar system also makes a return. First appearing on the Xbox 360, they allow players to customise a little animated figure with clothes, accessories and haircuts to represent themselves.
The feature was discontinued after the Xbox One launched, but will be returning to both console and PC apps soon.
26/01/2016: Microsoft is planning a major overhaul of its Xbox Live for Windows system, rumours suggest.
The company is hosting multiple talks and panels at GDC 2016 centered around gaming on Windows, and has promised “a host of new platform innovations for games in every genre”.
This is part of Microsoft’s plan to create a seamless ecosystem across all its devices, merging the Xbox and PC gaming experiences.
Gaming was a large focus for the company during the promotion of Windows 10, with the new Xbox app and in-home streaming from Xbox One to Windows touted as major features.
The company’s ultimate goal is to build the Xbox Live userbases on both Windows and Xbox One to similar levels and to have users interacting, sharing clips and playing games across all platforms.
However, while the Xbox One has a thriving community around it, Xbox Live for Windows is much less popular, possibly due to its lack of content, with developers opting to release games on Steam, Valve's digital distribution service, instead.
In order to draw more developers into the fold, the company is planning multiple talks designed to make developing for the Windows Universal Platform seem more appealing.
These include a session on “success and opportunities with gaming on Windows”, as well as two separate talks on the Windows Universal Store and developing for WUP.
There are also talks on “the future of Xbox game development for Windows” and “Xbox Live for Windows”, all of which indicates that Microsoft is planning to seriously overhaul virtually every aspect of its Windows gaming ecosystem.
18/01/2016: Electronic Arts has made all of the games available on its EA Access service free for Xbox Live Gold members with Xbox One.
Games in EA’s digital vault normally cost players the £4 monthly fee for the EA Access subscription service.
However, Gold members will be able to play all 14 of the games currently in EA’s vault for free between 19 and 24 January.
Some of the titles currently available through EA Access include FIFA 15, Battlefield 4, Battlefield Hardline, Dragon Age Inquisition, Titanfall, Need for Speed Rivals, Madden 25 and Peggle 2. A full list of the titles can be found on EA’s news page.
EA Access has had a shaky life so far. Sony passed on the service in 2014, saying it didn’t offer customers “good value”. Instead, EA offered the service to Microsoft for its Xbox Live service, which already requires that users pay to access online gaming and marketplace services.
EA has not revealed the service’s subscriber numbers since 2014, which could be a sign that it is in need of a boost.
14/01/2016: Xbox Live’s latest outage has drawn the ire of iconic rapper Snoop Dogg, who told the company to “get that sh*t fixed”.
The service went offline around 7pm GMT last night, leaving many – including Mr Dogg – unable to access the Xbox One’s multiplayer functionality.
The artist formerly known as Snoop Lion posted a video to Instagram to voice his displeasure.
"A message to Xbox One or Microsoft or whoever the f*ck: y'all f*cking server is f*cking whack, man,” he said.
Snoop even threatened to abandon the service altogether, saying: "y'all going to make me switch to PlayStation if y'all don't hurry up and get this sh*t fixed."
Snoop Dogg is an avid gamer and has even appeared in numerous games himself, including True Crime: Streets of LA, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 and Def Jam: Fight for NY.
05/01/2016: Crackdown 3’s cloud-based multiplayer mode has received a confirmed launch window of summer 2016.
The latest title in the open-world sandbox series, Crackdown 3 is something of a poster child for the gaming power of Microsoft’s Azure cloud.
Like GTA Online, Crackdown 3’s multiplayer is set to be completely separate from the single-player campaign, and will be released ahead of the complete game.
It places gamers in a vast, entirely destructible city, and uses Azure cloud computing resources to keep track of the carnage.
It needs Azure’s extra grunt because all the destruction is persistent - meaning anything that gets blown up, stays blown up.
The multiplayer portion of the game is likely to be similar in form to GTA Online, functioning mainly as a vehicle for player-driven storytelling and interactions, with a loose framework of optional goals, activities and missions around it.
21/12/2015: Microsoft has said that its cloud technology will be open to PS4 games, as well as Xbox exclusives.
Xbox chief Phil Spencer has confirmed that Microsoft’ Azure cloud resources will be available to any developer, regardless of which platform they are making games for.
This means that multi-platform games like the mega-popular Call of Duty series could use the company’s servers, without having to restrict their titles to the Xbox One.
Spencer revealed the information on Twitter, during a conversation about Titanfall 2, which is heavily rumoured to be coming out for both Xbox and PlayStation.
As one of the Xbox One’s exclusive flagship titles, the original Titanfall used Microsoft’s Azure network heavily; all of the in-game AI’s computations are handled by Azure’s cloud servers.
Developer Respawn Entertainment claims this dramatically improved performance, as it means the Xbox has more processing power available for graphics rendering.
Crackdown 3 is also set to leverage Azure’s resources, using cloud servers to keep track of the multiplayer mode’s persistent destruction physics.
18/12/2015: A new hacking group has taken responsibility for the recent Xbox Live outage.
Newly-formed collective Phantom Squad is supposedly behind the attack, which knocked the service offline for a short period last night.
The group issued tweets alleging that it was responsible for the disruption, following a warning of Christmas attacks similar to those perpetrated by Lizard Squad.
Normal service has now been resumed, although Phantom Squad is promising more attacks against both Xbox Live and PSN.
The group's involvement is still unconfirmed, however - there's some evidence to indicate that that they are not responsible at all.
10/12/2015: Xbox One owners can now model clothes while shopping online, thanks to the Kinect camera.
The Mall, a new shopping app for the console, lets users see what clothes actually look like in real life.
Using the Xbox One’s Kinect camera and its motion-tracking capability to deliver augmented reality content, users can select a garment, and then have it appear on them in real-time via the app.
Once they’ve decided on an item, customers can then checkout by scanning a QR code with their mobile device, courtesy of payment technology platform PowaTag.
The app was developed by British company Von Bismark, which specialises in TV-based e-commerce solutions.
“The Mall on Xbox One is the first giant step in our vision to create more beautiful, physically engaging e-commerce experience, delivered through the largest piece of visual real estate you own – the living room TV”, said Von Bismark CEO Eoghan O’Sullivan.
“The Xbox One is the perfect device to launch on – it’s incredibly powerful, built for smooth interaction and with the Kinect camera we can bring you as close to physically trying on the clothing as you will ever get when shopping online.”
There are a couple of downsides, however. It can only model the front of items, for example, and is currently limited to certain retailers, such as SoccerPro, Style PB and Grayers.
It’s also only available in the US, although Von Bismark says that it could be launching in the UK as early as February.
09/12/2015: A private key for one of Microsoft’s SSL certificates has been leaked online, forcing the company to push out an update.
It’s unknown how the key, which was used to sign certificates for *.xboxlive.com domains, was released into the wild.
The company said in its announcement that the leaked key “cannot be used to issue other certificates, impersonate other domains, or sign code”, meaning it does not pose an especially large threat.
However, Microsoft has updated its Certificate Trust List nevertheless, as the key “could be used in attempts to perform man-in-the-middle attacks".
The newly updated list is being pushed out to all supported versions of Windows.
08/12/2015: Microsoft has been sending out gift codes to users as part of Xbox Live Rewards’ 5th anniversary.
The program was started in 2010 to encourage more people to use the service, by offering points for certain actions which could then be redeemed for Xbox Live store credit.
As a celebration of the program’s 5th birthday, Microsoft is sending out Xbox Live store gift codes to certain valued players, with reported values of between $15 and $50.
The company will also be marking the occasion with a special day of freebies and giveaways on 15 December.
03/12/2015: Microsoft is looking to start monetising PC gaming, according to one of the company’s executives.
That’s according to marketing executive Yusuf Mehdi, speaking at the Credit Suisse Technology Conference.
While he stated that “this is the year to get an Xbox”, he also noted that the Xbox Live service for Windows PC has “almost the same number” of users as the console version.
Microsoft has been beefing up the integrations between its desktop and console platforms. The Xbox app now comes bundled with Windows 10, and includes cross-device streaming and unified social tools.
However, there is a noticeably lower level of Xbox Live Gold subscribers among the Windows users when compared to those on Xbox. The company, it transpires, is seeking to fix this.
Microsoft is apparently considering “the ability to build a subscription business on the back of that” with Mehdi stating “you can start to see some light for that opportunity”.
This ties into Microsoft’s push towards eschewing console unit sales as a metric of success, in favour of focussing more on Xbox Live usage statistics.
The service had around 39 million active users at the company’s last earnings report, with CEO Satya Nadella stating that half of those log in every day.
13/11/2015: Xbox One has received a major system update, bringing the console in line with Microsoft’s Windows 10 platform.
With the Xbox One now running Windows 10 as its base operating system, the console fits into Microsoft’s vision of a single unified platform, with files and software simultaneously synced across desktop, mobile and Xbox devices.
The most immediately obvious element of the update is the freshly-redesigned Xbox dashboard. The interface has now largely lost its Windows 8-esque tiled layout, and now features scrolling lists divided into tabs like ‘Home’, ‘Community’ and ‘Store’.
The aim is to make the Xbox experience quicker and easier to navigate, Microsoft CMO Mark Nichols said in an interview with Gamespot.
“An updated Guide with quicker access to common things you try to get done is certainly something that we've been thinking that we'd like to add. Making sure that the more social elements are more readily available."
The big news, however, is the fact that select Xbox 360 games will now be playable on Xbox One. 104 titles will be supported at launch, spanning both digital downloads and physical discs.
This is one of the most significant console updates in history, as it marks the first time that direct backwards compatibility has been available for a console since the PS2.
The feature was one of the most highly-requested among fans and has been met with widespread approval from the community.
Microsoft maintains vast server farms in datacentres across the world. They connect online gamers, routing players through their servers to connect to each other.
Xbox Live originally needed a mere 500 servers to support its online gamers, but today the massive global service needs over 300,000 servers. Microsoft’s investment costs for Xbox Live now total more than $1 billion on server farms alone.
The principal benefit of this model is that it allows Microsoft to centrally manage all of the servers. This allows it to both prevent cheating and to ensure that they’re kept in peak condition, thereby maximising player access and enjoyment.
From a player’s perspective, this is primarily measured by the server’s latency and response times, or ‘lag’. Based on the time it takes for a user’s Xbox to send and receive information from Microsoft’s servers, lag is a crucial issue for many gamers.
Lag occurs when excessively long server response times lead to games feeling sluggish, with a noticeable delay between physical input and in-game response. This is especially important for players of fast-paced competitive games like racing sims and first-person shooters, where split-second reactions can be the difference between victory and defeat.
Xbox Live features a tiered pricing structure. Basic members of Xbox Live can join for free, and have access to Microsoft’s digital storefront, game demos, a virtual avatar, and Xbox’s social tools for chatting with friends.
If you want to actually use Xbox Live for multiplayer gaming, however, you’ll have to pony up some cash for a Gold membership. Charged at £5.99 per month, or £39.99 for 12 months, this allows players to access the online multiplayer portions of games like Call of Duty.
Subscriptions can be purchased online here, through an Xbox console, or via physical gift cards in certain retail locations.
Microsoft also sweetens the deal by offering various free and discounted games to Gold members.
Xbox Live has a huge subscriber base, with Microsoft’s latest financial results putting the total number of monthly active users at 39 million (as of November 2015). This far outstrips sales of its Xbox One console and indicates that consumers are still avidly using the service on the decade-old Xbox 360.
The phrase ‘is Xbox Live down’ is Googled over 40,000 times a month on average, and any protracted outage usually sees gamers take to social media to bemoan the loss of service.
The rise of online gaming as a part of mainstream popular culture can arguably be largely attributed to Xbox Live. Titles like Halo 2 and Gears of War were early successes for online gaming while Call of Duty has become such a staple of online multiplayer that it is now played professionally with multi-million dollar prize pools.
Xbox Live has grown in popularity to the point where many major games are released with little to no offline component. Games like Titanfall and Destiny are multiplayer-only, meaning that those without Gold memberships are totally unable to play.
As well as dedicated servers, Microsoft also uses Windows Azure resources to augment its Xbox Live services. Dubbed Xbox Live Compute, the resource is free for developers to use and allows developers to quickly and easily integrate cloud technologies into their games.
The servers are automatically scalable, for example, offering more or less bandwidth as required. This is useful for simply keeping the lights on in older games, whose player-bases may have shrunk to a mere handful of dedicated fans. It also minimises the risk of popular releases forcing the service offline through sheer weight of numbers.
Developers can also shunt certain computational tasks over to the cloud, freeing up CPU capacity for other elements. Forza Motorsport 6 uses the cloud to handle the computations that power its ‘Drivatar’ system, which models your fellow drivers’ AIs on the driving styles of your friends.
As it’s not a gameplay mechanic that’s affected by latency, this can safely be handled by the cloud, while the CPU load it frees up can handle the crucial elements of the game that occur in split-second timeframes. For example, Crackdown 3 uses cloud technology to similar effect, keeping track of a persistent, fully-destructible city in real time.
Sony offers a similar service for its PlayStation consoles, called PlayStation Plus. Much like Microsoft’s, a monthly fee buys subscribers online play, social tools and a monthly selection of free games through the Playstation store.
It can also be compared to PC distribution service Steam. It acts primarily as a platform for the purchasing and organisation of PC games, but also facilitates online play. The main difference is that Steam doesn’t host multiplayer games on its own servers, other than those made by parent company Valve.