Microsoft may not be aggressive enough about Xbox Live for Windows 8.
If you have read my columns before, it should be no secret I am not quite convinced Windows 8 will be a slam dunk for Microsoft. I don’t believe the touch interface will make sense for most computers sold next year. According to Gartner and IDC, 400-million PCs are forecast to be sold next year, with more than half of those expected to be notebooks. I find it hard to believe many users will enjoy using one hand to move Windows tiles around the screen while their other hand holds the display to prevent it from wobbling back and forth.
One particular feature I like about Windows 8 is Microsoft’s decision to bring the Xbox Live interface to Windows. But, I have to admit I am confused about the functionality, so far, and somewhat concerned Microsoft could miss the mark similar to how it did on Windows Phone. Are my expectations too great, or could Microsoft do more?
One Windows 8 coverage issue I find largely missed is how Microsoft fundamentally changed Windows development. If you listen closely to those Windows 8 presentations, you will notice how Microsoft focuses on the user experience first and technology second. To clarify, this means Microsoft is bending technology around the user experience. All previous Windows versions were focused on incorporating new technology and then building the user experience around it. This shift in Windows 8 development is a big deal.
If we consider the touch interface as a given, then the Xbox Live Metro App in Windows 8 is a good example of Microsoft’s goals. What we saw at the Build conference was an app designed just like the "light" Xbox Live interface. Its key design goals were to make the interface user-friendly and deliver plenty of reasons to use the app on a daily basis. Using the app, you can interact with your friends, see what games they’re playing and review your achievements. It's all about "the social", Microsoft said. But I would hope that social is not Microsoft’s primary focus for the Xbox Live app.
I am wondering; do we really want such an app on the PC? If its purpose is integration, then sure we do. It's certainly nice to be able to check on what your Xbox Live friends are up to while on a PC. However, I would argue that while "social" is nice to have, it’s not a critical feature. I have been waiting for a must-have feature of the Metro app, but I’ve yet to see it.
Perhaps because I consider Xbox Live an entertainment interface I just don't see it as a social interface. While the content isn’t in place yet, Microsoft said games, music, movies and TV shows will be coming to this Metro app. That means it’s too early to make any judgments, so I’m not going to complain too much about it.
Xbox is a passionate brand within Microsoft that’s capable of moving mountains. However, I was surprised Microsoft didn’t put any Xbox Live (Metro) content in the spotlight at its Build conference. I would have liked to see how Microsoft imagines certain games to be played on different platforms addressed by Windows 8, which ranges from low-performing tablets to powerful PCs. Sure, a touch game on a tablet may be fun, but how much fun is the same game when played on a touch PC with a vertical screen? You may be able to play a casual tablet game on your PC, but it won't deliver the same experience and it may not be much fun.
In the same way, a complex FPS will be nearly impossible to control on a touch screen. Bridging the gap between multiple types of games, game genres and multiple device types with different types of input will be quite a challenge for Microsoft–a challenge that boils down to one question: Where does Metro and touch make sense? I haven't seen an answer to that yet and have some doubts that this can work out in the way we would expect. Xbox Live could, in fact, be trimmed down to a social tool with rudimentary access to (gaming) content until we figure out what the PC of the future looks like.
I am not part of Microsoft's Windows 8 team, so judging the impact of Xbox Live for Windows 8 in this article would be very premature. I am pretty sure even Microsoft is still figuring out the "experience" that this app needs to deliver to represent the Xbox brand inside Windows. What I know, however, is that we have a good number of gamers in our readership. I'd like to pick your brain. What if you were in charge of this app? What would be the single most important feature you would be focusing on to deliver a certain experience? What experience would that be? Touch? Voice? The good old gamepad?
Is social integration more important than content? What about the cross-platform integration with Windows Phone and the console?
Comment away. I will be running an update to this article with the best contributions from you guys.