The 360’s Dominance… and Failure

Xbox Live

Since its launch in late 2005 the Xbox 360 has sold over 30 million consoles worldwide, surpassing its predecessor’s sales in a shorter period of time on the market. It has some of the best exclusive games on the market in Halo 3, Gears of War, Fable II, Forza 2, and Mass Effect, to name a few. Microsoft has also earned the right to share what were once PlayStation exclusive franchises in Grand Theft Auto, Tekken, and Final Fantasy, with each series having games available on day one on the 360..

The 360 was the first “next-gen” machine on the market and showed consumers how far gaming technology had advanced since the PS2 era before it. Xbox has found a place in pop culture, accross other entertainment industries, with references in songs and films.  In other words, Microsoft has succeeded in what it set out to do, and the Xbox brand is known throughout the world, becoming the main console of choice for enthusiast gamers. But how did it get there? On what strengths did the 360 achieve all its success, and what weaknesses have prevented it from going even further?

Its easy to say that the depth of the 360 library is one reason why it’s doing as well as it is today, and it would be hard to argue otherwise. Aside from the many blockbusters on the console, there are hundreds of other titles to pick from, exclusive or not. However, those great games aren’t even the 360’s biggest strength, so what is? Is it the introduction of achievements? Microsoft could never have imagined the reaction achievements would have on the gaming world; they have changed the way gamers play games and give that extra incentive to go back and replay the game over and over again in order to gain the next ever-important achievement and improve your gamerscore. Again, that isn’t the 360’s biggest strength. The console’s biggest strength is Xbox Live.

Xbox Live is what defined the original Xbox and it’s defined the Xbox 360. It’s the heart for all that is Xbox 360. You want the full experience? Get Xbox Live. You want movies? Get Xbox Live.  You want to chat to friends? Get Xbox Live. It’s the very core of what makes the 360 what it is today. From the very first day of release, Xbox Live has been at the forefront of Xbox 360 advertisement, Microsoft never failing to note the fact that its competitors haven’t got an experience quite like it. It’s true, Sony and Nintendo still haven’t got an online experience that matches Xbox Live, pound for pound. I must say they are getting close, but now that MS is still one step ahead, especially with the New Xbox Experience.

So what makes Xbox Live so great? The fact that it’s user friendly is a major factor in why so many people are now connected to Xbox Live. It’s very easy to subscribe or upgrade from silver with the on-screen instructions guiding you through every step. It’s very easy to enforce parental control on what can be viewed or played on Xbox Live; if parental controls are on then a child under a certain age can not download trailers, films, or game content over the selected age limit. This is something that benefits Xbox Live as more parents will allow their children to subscribe to Live knowing that they can protect their children from content that is not suitable for them.

One thing Microsoft wanted to do with Xbox Live is have a sense of community among the users, and that is something Xbox Live excels at providing. The moment you fire up the 360 you are greeted with who’s on Live and any messages you may have. You can see what your friends are playing or even when they were last on. No matter what you’re doing on Live you can voice chat with anyone else. Text messages can be sent in-game, watching a film, or just on the dashboard; Xbox Live is integrated into everything you do on the 360. With the NXE, you can also have a party that can consist of up to 8 friends who can all talk to each other no matter what each one is doing on Live.

It’s not just the features of Xbox Live that make it so great, but the content available on Xbox Live that really sets it apart. Xbox Live Arcade has produced hit after hit, with many great smaller games that include Geometry Wars and TGR GotY Braid. XBLA also offers you the chance to try before you buy so you never need to waste your money on something you weren’t sure about. Another part of Xbox Live that shines is the ever-growing Marketplace. Here you can download in-game content for your favorite games, trailers of upcoming games, demos, themes, and now community games. The Video Marketplace now boasts hundreds of movies for anyone to rent, as well as offering Netflix movies streamed exclusively on Live. Through Live, there isl new content available every day.

You can see why we have chosen Xbox Live as the 360’s greatest strength, and we haven’t even talked out the obvious online gaming aspect of the service, which of course speaks for itself (besides, I haven’t got enough time on my hands to even think about talking about it; I would be here forever).

Now no console is perfect, and the 360 is no exception. It has its fair share of problems with things like the RROD and other errors, but I wouldn’t call that the 360’s biggest weakness. It’s more of a nuisance, as it doesn’t stop a game from being made to the best of developers’ abilities. What does, and in my eyes is the true weakness of the 360, is its DVD9 format. It isn’t that much of a big deal to the end-user, as changing discs doesn’t hurt anyone, but does it compromise game development? That is the real concern. We have heard recently that the extra features that are in the PS3 version of Tales of Vesperia are there because they couldn’t fit on a single DVD9 on the 360. On the other hand we have Lost Odyssey, which shipped on 4 discs with plenty of content and gameplay, albeit a multi-disc experience. Then we have the whole Rage issue with people claiming things had to cut be cut back due compression and royalties issues on DVD9. If Microsoft incorporated HD-DVD into the 360’s initial design, then we could have seen a different outcome in the format wars as well as not having these space issues that seem to be cropping up more and more these days.

Microsoft, suck it up and just admit when you have been wrong. Blu-Ray is needed in your next console, no question about it. That’s where film is headed, with Blu-Ray being adopted more and more by consumers, so next time around, Blu-Ray is a given, as is an internal hard drive in every console. Oh, and is it too much to ask that we never see those dreaded Red Rings of Death? Microsoft, hold onto the 360’s biggest strength in Xbox Live, ditch the old media format, and the next console will be even better than the 360.

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