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  Xbox Live Hits 4 Million Members  
Posted 2006-10-18 by Tony Walsh
Xbox Live, Microsoft's online gaming, community, and commerce engine has reached 4 million members. The company will be launching a new version of the Xbox Live software this fall, and is "on a fast track to hit 6 million members by summer 2007." Over 70% of Xbox Live members "are downloading" content from Xbox Live Marketplace (which presumably includes the service's wide range of freebies). Most free trial versions of Xbox Live Arcade downloads are converted to paid versions 24% of the time.
  Web ‘Pipeline’ to Xbox Live Marketplace Opened  
Posted 2006-10-11 by Tony Walsh
Microsoft has launched a browser-based "pipeline" to Xbox Live Marketplace content. Built using Flash, the site allows users to review available content, but doesn't yet facilitate sales of downloads, and doesn't offer search tools. So, basically it's not so much of a pipeline at all, really. More brochureware at this point. Look, but don't touch. I don't see the point, but I imagine the current service is merely a placeholder in lieu of a true pipeline. In the mean time, I bet it's collecting data on user pathways through the site in order to gauge the most-viewed items.
  Latest ‘Xbox Live’ Stats  
Posted 2006-08-31 by Tony Walsh
Microsoft revealed some stats in the "illions" today for its Xbox Live online gaming service:
  • Over 50 million content downloads through Xbox Live Marketplace to date.
  • Over 2 billion hours logged internationally on Xbox Live since November 2002.
  • Over 60 percent of Xbox 360 owners are connected to Xbox Live.
  • 1.3M text and voice messages are sent via Xbox Live every day, totaling half a billion messages per year.
  • 65% of connected consoles play Xbox Live Arcade titles.
  • Over 8 million downloads of Xbox Live Arcade games since the launch of Xbox 360 [late 2005 / early 2006].
  • Over 2 billion Microsoft Points sold to date [500 points = $6.25 USD]
Not much to say here, the service is obviously a hit. I've got a subscription myself (gamertag "Razorgrin"), and I have to say Microsoft did a real slick job of Xbox Live. Getting gamers to pay for the privilege of handing over their demographic and preference data is a nice coup.
  ‘Ninety-Nine Nights’ [Xbox 360]  
Posted 2006-08-21 by Tony Walsh
‘Ninety-Nine Nights’ [Xbox 360]
Her Achilles Heel is her cleavage, obviously.
A glance at the packaging for Ninety-Nine Nights might lead you to believe that the fantasy action game tells an epic tale of the conflict between light and dark. At the very least, the fantasy action game part is true. And I suppose mass-murder qualifies as epic-scale conflict. But after rummaging through the billions of gallons of entrails left in the wake of my Temple Knights, I still couldn't find any sign of a coherent storyline. Ninety-Nine Nights is a shooter without guns, a button-masher with a role-playing game inventory. If mindless slaughter is enough to entertain you (and frankly, sometimes it's enough to entertain me), the $49.99 USD retail price is worth every penny.

Ninety-Nine Nights is my first Xbox 360 game (thanks, High Road), and I'm mightily impressed by its capacity to throw hundreds of highly-detailed humanoids upon the edge of my blades, each creature with an apparently-useful set of AI instructions. In one afternoon I was able to sample the cruel, genocidal talents of the game's starting character Imphyy, and those of her idealistic brother Aspharr (pronounced ASSfar). The idea is that you'll play each of the seven characters (unlocked as you progress) to fully unravel the storyline of Ninety-Nine Nights from varying points of view. What I unravelled over the better part of an afternoon left a lot to be desired, to the extent that I wondered why most bits of the story were included at all.

Continue reading: ‘Ninety-Nine Nights’ [Xbox 360]
  Lightweight Games To Save Console Industry?  
Posted 2006-08-01 by Tony Walsh
Wired contributor David Kushner looks at the state of the console game industry in this month's magazine, finding that the content of the future will likely be distributed digitally--not physically--in the future. Kushner points to Xbox Live Marketplace, the Nintendo Wii's "always on" internet connection, and Sony's planned "e-distribution" system for the PlayStation 3, as well as discusses the rise of retro-style and casual games.

Choice quotes:
  • "It's as if only encyclopedias are being sold, and no other types of magazines or books," says Satoru Iwata, President, of Nintendo. Iwata compares typical commercial games to lighter-weight products, but it remains to be seen if "magazines or books" will sell better than "encyclopedias." Besides which, subscription-based MMOs such as World of Warcraft seem to combine the best attributes of the encyclopedias (huge chunk of content) and magazines (subscription-based, smaller chunks of content).
  • "In a few years, people will regard the current generation of games as odd and anomalously complicated... They intimidate the average person," says Jason Kapalka, chief creative officer of PopCap Games. If my living depended on making easy-to-learn casual games, I'd probably say that too. But the personal choice of whether to play Bejeweled or Half-Life 2 is based on cognitive style and/or lifestyle. I believe that gamers (as we traditionally know them) are exceptional--not average--people. Since the introduction of arcade games, I've seen an ebb and flow in the appeal of games to average (Pac Man) vs. exceptional (Asteroids) people. In the last 5 years in particular, I think more average people have been discovering their inner gamer than ever before.
  ‘Xbox Live’ To Encompass ‘Windows’  
Posted 2006-05-10 by Tony Walsh
Microsoft plans to bring its Xbox Live online gaming service to its Windows operating system and to mobile phones, the company announced yesterday at E3. The company's "Live Anywhere" program is planned for launch on the Windows Vista operating system this winter with the release of the game Shadowrun. The game will ship simultaneously on Windows Vista and Xbox 360, allowing computer and console gamers to play in the same space. This is made possible by the fact that there's very little difference between the hardware of an XBox 360 and an average Windows-compatible PC. A new line of cross-platform wireless accessories was also announced, including a racing-wheel controller, wireless gaming receiver for Windows, and "Live Vision" camera.

Xbox Live enjoys the patronage of over 3 million gamers, representing 60% of all Xbox owners. Over 90% of Xbox Live users download content from the service's "Marketplace" distribution and micropayment system. In the Marketplace's first 6 months, 18 million downloads were requested. There's no doubt in my mind that a cross-platform Xbox Live, with its strong personalization, communication, networking, commerce and performance-feedback features, will be the dominant online gaming service henceforth (if it isn't already dominating).
  Microsoft Acquires Massive  
Posted 2006-05-04 by Tony Walsh
Microsoft announced today that it would acquire in-game ad network Massive, confirming earlier speculation. The price tag was not revealed. Massive's technology will bring ads to games on MSN, MSN Messenger, Xbox Live, and potentially Windows Live. How is this is good for consumers?

According to the Microsoft blog Gamerscore, "Massive makes sure that every new in-game ad unit goes thru extensive testing with gamers prior to placement." If this is true, then how did Massive manage to ruin Planetside and Anarchy Online? What does "extensive testing" mean when Deuce Bigalow shows up in a sci-fi adventure game?
  ‘Xbox Live’ Extends E3 Experience  
Posted 2006-05-02 by Tony Walsh
Microsoft announced today that its Xbox Live online gaming service will soon distribute content related to the company's activities at E3, the game industry's annual launch-event for new products, services, and technologies. Not only will Xbox Live be available freely during the week of the expo (May 8 - 14), but gamers will be able to download content released during the expo, such as playable demos and high-def game trailers. Details availale at Xbox's "Bring it Home" promotional page. The effort uses Xbox Live as a sort of interactive-TV channel, broadcasting experiential content geared not only towards those gamers who already follow E3, but masses of average gamers eager to try out new Xbox offerings. Whatever Sony and Nintendo have cooking for the expo, neither company is even capable of reaching out to fans like Microsoft this year.
  Mr. Rogers and Dr. Phil Invade Xbox Live  
Posted 2006-05-01 by Tony Walsh
If your next Xbox Live session involves talking to Dr. Phil McGraw or the ghost of Mr. Fred Rogers, you may be experiencing the audio agitation of's "Brad." Armed with an Xbox Live headset modified to transmit pre-recorded soundbites from his computer, Brad goads his fellow Xboxers into mad fits of confusion, profanity and intolerance. scrapes the bottom of the Xbox Live cultural barrel, offering a not-safe-for-work audio assault that must be heard to be believed. My favourite clips among the sometimes-hilarious results include "rogers gets discovered" and "dope and god."
  An Xbox 360 That Blogs  
Posted 2006-04-10 by Tony Walsh
Trapper Markelz co-developed an Xbox 360 blogject, turning the dumb game console into a smart object that autonomously reports on itself and related matters. Currently, the console seems to be tracking and reporting the playing habits of eight users. For example, the Xbox 360 tells us that today, "I thought [user] Fatty Chubs just wanted to listen to music or watch a DVD. Turns out he was there to game. With a gamer score of 13694, I should have known that was the case. That is a gain of 30 points over last time! He played Oblivion gaining 3 achievements, as well as basked in the glow of my great blade navigation interface!"

Automated reports are blogged in natural language apparently by slotting raw data into human-crafted sentence-fragments. The end result is that the Xbox 360 develops a designed personality. While the console currently appears to be rather peppy, I'd rather see an enraged, depressed, or paranoid console. Some great opportunities for persona-based marketing and brand sabotage here.
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