As demonstrated at Microsoft's recent E3 conference, one of the key features of its forthcoming dashboard refresh is the expansion of current group chat into a full 'Xbox Live Party,' allowing users to form groups that expand seamlessly across all aspects of the new dash -- from chatting to photo and video sharing to games.
At Microsoft's ongoing GameFest, Xbox platform engineer Eric Heutchy gave more insight into the Xbox 360's forthcoming Xbox Live Party features, explaining how it would function both in and out of games.
"What is Xbox Live Party?" Heutchy explained, "At its core the feature is eight way group voice chat. It works over all Xbox 360 experiences - all existing games, all new games, the dashboard, movies, media center, everything you can do on the console. The members of your party can each be in a different experience."
"The party members are always connected by voice, and voice chat persists over any experience," he continued, "and it persists over title switches."
Heutchy further explained that "it also has features to help players get together in multiplayer games. There's one button in the guide that allows a player to send game invites to everyone in his live party."
"It is not a replacement for in-game parties that a number of triple-A titles have," he admitted. "Live party is about having a social connection prior to entering that game's party."
Heutchy broke down the guidelines to creating a new party: once you start a a party, you're auto-added and can send invites to friends. Each party has a voice channel option that can be switched from 'party' 'game', and users can switch from an 'open' party status to 'invite only.'
"If you leave it open, anyone who is friends with a party member can join via the guide," he explained, but said "no matter how you leave it, the party will always be a trusted social group."
There will also be an option to "invite party to current game," if applicable, which will quick launch "any game on your hard drive, memory unit, or disc in the tray."
The party user list has all members of the party, their gamertag, their GamerPic or avatar, and what they are currently doing.
"This is the first time on Xbox Live that users are able to indicate that they want to have a social experience together at the platform level," said Heutchy to developers, "your game should present relevant choices to users so they can play together."
"If your game is Live Party aware, with one button press in your UI, you can now have invites sent to all of these users," using the forthcoming Uno Rush as an example.
Essentially, when you start a new game Xbox Live will keep checking to see if you have friends you can invite, and it will also query your party members to see if they are playing games you could join.
For example, a message might come up on starting Uno Rush that "other members of your Xbox Live Party are playing Uno Rush. Would you like to join them?"
"Your user is now two button presses away from joining his users," explained Heutchy, "one to indicate he'd like to join a session, and one to pick the session he wants to join into."
If there are no joinable sessions, he explained, "This is the trailblazer scenario - the first person in the party into the game," saying that at that point developers should "give him an option to quickly configure his game and invite his party."
Finally, Heutchy pointed out that there will be a new area for displaying what members are doing in the party, with one final area for custom data. He explained of that custom field, "You can set it as often as you want, and it will be broadcast once per second. You can put whatever you want in there, and make it cool for your game."
He concluded, "Now, parties are relevant, even for single-player titles," saying developers could use the feature for new ideas like broadcasting to party members when someone earned a single player achievement, or where a player is on a map.