As a hobby and an industry, modern video gaming has become as much about social interactivity as it is about game design. This has become even more so thanks to the integration of online connectivity, allowing players to compete or play alongside each other regardless of geographic boundaries.
The idea of online gameplay may seem old hat to longtime PC gamers, but in the area of mainstream console gaming this remains a relatively new concept, only recently beginning to come into its own with the latest crop of consoles.
Microsoft's enthusiasm for bringing online connectivity to the home console market has proved notably successful for the company, with its latest statistic
finding more than 6 million gamers worldwide using Xbox Live for the Xbox 360, a milestone reached several months ahead of the company's June 2007 goal.
Building upon this, the company is also working towards its ultimate goal of connecting Xbox Live players to users of Windows Vista and Windows Mobile enabled devices through its recently announced Live Anywhere initiative.
As the latest step towards achieving this goal, Microsoft this week announced plans
to bring its Windows Live Messenger to the Xbox 360, as well as debut a mini-keyboard controller attachment for the Xbox 360. Gamasutra spoke with Aaron Greenberg, group product manager for Xbox Live and the Xbox 360 to tease out some specifics on the announcement.
Will there be any sort of charge for the ability to use the chat service? What about cross-platform use?
There is no charge to use instant messenger on the Xbox 360. Both Gold and Silver level members will have full access to the service, free of charge. This is about expanding your social network of friends beyond just gamers and allow you to stay connected to these folks even if you are on your Xbox 360, PC or cell phone.
So how will multi-platform Live messaging actually work?
Chatting with friends across different platforms is simple and seamless. Just like on your PC today, your friends list will tell you if a person is on a computer or mobile device, and once this service launches it will tell you if your friend is on their Xbox 360.
Chatting with IM on your Xbox 360 will support the ability to have 6 different conversations at one time as well as do group chats with 3 different people in one conversation. So ideally you could be on your console and a friend could be at work on their PC and your girlfriend or wife could be on their cell phone all in the same conversation.
You can either use the guide to manage your chats or take advantage of the chat box overlay that you can have up while you are playing a game, watching a movie or TV show.
What can you tell us about the add-on peripheral mini-keyboard controller? It looks interesting, but also looks like added weight could be a concern.
It is actually very light and fits perfectly with the controller. I was playing around with it today and you can hardly notice that it is there. It is designed in a way to still have a comfortable feel so that your gameplay should not be affected. Of course, being able to quickly snap it on and off, similar to the headset, allows our consumers flexibility if they don’t want it always connected to their controller.
What sorts of game experiences do you think will favor this new peripheral, as compared to just using a USB keyboard?
It is all personal preference. For me, having the text input device connected to the controller is perfect. I have a Windows SmartPhone and typing with my thumb on a QWERTY keypad is second nature. Some gamers will prefer to use a USB keyboard instead. Our users today are already on average sending over 2 million messages a day over Xbox Live; this will likely increase with the launch of IM, so we feel the time is right to launch a keypad like this.
Are you worried about Messenger spam? It seems like that would be particularly annoying if it popped up while watching a movie, for instance.
We are not worried about Messenger spam. Privacy settings on the Xbox 360 allow you to choose if you want to receive messages from all gamers, friends or nobody. You can also appear away or offline to people on your friends list so that they won’t send you messages when you don’t want to be disturbed.
We have also built in the flexibility to, for example, appear online to your gaming friends but offline to your IM friends. We want to ensure that our consumers only receive messages when they want them.
Finally, will the service include filters for Messenger versus Xbox Live people?
Your Messenger friends list will be separate from your Xbox Live friends list, so you will be able to easily search through either list. The IM friends list has a different icon instead of their gamer picture next to their name.