Xbox One Review Part 8: Getting Social with Friends on Xbox Live

By December 4, 2013
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When I think back to 2005-2006 and how I made my decision on which console to choose, it seemed like it was a far simpler process than it was for this one. Granted, I wasn’t even out of high school yet when the Xbox 360 was initially released, but it seemed far simpler to eventually arrive at the 360 predominantly because of one thing: Xbox Live. When I’d been over at a friend’s house or seen a demo in a store, I was never really that convinced about the PlayStation Network. I know many people absolutely love it and that it continues to be their preferred gaming platform, but seeing how Xbox Live performed in comparison to the PSN made the 360 that much more attractive for me personally.

As we got on in years and the services were able to evolve a bit with time, Xbox Live became the more successful of the two, and it’s easy to see why: Live on the 360 was socially geared. Joining parties with friends, jumping into game lobbies, and chatting over a headset was a breeze, and very intuitive. Because of that, Xbox Live on the new console has a lot of expectation surrounding it, and rightfully so. Really, though, you’d think that given the amount of time we’ve had with the 360 and how it evolved into the great service that it did, the evolution onto new hardware would bring with it the same overall ease of use and intuitiveness. Right?

Unfortunately – and I hate to say it – Xbox Live could use some work on the Xbox One.

Xbox Live: New Isn’t Always Better

As I alluded to in the review segment focusing on the user interface of the Xbox One, when compared with the 360 the new console feels kind of barren. Whereas every single part of the 360 felt alive and full of content, the Xbox One feels decidedly emptier, which struck me as odd since much of the sheer content of Live didn’t necessarily include games. With Xbox Live, there’s a degree of continuity with the previous console since you can essentially import your old profile into the new device, but the total interaction with the Live service and your friends feels far more muted than it does on the Xbox 360.

For example, when you power up a 360 and sign into Xbox Live, you simply need to press the right bumper on the controller to see immediately what three friends are up to. Their avatars smile and wave at you, and highlighting them can tell you what games they’re playing, or if they’re watching a video or just browsing their dashboard. On Xbox One, starting the console up and going to friends feels less intuitive, largely because the home screen in the friends app has adopted an activity feed like that of Facebook or Twitter. Instead of seeing the animated avatars and highlighting the activity of a particular friend, now you just see a wall of text with a couple of small pictures by each blurb. It just looks worse, and I think that’s largely because it feels far more static and far less interesting than the social interface on the 360.

Especially when directly comparing the friends interface on the Xbox 360 (top) and the Xbox One (bottom), it seems like the young buck can learn something from it's older brother.

Especially when directly comparing the friends interface on the Xbox 360 (top) and the Xbox One (bottom), it seems like the young buck can learn a thing or two from its older brother.

Although the Xbox One interface includes an activity feed, it doesn’t necessarily include a lot of useful information – especially when it comes to joining a friend’s game. When you navigate to “Friends” on the left hand menu, you pretty much get the same, rather impotent list of friends and their activities. If you want to pick out a friend to see what they’re doing you can do it (as well as create a list of “top friends”), and many of the same functions return, but it just doesn’t feel as involved or as intuitive as that of the 360’s social interface. Also missing from this version of the social UI is the ability to see other players you interacted with in an online game who aren’t necessarily your friends. Also, unlike the 360, you receive no automatic notification when a friend comes online, which is bizarre and downright perplexing, since that was a staple of the 360 interactions as well as that of the PS3.

Is it pretty much easy to use? Yes, I think so. Is it better than what came before? No, I really don’t think that the social aspect of Xbox One is an improvement over the 360, because in many ways it looks perhaps even less advanced than the previous generation console (isn’t that against the law?). The groundwork for the functionality of the friends list is definitely there, though, and I see no reason why Xbox Live can’t be improved on the Xbox One going forward. Hopefully, these omissions and the clunkiness that comes with them is just something that us early adopters will have to deal with, since Microsoft has apparently been listening to interface and social function critiques and plans on doing something about them. Non-tangible improvements to the service have been added, such as a mass expansion of dedicated Live servers and a higher friend cap, but this doesn’t really affect a gamer’s experience on Xbox Live, and that is something that should be remedied first.

Though, unlike the Xbox 360, Live is not the start and end point of the social experience on the Xbox One. You can also talk to friends and family over a little program called Skype.

A Skype call between two Xbox One owners, from an official Microsoft demonstration.

A Skype call between two Xbox One owners, from an official Microsoft demonstration.

Skype on Xbox One

Skype has become quite a powerful service on the internet in the last few years, largely because it does a great job of maintaining call stability, conferencing, and even calling over landlines. When it was announced that Skype would be expanding to Xbox One and taking advantage of the new Kinect’s 1080p camera, I was immediately excited.

Right now, connecting with friends and family is very important to me, since I just came off of a big, cross-country move. Moving sucks, and its amount of suckage is directly proportional to the amount of miles that you travel away from the people that you love. Fortunately, we live in the age of the internet, which means it’s easier than ever to write, talk, and even see the people you miss instantly over the architecture of programs like Skype.

If signed into Skype before March 31, 2014, the purchase of an Xbox One also comes with six months of Skype’s premium service, which allows you to conference up to three friends into one call. Each month gives you 100 minutes of premium conferencing time, allowing you to call any Skype contact or landline within those limits. For me, this is a godsend, since the homesickness is muted a bit when I can call a bunch of friends or family members all from my living room. Since it’s Skype, you’re also not limited to calling other Xbox One owners: you can call any Skype-capable device, which at this point is pretty much any “smart” device, from a phone or tablet to a computer.

The Skype app is simple to use and is made simpler through the voice recognition features of Kinect, and its integration with Xbox Live will be made better when Microsoft begins to address fan concerns.

So, in a nutshell, that’s the social aspect of the Xbox One! The next part of the review series is our in-depth look at the Dead Rising 3 launch title, so be sure to take a look at our take on the zombie slaying action found only on Xbox One!

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Chris Clow
As a former comics retailer at a store in the Pacific Northwest, Chris Clow is an enormous sci-fi, comics, and film geek. He is a freelance contributor, reviewer, podcaster, and overall geek to GeekNation, Batman-On-Film.com, The Huffington Post, and Movies.com. He also hosts the monthly Comics on Consoles broadcast and podcast. Check out his blog, and follow him on Twitter @ChrisClow.