What is Xbox Live?
Xbox Live is the service that popularised online play and player profiles in the console video gaming landscape.
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Xbox Live is the name of the dashboard and operating infrastructure given to the online features of the Xbox 360 and Xbox One consoles. It comes in both free (formally referred to as Silver) and paid (referred to as Gold) forms, with a number of critical features absent from the free version. Xbox Live Gold currently costs $79.95 for a year in Australia. To access Xbox Live you need an account with Microsoft, which will provide you with a profile that can be used across other Microsoft devices and services.
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Traditionally, Xbox Live has been used as the conduit through which people play multiplayer games online and communicate with friends. However, in recent years this has expanded. Now, the vast majority of Xbox One games are available for purchase and download through Xbox Live in full. Xbox Live offers a host of entertainment apps that can plug users directly into other mediums such as music, movies and TV.
Increasingly, we have also seen patches, downloadable content and updates become a vital part of a video game’s release strategy. The idea of "day one patches" where bugs in the game are fixed via a download the day the game is launched is (sadly) becoming the norm. Additional content, like new maps and story sequences often require an extra purchase through the marketplace. All this is done through Xbox Live.
Signing up for the basic Xbox Live service is free, but that only gets you access to a limited number of online features. To enjoy online multiplayer, free games, and game discounts, you'll need to spring for an Xbox Live Gold subscription.
In Australia, a Gold subscription will cost you $79.95 per year. You can purchase Xbox Live in smaller allotments than one-year, although it'll end up costing you more in the long run. In Australia you can pick up one month of Xbox LIve Gold for $10.95 or three months of Xbox Live Gold for $29.95. You can also trial Xbox Live Gold for one month for free.
Thankfully, all user profiles in your "home" can work from the one Xbox Live Gold account. This means that you can have multiple profiles on one machine, say from family members or housemates, but only pay for Xbox Live Gold once for everyone to receive the benefits.
Please note, there are frequently deals on the internet that can get you Xbox Live Gold far cheaper than the standard Xbox Live price.
|Service||Xbox One||Xbox 360|
|Multiplayer||Gold Membership Required||Gold Membership Required|
|Games With Gold||Gold Membership Required||Gold Membership Required|
|Deals With Gold (Discounted Games)||Gold Membership Required||Gold Membership Required|
|Party and Party Chat||Gold Membership Required||Gold Membership Required|
|Home Gold (Gold benefits to all profiles in the same home)||Gold Membership Required||Not Available|
|Free-to-play games||Gold Membership Required||Gold Membership Required|
|Game DVR||Gold Membership Required||Not Available|
|Live broadcasting||Gold Membership Required||Not Available|
|Media sharing||Gold Membership Required||Not Available|
|Video Kinect||Not Available||Gold Membership Required|
|Voice messaging||Gold Membership Required||Gold Membership Required|
|Xbox Live Arcade point results||Not Available||Free|
|Cloud game saves||Free||Free|
Games With Gold is a program that allows Xbox Live Gold subscribers to receive up to four games a month at no cost. Usually two games are made available during the first two weeks of a month, and two games in the second month. They will appear on the Xbox Store with their original price scratched out and the word “FREE” in its place. If you download the game during its two week Games With Gold window, it will be added to your Xbox Live account and you'll be able to play it until such time as you cancel your subscription.
- Gamertag: A player’s username
- Achievements: Every Xbox One game has 1,000 points it can offer to gamers for achieving certain goals while playing. Completing these goals rewards the player with an “achievement” and a portion of that 1,000 points, typically based on the difficulty of the goal.
- Gamerscore: The global total of points accrued by completing achievements in games.
- Gamercard: A panel that displays everything about your online persona.
- Avatar: The character you create and use as your online personification.
- DLC: Downloadable Content - extra content not available with your initial purchase of a game.
- Season Pass: A pay-up-front model for DLC that gives you every piece of extra content for a game at a discounted rate.
- TrueSkill: A ranking that aims to reflect your ability in a certain game, regardless of how many times you have played.
- Dashboard: The name of the navigational panels and environment you are in when not playing a game or using an app on a console.
- New Xbox Experience: The name often given to an update to Xbox Live that impacts the Dashboard by changing its look or adding new features.
- DVR: Digital Video Recorder - refers to the ability of the Xbox One to record footage of a game as you are playing, so it can be viewed or shared at a later date.
- Ping: The time it takes for a signal to travel from your console, to the server, and back. The lower your ping, the better your online experience.
- Lag: A delay in what you see on screen that is the result of a slow connection between your home and the server.
- Snap: The term Microsoft has given to opening a second active window on the Xbox One dashboard for the purposes of multitasking.
Although the original Xbox launched in 2001 with an Ethernet port and a hard-drive, both quite revolutionary at the time, the Xbox Live service did not arrive until a year later in November 2002. By 2003, it was estimated 50 games were available to be used on the service. By 2007, at the service’s five-year anniversary, over eight million gamers used the service. By 2010, that number had grown to 23 million members. There are now approximately 50 million members.
Does Australia have Dedicated Servers?
In 2015, Microsoft invested $30 million to create two large farms of dedicated servers in Australia. One server is based in Sydney and one is in Melbourne. Previously, multiplayer on Xbox worked on a peer-to-peer system, where the player in the session with the best network conditions would act as the server, and all other players in the game would connect to each other through them. This system was functional, but ensured the speed of the connection was bottlenecked by the network and location of the host.
Dedicated servers, on the other hand, are optimised and localised host servers through which all players connect, creating a smoother play experience and a more even playing field as no single player has “host” benefits. Given the added problems caused by Australia’s geographical isolation as the distance to a server impacts the speed of a connection having local dedicated servers is a huge win for Australian gamers.
An Xbox dashboard update is a regular occurrence in which Microsoft patches its existing Xbox Live service to add in new features, fix any problems and refine the user interface. Think of them like a service pack for Windows. You generally do not need to do anything to instigate an update if your console is online, as you will be prompted to install it. However, if you don’t get the message or wish to update at a different time, the process can be manually started through the Settings menu.
Do note that an update can be a sizeable download (around 1GB) and it can take some time for your Xbox to extract it and complete the process. Be wary of starting it if you have just sat down to play for the evening. Also note, if you don’t generally have your Xbox connected to the Internet it is worth doing so every now and again to get the updates. The changes can be quite significant – for example, adding Backwards Compatibility as a feature.
Microsoft does have some minimum requirements for Xbox Live, but they’re very conservative.
|Online gaming||SD video streaming||HD video streaming|
|Download speed||3 Mbps||1 Mbps||3.5 Mbps|
|Upload speed||0.5 Mbps||N/A||N/A|
|Ping||< 150 milliseconds||< 150 milliseconds||< 150 milliseconds|
If you intend to play a lot of games online, you should really be ensuring your internet speed is over 10 megabits per second, and your ping is below 40. The faster your Net speed, the less lag there is between what you see on screen, and what is actually happening. Lag can cause a lot of frustration as you play. For example, it will feel like you just shot an opponent in a game, when in reality they were no longer in the spot they appeared to be in.
Also note that wireless connections will be slower than wired connections, and that your speed can be impacted by other people on the Network doing high-bandwidth activities such as downloading a large file on the family PC or streaming high definition TV or movies.
Should you sign up for an Xbox Live subscription?
If you have an Xbox console, we highly recommend subscribing to the Xbox Gold service. The features it brings and the access you get to free games through the Games With Gold service are more than worth the investment.
|Xbox Live apps|
|Netflix||Foxtel Play||MUZU TV|
|TED||Major League Gaming||Kdrama|
|Uplay||Yahoo 7Plus||Xbox Video|
|Upload Studio||Quickflix||Xbox Music|
|Twitch.tv||SBS On Demand|
What does the future of Xbox Live look like?
Xbox Live will forever be part of Microsoft’s gaming future, and the term has transcended consoles to replace the Games With Windows program on PCs, Surface tablets and even Lumia smart phones. As the games industry looks to cut costs on game production and extend each title’s lifespan with downloadable content and multiplayer modes, Xbox Live will continue to become more relevant as both a storefront and gameplay conductor.
With stiff competition from the PlayStation Network, the cost of subscription is unlikely to change, although we may see different monetisation methods used by developers who release games on the service. This is likely to include the free-to-play model seen on mobiles, and an increase in season passes and subscription-based games.
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