As I wrap up my reporting from CES 2010, I must return to some issues that won't go away.
Xbox Live deserves praise as a service, but being the standard for which other online gaming services are judged means its flaws come under repeated scrutiny -- for good reason. It's why I always find myself asking Microsoft executives a couple of the same questions whenever I'm given the opportunity to sit down with them: why is there a friends cap on Xbox Live and when will the entire service allow me to pay for content in real-world dollar amounts, rather than confusing Microsoft Points?
Some background on each issue.
You cannot have more than 100 friends on Xbox Live. I used to think this was an issue that affected only the most hardcore. I don't even engage in much multiplayer through Xbox Live. But I do use the service to keep tabs on what my friends are playing, what they're watching on Netflix and other social networking bits. Now, I have reached the friends list cap and find myself removing people I know. I published a story last year that reported the main holdup for the cap was Halo 2 players.
"Phew," sighed Xbox group product manager Aaron Greenberg at CES. "God, I've been answering this question for so long. It's something that the team's looking at. It's more complicated than you would think. I know you have actually covered yourself in some detail and I think it is something that we're hoping to address. Exactly when that happens I can't say because there's some technical requirements tied to it. But I can tell you that, just like consumers, I share the same frustration and I, too, want more than 100 friends, and so know that we all want that and that we are working on getting that fixed."
When Microsoft launched the Games On Demand service last fall, it allowed users to purchase full, retail Xbox 360 games through Xbox Live and pay for the games in actual dollar amounts. You can still use Microsoft Points, but the less-confusing real-world dollar listings were seen as a welcomed addition, something that's been standard on PlayStation Network. So far, the change remains restricted to Games On Demand, not all of Xbox Live. Space Bucks continue to remain the dominant currency.
"You're right," said Greenberg. "We did it with Games On Demand and the response has been really good. I think people like to see the dollar amount. We never intended to ever mislead people. I think we want to be transparent about it, and so it is something that we're looking at. How can we be more transparent and let people see it in actual dollars? The fact is that you've got to think that we have one service that we're offering around the world. The nice thing about points is that no matter if you're on the yen or the euro or the dollar -- something that's 200 points is 200 points everywhere around the world."
"There's more technical complexities to being able to put local prices in," he continued. "You have to do that for every product in very country and you then have to deal with currency fluctuations. So there's some challenges to that, but we absolutely did it with the Games On Demand, response has been good and absolutely it's something we're looking at doing."
It does appear we're seeing progress on both fronts, but I won't be satisfied until the changes are actually implemented. Until that happens, I'll keep asking Greeenberg and others about it for you.