This week, you can start playing multiplayer games with your Xbox. You will need to have a broadband connection and of course the Xbox Live Hardware from Microsoft.
The Xbox live system comes complete with a Setup CD, Communicator headset, and one-year subscription to the Xbox live service. Installation seems easy at first, but does take a bit of time, as you have to fill in a lot of forms using the controller. After opening the box, all you have to do is connect your Xbox to the internet using your broadband connection and then stick the setup CD into your Xbox and let the software run. Once the main screen comes up, you will see a new addition for Xbox live. Go ahead and enter the Xbox live section, select your online name and then be prepared to fill out a lot of forms about your name, address, and credit card system so they can bill you when your subscription ends in a year.
Basically, the entire setup is plug and play, but the complex forms make sure that Microsoft is going to get paid.
The communicator headset is very easy to connect. It contains three pieces including a frame, earphone and mike, and a connector that plugs into the controller. The earpiece can be connected to the frame so that it goes on the left or right ear. Once you have the connector plugged into the controller, connect the headphone jack and you are all set. There is a volume control and a mute button on the connector. It is very easy to set up and comfortable to wear.
The neat thing about the communicator is that you can now talk, or likely trash talk, your opponents or allies in a game. The voice signal is such a small part of the broadband bandwidth that almost all the time I tested it, it was almost as good as chatting on the phone. Talking does not seem to slow any of the games down one bit, perhaps because it was made this way from the ground up.
Finding a game to play is quite simple. You can either setup your own game, search for a game to join, or do a quick join where you join any game. The first time I started out, I flipped though the available games, but did not find anything interesting. So I decided to set up my own game. Once I had everything setup, I launched my game, and another player joined me within five seconds. We played a fun game, but alas I am not very good at football, which is the only game currently available during the beta test. As such, I was trounced 14 to 6. At least the game made someone happy.
Most of the games that are out right now won’t work with the new network, but Microsoft has promised that almost every title released from now on will. Given their history of title saturation, I’m confident there will be more for people to do than beat me at football soon after the launch.
Given that Microsoft decided to only support broadband connections and not 56k modems, the network itself is very stable. You won’t have to worry about one player with a lot connection coming on and dragging everyone down, as you do with PC games. This strategy is risky on Microsoft’s part, as not everyone is going to be willing to plunk down $40 or so every month for a broadband connection just to play computer games. But once you do, you will find a healthy and easy to use network, with stable games and an easy to use match up interface.
Overall, I have enjoyed the past few days playing online with my Xbox and have no complaints at all. I look forward to many of the games that are scheduled to come out over the next few months, especially when First Person Shooters start to appear. Also, with everyone being equal with broadband, the time is ripe for an Xbox exclusive massively multiplayer title to sweep everyone off their feet.
So there you have it. The platform is in place to make the Xbox the best multiplayer experience in the console arena. Now its just up to Microsoft to fill that platform with top quality games.