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The Future of Xbox Live Arcade: Anywhere Means Mobile
game: Xbox Live
posted by: Shawn Rider
publisher: Microsoft
developer: Microsoft
date posted: 11:01 PM Sun May 14th, 2006
last revision: 11:00 PM Sun May 14th, 2006

Click to read.Xbox Live Arcade is, without a doubt, one of the most impressive new features of the Xbox 360. Already Arcade titles such as Geometry Wars, a simple to learn yet hard to master shooter with trippy visuals, have been very popular, inspiring praise from critics and gamers alike. As Xbox Live popularity has increased with the new generation (Microsoft estimates that 85% of Xbox 360 owners have downloaded content from Xbox Live Arcade and/or Xbox Live Marketplace), the games available for download and purchase directly on the Xbox have seen great success. To return to Geometry Wars, which features a free demo for download, Microsoft estimates that 39% of those who have tried the demo have gone on to purchase the game. Other try-before-you-buy experiments on Xbox Live have also been successful. Electronic Arts saw pre-orders for Fight Night Round 3 increase over 500% within a week of making a free demo available on Xbox Live.

Announcements of upcoming retro-game releases and popular mainstream games such as Lumines Live made audiences excited at the Xbox press event, but the future of Xbox Live Arcade goes beyond the games and gets right to the heart of how (and where) we\'ll obtain and play those games. As announced in the Microsoft pre-E3 press conference, the future of Xbox Live is Xbox Live Anywhere: Xbox Live will extend beyond the Xbox and now reach onto Windows Vista and mobile platforms. By extension, the Xbox Live Arcade will also be available anywhere, and Microsoft has made some significant enhancements to the service. In a behind-closed-doors meeting with Microsoft, GamesFirst! was able to nail down some of the details about the major improvements in store for Xbox Live Arcade.

The first, and perhaps most shocking, revelation is that the Xbox Live Anywhere service will move beyond Windows platforms in general. This means that the Arcade will be accessible from all mobile devices, including Java, J2ME, Brew, and Symbian platforms. Virtually every cell phone in the world will be able to access some group of Xbox Live Arcade games. On each of these systems, the interface and integration with the larger Xbox Live world remains consistent and recognizable. The largest difference between platforms will not be in the interface, but only in the games offered for download. That means that Zuma might be available on Windows Mobile and J2ME devices, but not Brew handsets. Or it might mean that the classic Ms. Pac Man game on Windows Mobile features both the \"wakka-wakka\" and the \"dot-eating\" sounds, while the version for J2ME handsets only offers the \"dot-eating\" sounds due to limitations of the mobile phone hardware and operating system.

For users, the technical details don\'t matter much: All we see is a list of games we can play. Following the pay once, play anywhere model, these will include any games users have downloaded for the Xbox 360 that are compatible with the user\'s phone or mobile device. Genre categories are familiar to anyone who has used the service, as is the visual design. The Xbox Live Arcade interface for mobile devices also includes the familiar GamerTag and friends list, including the platform indicators that all Xbox Live members will see in new versions.

Microsoft is doing all they can to make the interface for Xbox Live Arcade on mobile devices as easy as possible. To enhance the traditional genre-based game categories, Arcade on the mobile phone will also feature a recommendation engine that can be configured by the user. Gamers can decide whether they want recommendations based on the most popular games, games their friends are playing, or any of a number of other filters. On all systems a free demo of the game will be available, which is a major improvement for mobile gaming, in which buying a game from a textual description leads to a nasty case of buyer\'s remorse.

The differences between mobile platforms will mainly be seen in user interface. An example that was shown included downloading and playing a free demo of an Arcade game until an achievement is earned. At that point, the game pauses to remind the user that she can unlock the full version of the game and receive credit for the achievement they\'ve earned. On some systems it will take only one click to complete the purchase and resume the game at the point it was interrupted; on other systems it will require two clicks.

While it was not clear that simultaneous online multiplayer would be a part of Xbox Live Arcade on mobile devices, there were demonstrations of turn-based (asynchronous) multiplayer games using a mobile Crossword puzzle. Gamers on any device can collaborate to solve puzzles or take turns in a form of 21st Century mail-chess. This opens up possibilities for small bursts of pick-up-and-play gaming that could make these kinds of mobile gaming standards much more compelling.

Alongside the new Windows Vista and Xbox Live Anywhere platforms, Microsoft\'s new XNA game development platform integrates development of games for Windows, Xbox and mobile devices. Microsoft is creating a version of XNA geared towards smaller developers in order to encourage the kinds of unique and creative content that has brought attention to the Xbox Live Arcade. Although they are committed to helping independent developers and smaller publishers bring their games to Xbox Live, they are quick to reiterate that all Xbox Live Anywhere games must support the basic features and minimum requirements, including Achievements that reward gamers with Gamerpoints, demo versions, support for messaging, and more.

As with all Xbox Live Anywhere applications, any Achievements unlocked in Xbox Live Arcade games on the mobile device will be displayed to all users. Another demonstration was shown of a gamer who had completed an achievement in Shadowrun on the PC sending a small video clip replay to a friend on a mobile phone. Other social elements of the Arcade interface on mobile devices include voice and text chat over Xbox Live Anywhere and the ability to \"beam\" Gamercards between cell phones.

Further, the larger Xbox Live Anywhere interface on all mobile devices will allow access to the Xbox Live Marketplace, where users can browse videos and game demos available for download. If gamers have a device that supports video, then videos can be downloaded directly to the mobile handset. Downloads can also be scheduled to send to a PC running Windows Vista or an Xbox 360. If the PC or Xbox is connected to the Internet at the time, Xbox Live Anywhere will immediately begin the download.

However, if the PC or Xbox is not connected to the Internet, the download message will be queued and the transfer will happen the next time the device is seen online. Download speeds are supposed to throttle depending on the bandwidth needed by user-selected operations. Microsoft implied that these downloads might even happen in the background on the Xbox 360 as gamers play single-player local games. This strongly implies that future Xbox 360 updates will make it possible to download content in the background while doing something (anything, please!) else on the system. When pressed to confirm this update, Microsoft refused to comment, but said that they are both examining large and small issues regarding the Xbox Live interface as they prep Xbox Live Anywhere.

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