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Xbox Live problems highlight business model challenges

by David Mercer | 1月 02, 2008

There have been widespread reports over the holiday period of problems with Microsoft's Xbox Live service, and Larry Hryb, Director of Programming, has confirmed this in his own blog. Problems have included inability to sign in, recover accounts, and matchmaking. I have been experiencing the latter problem until yesterday (in spite of Microsoft's claims that the service is now up and running), but it's good in some ways to know at least this is a widespread issue and not a problem with my own console. For those not up to speed on console gaming, matchmaking is the process by which the Xbox Live service brings together different players into an online game using the in-built broadband connection. From my own experience, based on Microsoft Games Studios' Project Gotham Racing 4 , this is normally a pretty efficient process. I have to admit also that it is thoroughly compelling, if initially rather spooky, to race in real time against multiple opponents, usually located in other countries, sometimes on the other side of the world (real world time zones seem to matter less to hard core gamers). It can also be fairly disillusioning when your car seems to spend more time acquainting itself with crash barriers while everyone else whizzes past. But there really is nothing like playing live, knowing that pause or restart are not an option. And the experience confirms, if there was ever any doubt, that computer generated opponents, however sophisticated the programming, can never behave as unpredictably as human beings. Microsoft has not admitted to the nature of the problem it has been facing, although it is not entirely reassuring to hear that the service was "never completely offline". So how near to completely offline was it, exactly? The problems were likely caused by a surge in demand over the holiday period as more regular online users spent more time playing, occasional users joined them in greater numbers, and new users plugged in their freshly unwrapped consoles for the first time. It is easy to criticise Microsoft for not successfully coping with the demand, but it would be extremely difficult to accurately predict how much capacity would be needed in what is still very much an emerging market. Microsoft's real problem is that it, unlike Sony, asks users to pay an annual fee for its live gaming service, which implies a certain level of service and responsibility. That difference in customer relationship may also mean that user expectations are different. If the PS3 service goes down, users may be unhappy but there is no subscription to cancel. Microsoft on the other hand is already facing calls for refunds of part of that subscription fee. That's not a nice situation for any company to be in, but it's an inevitable part of the growing pains of emerging broadband service providers that deploy a subscription-based business model. Client Reading: Content Delivery Networks: Catalysts Of The Digital Media Revolution Online Games: Global Market Forecast Add to Technorati Favorites
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