Xbox Live is slick, it is smooth, it is very well integrated, it is a seamless experience. For many, probably the majority of people who own an Xbox 360, it is great, it is what they want. For me, it isn't. Most of what makes Xbox Live the best online gaming experience for many isn't really down to what they're paying for, it is down to Microsoft's ability to write great software, it is about Microsoft's ability and experience in the area, it is about Microsoft having a lot of foresight in what the needs are for such a system.
But for me, the reality is that Xbox Live is a step back in online gaming for me. The online voice chat system is shit, poor quality and clunky, the encouragement to take control off players in how they play their games, in online matches with the over reliance on managed p2p systems, the restrictive policies that take power out of the developers hands that stops them from supporting their games as the services they have become, with Microsoft putting restrictions on how developers update their game with new content afterwards. It is archaic, it is greedy, and it results in an online experience that was significantly worse than what I was having not far off 10 or so years ago.
The worst part? You have to pay for this subpar experience, and the fact people pay for it and that many people seemingly enjoy it (I like to think for many, it is the fact Xbox Live was their first online experience, not their fault), it signals to the industry that this is what they want. It is an influence that we see in many PC games today because of it. (Continued below)
Sony has taken an open approach, it isn't as slick and smooth as Xbox Live, it has a lot of problems in comparison because they mostly go for the same experience. Multiplatform games in particular suffer greatly because they're designed for Xbox Live, a well defined system. However, the best online experiences on a console I have had this generation have all been on the PS3, and they've all been exclusive to that platform. Killzone 2, Warhawk, Metal Gear Online - we haven't seen games that have been so open and given the power back to the gamers and developers like these, Metal Gear Online may seem like an odd example because it has always been the key example of why you shouldn't allow developers to take too much control - it had an awful konami ID system, separating itself from PSN. But the actual gameplay and infrastructure around it was greatly enhanced by the freedom afforded to them.
Getting away from P2P systems, allowing players to configure servers for their community to play on, simple things that were there for much of the development of online gaming but have been largely snatched away by Microsoft with Xbox Live, are there and those games really were greatly enhanced because of it. That isn't to say P2P is entirely bad, it has its place and it is great in that place, but without any other options, online gaming is in a decline and I blame Xbox Live and Microsoft.
I can't see this changing any time soon, and if the next generation of consoles don't change this, I am getting ready to blame Xbox Live for putting the progression of online gaming back a fair few years.
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