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Xbox LIVE and Windows 8 (part 2) - Xbox Games

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12/30/2014 8:39:02 PM

Xbox LIVE Comes to Windows 8

While Xbox LIVE was originally conceived as an online service for the Xbox video game consoles, Microsoft ported it to Windows, poorly, as Games for Windows – LIVE in 2006. Games for Windows – LIVE is pretty lackluster, only offering a subset of the capabilities you get with Xbox LIVE on the 360. But it still exists and Microsoft has pledged to continue supporting it in Windows 8, even though it supports only those games that run via the legacy Windows desktop. We won’t examine it in more detail here because nothing has changed.

In the years since creating this weird offshoot of Xbox LIVE, Microsoft also created the Windows Phone platform, which debuted in 2010. One of the major features of that platform was an integrated version of Xbox LIVE.

Unlike Games for Windows – LIVE, Xbox LIVE for Windows Phone wasn’t a horrible compromise, and it provided access to great Xbox LIVE games, with achievements and other Xbox LIVE features. Xbox LIVE on Windows Phone was so successful, in fact, that Microsoft decided to bring it to Windows 8 as well.

Windows 8 also includes apps for Xbox entertainment services, including Xbox Music and Xbox Video.

So what’s the difference between Xbox LIVE (for Windows 8) and Games for Windows – LIVE? It’s two-fold. First, Xbox LIVE works with Metro-style games on Windows 8, not desktop-based games. Second, Microsoft has created new Xbox LIVE user experiences for Windows 8 that mirror those it created first for Windows Phone. These experiences take the form of two apps, for now, called Xbox Games and Xbox Companion.

NOTE Like so many Metro-style apps in Windows 8, Xbox Games and Xbox Companion are connected apps, meaning that they require you to sign in with a Microsoft account. As always, it’s easiest if you simply sign in to your Windows 8 PC or device using a Microsoft account. But if you are using a local account type, you can sign in to a Microsoft account the first time you run either of these apps.

Xbox Games

The Xbox Games app is identified only as Games on the app’s live tile and in All Apps.

Xbox Games is the front end to all of your Xbox LIVE game activities on Windows 8, and oddly enough that includes a ton of Xbox 360-related functionality, too. If you’re familiar with the Games hub in Windows Phone, you will see the functional similarities, though the Windows Phone interface lacks the links to Microsoft’s dedicated gaming console. And if you’re familiar with the Xbox 360, you’ll immediately recognize that the Metro-style Xbox Games app is very much based on the console’s Dashboard user experience. You can see this app in Figure 3.

Xbox Games is a standard, horizontally oriented, Metro-style user experience, but with one twist. Yes, it’s divided into a series of groups that extend from left to right, like other Metro experiences. As with the Xbox entertainment apps, Music, and Video, Xbox Games does not start up oriented at the left edge of its extended, multi-screen user interface. So while you can scroll to the right when you first enter the app, you can also, oddly, scroll to the left.

When you do, you’ll see that there are two small groups, Gamercard and Friends, to the left of the starting point of the app, at the Spotlight group, as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 3: Xbox Games

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Figure 4: Look to the left of Spotlight and you’ll see two semi-hidden groups.

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The following groups are available in Xbox Games.

Gamertag

This interactive group provides a ton of editable information related to your Gamertag, including your first name, Gamerscore, motto, location, and bio, plus links to customize your avatar, edit your profile, view your and achievements. You can also share your profile and view incoming friend requests.

The achievements interface lets you view your Xbox 360, Windows Phone, Games for Windows – LIVE, and Windows 8 game achievements by game or date, with the ability to sort between all achievements and unlocked achievements (those you’ve actually achieved). As you can see in Figure 5, as you scroll to the right, you will see that every Xbox LIVE game you’ve ever played, regardless of platform, is accounted for.

Figure 5: Bask in the glory of your past achievements.

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You can also click on individual games—using the box art or Game Details button—to see the full-screen landing page for that game in what’s called the Games Store . This interface scrolls off to the right and provides different capabilities depending on the title, but you’ll see such things as a trailer movie, Buy Game for Xbox 360 and Play on Xbox 360 buttons, lists of game achievements, extras, and related games, and more. A typical game landing page is shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6: A game landing page for an Xbox 360 title

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It’s up to you, of course, but real men don’t play dress-up with their avatar. Just saying.

The Customize Avatar option brings up a paper doll-like interface where you can dress up your avatar with new tops, headgear, glasses, wrist wear, gloves, rings, and other silliness. The Customize Avatar interface is shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7: Play dress-up with your avatar.

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Friends

In the Friends group, you’ll see the avatars of the first several of your friends who are currently online. Tap on the Friends title to see the full list of your online (and recently online) friends, also in avatar form. Or, tap on a friend’s avatar to view their Gamertag information, as in Figure 8, and compare how they’re doing against you.

Figure 8: Find out more about your friend’s gaming activities.

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Spotlight

The Spotlight group is the default view in Xbox Games and functions as it does in Windows Store. It’s a place for Microsoft to highlight and promote games and other offers that it thinks you’ll find interesting. It’s also, sadly, stocked with a couple of outright advertisements, which we find a bit insulting, having recently renewed our Xbox LIVE Gold subscriptions at $50 a pop.

Game Activity

The Game Activity group, shown in Figure 9, provides a grid of the games you most recently played across all of the platforms on which Xbox LIVE is supported, in reverse order.

Figure 9: Your most recently played Xbox LIVE games

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If you tap on the Game Activity title, it will present the entire list of Xbox LIVE games you’ve ever played, dating all the way back to 2005. In keeping with the game activity theme here, the games—each represented by box art—can display messages about the activities that friends have done with each. So you may see something like 1 beacon, 2 online, or similar noted on individual games, indicating that you’re friends are busy having fun online while you’re reading this dry, humorless tome.

When you tap on an individual game, a display pops up to show more information about the game, much like the interfaces in the other Xbox apps, Music and Video. This can be seen in Figure 10.

What you see here will depend on the platform of the game that you’ve selected. Most games will provide at least some descriptive text about the title. But you can also see a number of buttons, including:

  • Play: This button appears next to Windows 8 Metro-style games. If you click this button, the game will begin playing immediately.

Figure 10: Viewing more information about a recently played game

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  • Play on Xbox 360: This button appears next to Xbox 360 games. If you click this button, the Xbox Companion app, will open and attempt to connect to your Xbox 360 console and start the game.
  • Buy game/Buy game for Xbox 360: This button triggers a full-screen Confirm Purchase experience. If you’ve selected this option for an Xbox 360 game, the game you’re purchasing will be installed on the first console to which it’s downloaded, so be careful if you own more than one. (Hey, it happens.) Note that the Buy Game for Xbox 360 option is only available for those Xbox 360 games that can be purchased electronically; some games are retail-only and require physical DVD-based media.
  • Explore Game: This button launches the game landing page discussed earlier.
  • Play Trailer: This button launches the video playback of the game’s trailer.

Windows Games Store

Now, we can guess what you’re thinking. We just told you that the Windows Store was the only place you could find, download, and update Windows 8 games, and yet here we are in the Xbox Games app and there’s a group called Windows Games Store. What’s up with that?

It’s a fair question.

Behind the scenes, all of Microsoft’s online entertainment services—Xbox LIVE Marketplace, Windows Store, Windows Phone Marketplace, the old Zune Music and Videos Marketplaces (now called Xbox Music and Xbox Videos, respectively), and so on—utilize the same back end. You might think of this back end as Microsoft Marketplace, though to be honest that’s not really the name. But you get the idea. Microsoft really has just one online marketplace. But it’s exposed in different places differently.

So, yes, Windows Store is the go-to place for all Windows 8 apps. But if you’re just looking for Xbox LIVE games for Windows 8—that subset of Windows games that utilize the Xbox LIVE service and thus provide unique features like achievements—then Windows Games Store does that, and without any distractions. It includes featured games, picks for you (based on previously played games), genre lists, and more. To be fair, it’s not an actual marketplace; it’s just a group within Xbox LIVE games, and a window, if you will, into a very specific subset of Windows Store.

Xbox Game Marketplace

When you consider that Microsoft’s online marketplace for the Xbox 360 is actually called Xbox Marketplace, the Xbox Games Store group seems a bit misnamed. But let’s not quibble. This group, like Windows Games Store, is really just a view into an actual online store—in this case, the Xbox Marketplace—and like the Windows Games Store, it provides different views, such as Games on Demand, Demos, Indie, Arcade (for Xbox LIVE Arcade), and All Games. You can also sort by genre and arrange the view by best-selling today, release date, best-selling all-time, top rated, and title.

The Xbox Games Marketplace is shown in Figure 11.

Figure 11: Xbox Games Marketplace

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What makes Xbox Games Store unique is that it’s basically a place to browse, find, and purchase games for the Xbox 360. You do this from Windows presumably because it’s a better experience than doing so on the console itself. Like the Game Activity group discussed previously, you’ll see buttons such as Play on Xbox 360 and Explore Game, and they work just as they do elsewhere in this app. But you’ll also see new options like Buy game for Xbox 360. And that means you’ll eventually find yourself pushed over to the Xbox Companion app, which happens when you make a game purchase or select the Play on Xbox button. So let’s examine that app next.

 
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