Xbox Live: This Console Generation’s Greatest Innovation

If you cruise by your local arcade these days you’re sure to find gamers dancing at one game, shooting baddies with a handgun in another, and even sitting down behind the wheel to race with their buddies. With the dominance in popularity of home console gaming over the arcades, these, and many other innovations have been brought out of the arcades and into our homes.

Innovation has always been a critical part to a video game console’s success. Looking over the numerous console releases throughout the years you see innovation everywhere. Some innovations, like the NES Light Gun and Playstation’s Dual Shock controller, help create a more immersive atmosphere and give gamers a new way to play their games. Dance pads, wireless controllers, and steering wheels all enhance our home video game experience by giving us more control over the way we play games. While video game consoles have seen stellar innovations over the years, none hold a joystick to Xbox Live.

The Xbox Live service isn’t just another innovation in console gaming; it’s become the benchmark for gaming innovation. When Sony’s PS3 and Nintendo’s Revolution are released in 2006, gamers and industry folks alike will wonder what online component they’ll have that compares to Xbox Live. If Sony and Nintendo decide to downplay the importance of an online service, as their current generation of hardware does, it could mean that Microsoft will shoot to the top of the console gaming competition. Sony and Nintendo, whether they will admit it or not, have to seriously consider that though they both are industry giants and have a huge mountain of cash to fall back on, the exclusion of a high quality online service will mean they’ll both be looking up to Microsoft.

What Xbox Live does best is extend the life of your favorite games. How many times have you played through the campaign mode of a great game, unlocked the secrets, searched through all the levels, beat the big bad boss in the end, and then never played it again? There was nothing past the single player mode to keep you interested. Now you’re more apt to hear a gamer say they never played the single player mode of a game because the multiplayer is so enthralling.

Before Xbox Live multiplayer games were either in the fighting game or sports genres, basically games that you could comfortably play on a single screen. I remember how excited I was to try out the original Playstation’s link capabilities, but moving a TV in from another room each time a friend and I wanted to play was just too much of a hassle. Those were earlier days of multiplayer gaming. Now, with Xbox Live, you can play with other gamers at the simple push of a controller button; plus it’s much easier for those without technical savvy to set up and play an Xbox Live game than trying to do it on a PC. Xbox Live has brought online gaming to the mainstream video game community.

Xbox Live does more than just extend the life of your games. If all Live did was give subscribers the ability to play each other in multiplayer games, it would probably still warrant the ‘Best Innovation’ title, but it does so much more. Games that don’t have multiplayer modes, like the original Splinter Cell and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic have had Content Downloads mad available through the Live service that extends the life of the game by adding a few more missions. Case in point, the stellar action game Ninja Gaiden, had online tournaments and a couple of huge downloads that added new character skins, enemies, and weapons to an already superb game. Thus, even if you don’t care to play multiplayer games the Xbox Live service can benefit your gaming experience.

With all the benefits it offers it’s no wonder that Xbox Live now has over 1.5 million subscribers. What is a wonder is when you crunch the numbers and do the math you realize how many people are missing out on the greatest experience in gaming. Halo 2, arguably the greatest online game the Xbox has to offer, has sold over 6.5 million copies to date. Compare that to about 1.5 million Xbox Live accounts and you realize that so many gamers aren’t getting the most out of their Xbox. It’s like owning a sports car and never letting it out of the garage; the beast needs to be set free.

Granted, Xbox Live is not the first console online service. Sega’s defunct Dreamcast system had online capabilities as does the PS2, but neither of those services could touch Xbox Live in customer service and quality. PC games have had online capabilities for years now, but do you really want to pay nearly $200 a year to play one game (games like Star Wars Galaxies and City of Heroes require a monthly fee) or have to upgrade your hardware every year or so because your PC can’t keep up with the technology? I sure don’t. Xbox Live simplifies online gaming so even the casual gamer can set it up and start playing.

Nowadays games must have a true online component to seriously be considered a complete game, and we’re seeing more and more games being released with Xbox Live capabilities. We’ve all heard someone on Live say, “I don’t even consider buying a game if it has no multiplayer”. Well with the swell of online games currently available on Live and those yet to be released with Live capabilities, it will soon be tougher to find a game without Live services than those with it.

Looking back through the history of console video game systems, it’s hard to find an innovation that compares to Xbox Live. Dance pads, vibrating controllers, and the like are all wonderful in their own right, but being able to play games with gamers worldwide has created a console game community like no other. In the war for next generation console supremacy, Sony and Nintendo have their work cut out for them.

So let’s hear what you think some of the great and not so great innovations have been in console gaming history. Please post your comments below and let us know what you think.