Hands-on with the new Xbox Experience

(Credit: Microsoft)

The party channel is just one example of a channels system that's now an important piece of the larger system, and which makes up what is known as Spotlight. This is basically a view into the very wide range of things that are going on within Xbox Live at any time, as viewed through a series of channels.

These channels, then, will show events that are coming up in the system, as well as the marketplace, where players can buy all kinds of new things — including a new community games channel that appears in the marketplace. These are games made by the community using Microsoft's XNA Studio development software.

Spotlight also allows you to search for games, and to sort by genre, so that players can easily see, for example, all the racing games currently in their system or currently available through the marketplace.

And the system is optimised so that all information surrounding a single game will appear on a single game page, where players will be able to see who's playing, what live features are offered, any videos that are available, and any new downloads that have come out.

All told, these game pages will show everything related to the individual games, including material that players don't yet have, allowing them to easily buy those new things — and making it easier for Microsoft to generate revenue through additional transactions.

Yet another new feature is that Xbox Live users will be able to instigate changes to their system through Xbox.com. That means that if players see a new accessory or game update they want while they are away from their console, but are using the internet on a computer, they can order what they want and it will queue up. When they return to their Xboxes, they don't have to try to remember what it was they wanted.

This will also allow content developers to create a long tail, said Gruhl, because it will allow them to promote their content on websites and drive people to Xbox.com, where they can order it.

And lastly, the new Xbox Live features a simple guide mechanism that gives very quick access to almost everything the system has to offer, and which mimics the blade motif of the existing Xbox Live.

This is basically a quick start dashboard that allows players to jump instantly to what they want, obviating the need, if they're in a hurry, to go through the larger Xbox Live experience. Choices are more limited in what they can do, but most of what they need to navigate is available here.

For Microsoft, then, the new Xbox Live is an attempt to bridge the entire gaming audience, from the most casual, 40-something woman, to the most hardcore, teen male Halo addict.

Whether that will work is, of course, still to be determined, but Microsoft thinks it got off to a good start by recently lowering the price of the most basic Xbox to AU$349.95, a move it says has boosted sales significantly.

Microsoft clearly has to work on how it talks about the changes in the new Xbox Live, due to the worries of its core audience. But from what we've seen, we think anyone who uses the system for a while will grow to like what they see.

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