I used to find it a bit gauche to complain about the 100-friend limit on Xbox Live. It seems that video game industry professionals are the people who normally have this complaint, apparently unaware that for most of their audience 100 friends is more than enough. After all, not everyone works professionally as an avid gamer followed closely by an audience of people who would love to play online games with them.
Certainly, my initial experience with Xbox Live was much different. Without many friends in my daily life who were gamers, I had to resort to public games to try out the free 30-day gold account trial that came with the console. It didn’t take me long to decide that playing against the XBL community wasn’t something I wanted to pay for. After all, I can hear racial epithets and homophobic slurs for free in my (red) neck of the woods.
I felt a little alien, preferring the online on the PS3. After all, seemingly the entire game press was telling me that the online experience was much better on Xbox Live. Of course, they weren’t playing many public games. On the PS3, hardly anyone bothers to connect a headset to the machine, despite the fact that you can use almost any bluetooth or USB headset. Because of this quirk of the PS3 community, you can actually play hours of Call of Duty 4 without hearing a single preteen curse at you!
Two major trends have started to change my mind. The first is a personal one: I have somehow managed to make friends at various internet communities, despite my acerbic nature and inscrutable sense of humor. The forum connected to this very website is an excellent resource for someone who might want to get an online game going with people who aren’t examples of John Gabriel’s Internet Fuckwad Theory, and I’ve whiled away several nights chainsawing monsters alongside some of those fine folk. I’ve also been writing for this site for well over a year now, and I’ve consequently made friends with many readers.
Of course, not everyone writes for a niche gaming site or is comfortable on Internet forums. Still, even for those people I imagine that their friend lists are also growing, because the other trend is the evolution of Xbox Live into something of a social network. The first big feature Microsoft added was the “friends of friends” option. I added quite a few friends on XBL by going through the friend lists of people in my network. That was only a minor improvement compared to what came with the “New Xbox Experience” — the party system. An Xbox Live Party groups you with other users in a cross-game chat session. Parties can all go into and out of games together and maintain communication even if some players are in other games or if the group goes back into the Xbox “dashboard”, or main menu. Some of the people I play with most often I only met because they were in parties I was invited to. It’s not just me; Xbox Live’s Major Nelsonreports that friend lists increased in size by an average of 33% in the immediate aftermath of the NXE launch.
[[image:vs090110_tmf_014.jpg:An Xbox Live Party:center:0]]
So, now I find myself as one of those people. I’ve nearly hit the ceiling on my 360 friend list and I’m hoping that Microsoft will give us more slots soon. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, some of the people behind Xbox Live indicated that that was in their plans, which only makes sense because if Xbox Live is going to keep going in this social network direction than more and more people are going to be hitting this ceiling. Until then, I may end up having to make some hard choices.