For the past few months I’ve been in close contact with a few of my colleagues in the Tokyo office of my company and, through them, with Shigeo Tatsumi, Xbox.com Japan Webmaster and community manager of sorts. Part of our conversation have been about sharing information and thoughts about expanding the community relations that Shigeo has been doing for some time already in Japan. When we last talked in early June, Shigeo planned to take the already smart things he has been doing since the launch of the original Xbox to a new level in early July. That time is finally here.Taking a cue from the creation of the Gamerscore blog, Xbox Japan has launched an employee blog for all things community related in Japan. Right now, only Shigeo is writing on the blog, but that might change in the future. So far, he’s posted a lot of things already — from upcoming demos (Zegapain XOR) to videos about the quick charge kit (he’s in the video) and what seems to be a Halo 2 comedy routine to just posting what is new on the Xbox Live Marketplace. I’m interested in seeing where this goes, but I think Shigeo is off to a great start, mixing his own vision with the usefulness of a more official version of MajorNelson.com and the aforementioned Gamerscoreblog.com. I’ve already got this as an (unfortunately) auto-translated bookmark on my daily list of sites to check out.
The other part to the community program in Japan is the launch of the Xbox Friends web site. Social networks and networking are fairly big in Japan and it seems a lot of people are connected with their friends in a lot of different ways (in Japan and in the rest of the world naturally). Of course, Xbox Live is supposed to add another way friends all over the world are connected. The challenge in Japan seems to be that just randomly running into someone on Live, who may not even speak Japanese, to play a game with — never mind actually put on your Friends list — is an awkward social situation more often than not. This is where Xbox Friends comes in. From what I understand Xbox Friends basically looks to supplement the existing friends list features on Xbox.com to help gamers in Japan find new friends that share things in common by including information not available on Xbox Live such as prefecture, age and profession among other things. This information was willingly given by the gamers in order to join Xbox Friends, since that’s the whole purpose of the site. On Xbox Friends, gamers can create groups such as clans, guilds, student clubs, etc. and they can also search these groups. On home page for the Xbox Friends site itself, there are three main tabs for search: user search, group search (search for gamer groups according to game genre) and user map search.
This is what the most interesting part of Xbox Friends is — the “user map” function. Basically, you start with selecting a game title and then on the next page you can choose to narrow down your user map search by a few categories. They include: Gamer Zone, prefecture, gender, age (minors cannot be searched), favorite game genre, and profession. The search result is a Flash-based user map and the type of user map you get — score view or match view — depends on what criteria you did or did not select to search by. You can also narrow down the number of results returned by using the 10 – 100 slider bar on the right side, so that the user map you get isn’t too busy and you can pick out a Gamertag to choose from to view. From these results, gamers in Japan can now find someone to request to be a friend on Xbox Live and not have it totally be random. It’s definitely a great idea and something that is needed out there. I hope that Japanese gamers put it to full use.
One of the things I’ve consistently heard on NeoGAF has been the recent dearth of content on Xbox Live Arcade, considering announcements made at GDC back in March and at E3 in May about what was in the pipeline. They were setting the stage for Xbox Live Arcade, and by association, Marketplace, to have a significant amount of content by the end of the year. Then people started to wait for when the Marketplace floodgates would open and they would unfortunately wait longer than they thought.
The good news is that after a bit of hard work, folks at Microsoft, along with some of my co-workers, put together the “Summer of Xbox Live Arcade” event in San Francisco that happened tonight. This event kicks off five straight weeks of Xbox Live Arcade releases, updated every Wednesday at 1:00 am PDT (0800 GMT), through August 2. Tonight, the updates start off with Frogger. After that, the schedule goes:
- July 19 – Cloning Clyde
- July 26 – Galaga
- August 2 – Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting
- August 9 – Pac-Man
I’m really looking forward to Galaga, that has been one of my favorite arcade games for a long time. Except this time I won’t have to put real quarters in it over and over again!
Details and breakdown of the Spring 2006 Dashboard update for Xbox 360.
The current iteration of Xbox Live has really spoiled me in a couple of ways. On the original Xbox and Xbox Live, it was nice and important to know who on your friends list was online and what game they are playing. So of course with the Xbox 360 release, Xbox Live tells you that information and then lets you know what they are doing in the game: what level or map they are on, often what particular activity they are doing, status about their character/persona, the score of the (sports) game they are playing, or, like with Oblivion, their level and current health.
Which brings me to wish that Final Fantasy XI was able to pass along similar information. I’m guessing that, along with the fact that you couldn’t really award retroactive achievements, there might be some technical reason that stands in the way of reporting that type of information back to the dashboard or Xbox.com friends lists. The thing is with PlayOnline was that I knew whomever was online on their friends list was playing FFXI. Now when I see them on “PlayOnline Viewer” I want to know details! FFXI or, unlikely, TetraMaster? Why isn’t it the mysterious Final Fantasy XI entry/icon which only shows me as playing it the day I installed it. I also want to see what their character name is, what server they are on and what jobs and levels they have active at that moment. It just seems… to fit… and satiate my curiousity about people I didn’t know were playing MMOs/FFXI.
This weekend (March 31 – April 2) is going to be the first Free Xbox Live Gold Weekend that will take place since the Xbox 360 has launched. I hope, and I’m sure, a lot of people will try this out on the current crop of Xbox 360 games. I really didn’t maximize my use of Live when I had an Xbox. It really was for Halo 2 and nothing else. Most of the time it was because I didn’t play the game far enough to say I wanted to go online, like with Top Spin. I wasn’t going to go online unless I had completed the character I created. Now I’m definitely playing it a lot more, and you can bet that when I pick up Top Spin 2, I’ll be hitting the online courts as quickly as I can.
The Xbox Live team is also launching a new little program with this first Free Xbox Live Gold Weekend, the Xbox Ambassadors. This is a (rather sizable) group of people hand selected to be nice, helpful people on Xbox Live for those folks who might be enjoying their first foray into Live and online multiplayer gaming. I was glad to make that group of gamertags selected to be Ambassadors for this weekend, so I could maybe get new people onto my friends list to play games with in the future. So, keep a lookout for me (and the rest of the Ambassadors) this weekend and invite us to your friends list for a game or two.