Why Xbox Live Dominates Console Multiplayer Now And Possibly Next Gen

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For all the negatives that have been thrown around about Microsoft lately, one huge aspect of console gaming – and really, gaming in general – that the silicon giant has kept a vice-like grip around is the online multiplayer experience.

No one, and I mean no one can argue that any other system, or PC software for that matter, has been able to touch the ease of access and downright dependability associated with Xbox Live. Let’s be honest with ourselves for a minute. Playing online multiplayer games on consoles before the seventh generation was not only a royal pain in the ass to figure out but also incredibly unstable. This was long before Steam was a even a twinkle in Gabe Newell’s eye, and the PC was like consoles in that every game had its own clunky online interface and separate publisher account information.

In the time since its launch, the Xbox 360 has set the internet ablaze with some really great genre-defining multiplayer experiences, sending every single one of Microsoft’s competitors scrambling to find parity in any way possible. I remember getting the first Gears of War for Christmas the month after it was released (from my mother-in-law of all people), and I was outright stunned at how easy, not to mention functional, my first real online experience with the new Xbox Live and the Xbox 360 was. All of my friends that I showed Gears to had to have the game and made up their minds almost immediately to purchase the 360. Even a few people holding out for the PS3 gave up their Sony banner and converted.

Since that time Xbox Live has evolved even more and streamlined many of its core functions to the point that older friends and tech-challenged family members were easily able to jump in on the fun. Xbox Live’s party system alone has shown the world just how simple playing with friends online can be and has been the envy of every Sony executive and PlaysStation fanboy since the PSN stumbled into existence.

Not to say the PSN hasn’t come a long way, but it still pales in comparison to the access level and stability of Xbox Live. On Sony’s current iteration of the PlayStation, games still have their own clunky online interfaces just like the ones I mentioned from the previous gen with no unified party structure. And sure, you can invite people into the game you’re currently in, but if someone gets disconnected, which happens way more often than it should, you’re back at square one.

While we are on the subject of how lackluster the PSN’s features are in comparison to Xbox Live, let’s talk about cross-game chat for second. How in the hell did Sony fail to figure out how to implement this feature over the course of the last seven years? Cross-game or party chat’s value can’t be undersold when it comes to playing online. Oh, and don’t say, “You can mute everybody but your friends and it’s the same thing,” because I assure you it definitely is not. Even if you go through the trouble of doing this, as soon as the match is over and the server resets, time to mute everybody again (see multiplayer in Killzone 2 and 3). This is far from optimal, and to be frank, Sony should be embarrassed at this point.

As we head into the new generation of consoles, there is a lot of positive buzz about the PS4, and there have been many negative statements made about how Microsoft handled the Xbox One’s announcement. It’s definitely popular on the internet to hate on Microsoft, and Sony has made a lot of promises about how the PSN of the future will function. But listen up people, no one has seen the new PSN, and no one will until there are PS4′s in the wild, and until I experience it myself, I won’t believe the hype for a second. Especially since playing games on PSN will now cost money.

In closing, the PS4 seems like a great gaming machine from what I have seen so far, but to be on par with Xbox Live, even in its current state, Sony has a long way to go. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and forget who the current king of online is (Xbox 360). If multiplayer gaming is important to you, be a savvy consumer and wait a couple of weeks after release before you make that big purchase to see how the new system’s online features really compare.

Dalton Miller
Dalton Miller

@TalesofDalton Analyst, Writer, Technologist, Futurist, e-cigarette aficionado, drinker of TAB cola, I'm ready for the dystopia, are you?

20 Comments

  1. Ok, Gaikai has little under 9000 servers. MS Azure has over 600 million (I kid you not). With the 300.000 that will be available at launch, Sony will only have about 3% of what MS will be offering and that does NOT include distributed computing that is on the Xbox One. In other words. PSN will be garbage in comparison to the new XBL.

    But most of the competition’s features will be copied by Sony eventually (if they ever get money for it). That’s just what they are now, a copycat company with little innovation. That’s why they have been going so bad financially since the beginning of the century.

    • Distributed computing on XB1? That’s a new one ;). At this stage, the value of the cloud at launch is very unclear (beyond dedicated servers, which Resistance 1 had when the PS3 launched, so calling dedicated servers an ‘innovation’ in the console space for the XB1 is stretching it and no mistake). IT is the case that Azure is a huge cloud service, and has a tonne of potential, and the cheap access to Azure for devs sounds like a winner, but at some point, somewhere, someone will have to pay for those servers. Unless MS is going to lock itself in to an ongoing subsidy for XB1 to the tune of millions of dollars a month (300,000 servers don’t come cheap) then there’s something we’re not being told here. Both Sony and MS are out to make money, and they’ll both be getting the same amount (more or less) of money from consumers for what’s being sold. Unless one of them decides to take a hit (which the shareholders in question aren’t likely to support for long) then MS either have a cost-recovering process in place, are preparing to bump up the cost of Gold, or we’ll never see the free games we get on PS+ over on Gold. I know I’d personally prefer to pay once for processing then have a subscription for dedicated servers and free games than pay an ongoing charge for Drivatar AI.

    • Cory McBride

      Links? Source on this info? Or can you not reach far enough back into your ass to find where you pulled these numbers from?

  2. Tyler Parsley

    I enjoyed the article, but I can’t say that I fully agree. I do agree that the party system and cross game chat is definitely a plus and I am guilty as a PS3 gamer that it has been my envy for a while now. However, in no way shape or form do I see it being easier to use as far as getting into games, getting connected to the internet, and getting into games with my friends. Keep in mind I played mainly on pc long before I got into console gaming and had to go through all kinds of lengths to play with my friends. When I bought a PS3 and started playing games online I was amazed at how easy it was in comparison. For some reason though, every time I would go to a forum to talk about different games and what not, half of all the topics I read turned into flame wars and the most common response vs. PSN was how much better Xbox Live is compared to PSN. Now this was way before the PS+ days. I had several friends who owned an Xbox 360 with live so I decided I would do some research to see what all the buzz was about. I borrowed a friends Xbox and when I went to set everything up, I had no less trouble than I did setting up my PS3 for the first time. In fact I had more. Turns out the 360 didn’t come with a built in WiFi adapter so I had to track down an Ethernet cable long enough to go from the modem in my parents bedroom to my room halfway across the house. I also wasn’t used to the UI which I quickly became accustomed to, but honestly no faster than Sony’s XMB. I also couldn’t believe that MS was going to make me pay to use almost any kind of online functionality when I can do most of the same things on PS3 for free.

    I guess my point is I don’t understand what makes people think that Xbox 360 is so much simpler to use than a PS3, save of course the party system. You have to go to a certain category on the UI to get to games, video, music, friends lists, etc. on both systems. Sure Xbox has a flashy interface with live windows and pictures, which in my opinion always seemed too flashy. I prefer the simpler design of the XMB and am kind of disappointed that the new PSN is going to look closer to the Xbox Live interface, but that’s a minor thing I will no doubt get over. Maybe it’s my roots in pc gaming that make it hard to see what makes so many people think Live is leaps and bounds easier to use, but my personal theory is the idea that it’s a paid service, people have it in their mind that it’s better. But I’ve been wrong before.

    I’ve also seen an article on Kotaku that breaks down exactly what Xbox Live offers in comparison to PS+ and while yes, Xbox Live’s list is longer, PS+’s list seemed more substantial to me seeing that every single one of the features on that list that PS+ didn’t have are things that I would never use a console for when I have a pc anyway.

    • Dalton Miller

      Tyler, I agree that you and I, who have years of experience in gaming and tech, don’t have much problem figuring out how to get down with any system, but as it pertains to the general populace, Xbox live is just easier for a tech-challenged user. An easy way to think about it is: For Windows 8, Microsoft took what people loved about IOS (it’s simplicity) and implemented it into their system. Then upgraded the Xbox 360 interface to reflect that same style for one reason: To make it more mainstream and ease those “casual” customers in. Since up to around a year ago the Xbox 360 was vastly ahead in sales in the US, the choice MS made to ape apple, definitely worked out for them.

    • I’d strongly disagree with this – I don’t want to get into flame wars, and _both_ consoles are great online, but getting up and going on the 360 had more steps was more finickity _and_ came with a paywall. Getting set up for online on PC usually involves signing up for a different service each bloody game, unless it’s one of the relative few integrated through Steam, and getting online on 360 was a piece of cake. I think the 360 is a great piece of kit, with some great games, but I personally think the PS3 is a better one, and the _only_ advantage the 360 has is cross-game chat. Given my preference for dedicated servers when playing online (far more common in PS3/PC games) I’ve always preferred playing online on the two ‘P’s, and 360 only gets a run for exclusives that I’m interested in playing online.

      Also – the 360′s boost in sales was Kinect-driven, had nothing to do with the interface (Windows 8 is tanking – the Windows 8 approach is hardly popular, and the PS itself is needlessly finickity – there’s a reason they’re giving us back our start button – right now there’s not a PC user I know who recommends Win 8 over 7, and my experience with it personally is largely negative) – just have a look at sales of Kinect Adventures – it pretty much mirrors the boost in 360 sales.

  3. Lack of cross-game chat on PS3 was due to the amount of RAM allocated for the OS – they just couldn’t squeeze it in. It was a poor design decision, and not forward-looking, but also highly unlikely to be repeated next-gen (for example, they’ve had it on Vita for a whiles now). XBL definitely has a better setup for parties, it’s lack of dedicated servers for first-party games means that while the chatting is great, the gameplay itself is often laggier (on the other hand, while the setup was all over the shop and the chat patchy, the actual gameplay on most first-party PS3 titles had less latency, which for me, personally, is the most important element of any online game – that, and you actually had greater variety of online gameplay on PS3 – XBL was the king of arcade shooters, but there was nothing like MAG, SOCOM or Warhawk/Starhawk). It’s been eyebrow raising to see Respawn talk up the power of the cloud to give us dedicated servers, when the PS2 had dedicated servers for SOCOM, and the PC had dedicated servers over a decade or two! Hopefully, all of this ‘cloud’ talk from MS will mean XB1 has the substance (lower latency) with the flash (parties and cross-game chat), as well as encourage Sony not to ‘go soft’ and save money by going p2p.

    Anyways, I’d say things next-gen will get a lot better for both consoles – win-win :).

  4. Sony has been a day late and a dollar short on every “advance” since the PS3/360 releases. You call out one of the glaringly obvious ones here (has Sony said yet how many severs they will have supporting PSN?). XBL, chat, kinect, ip, etc. The latest gen is yet another example. The high horse of “we are for gamers, and xbox has sold out” is going to come back to bite them to the tune of billions of dollars. The new XBOX is the precursor to MS owning home entertainment, mark my words.

  5. BRICK TAMLAND

    Nice article. In my experience, the chat on the 360 has always been a cut above the rest, at least in terms of its ease of use. I remember years ago when I got a 360 and how easy it was to get online and start chatting with my friends. I rarely had problems and if I did have a problem, it was simple to fix. I definitely cannot say the same in my experiences chatting on the PC and the PS3. So I will agree with Dalton on this one because I have always prefered playing multiplayer games on the 360 in part because of the superior chat and its ease of use.

  6. TheFanboySlayer

    Xbox live is cool and all with the cross game chat but the real reason why it is better than PSN is that the USA has more Xboxs than PS3s so the ecosystem is richer. SInce there are more Xboxs in the USA, your REAL LIFE friends most likely have xbox. Therefore there is a high chance that they have xbox live. Experiencing games with real life friends is what makes an online experience great. That is what Xbox live has. When I play xbox I immediately know that I can play with my friends today and then talk about our experiences tomorrow IN PERSON. This makes it all the more fun. With PSN that is not really available I mostly play with random people I dont know on PS3 so I can’t share my experiences outside the game. PSN is also good because of PS+. Xbox Live has to catch up to PS+ in terms of free games and discounts. Xbox Live is miles behind in that front. And since PS+ is required now to play online, everyone will have access to those free games and other special features such as cloud storage, etc. PSN and Xbox Live are about equal if you look at it from my perspective.

  7. lol…ill never understand how people give a damn about cross game chat…its an entirely useless feature….why would anyone want to talk to a person playing a different game than them?…if youre trying to just catch up with some old friend you havent seen in awhile there are a million different (and more simple) ways to communicate…the party system is ever so slightly easier that the alternative ill admit,but is it really worth 60 bucks a year? meh….and ps4 is getting all of these features so its a moot point for next gen consoles….and lastly these things did exist with teamspeak and all the other options on pc way before xbox live,but hey,nice flamebait article i hope it leads to all the n4g clicks you hoped for…have a nice day :)

    • Jed Pressgrove

      Thanks for your feedback, mikey! We want this site to be a place where you can say anything that’s on your mind … an open forum, if you will. The n4g clicks are nice, but feedback is way better.

  8. Good article. I think a lot of 360 owners currently planning on making the switch to the PS4 are in for a bit of a rude awakening. MS’s decision to offer inexpensive dedicated servers to Xbox One developers are going to turn the current gap in service quality into a Grand Canyon size divide.

    • You do realise that there are far more dedicated server games on PS3 than 360? It’s far more likely they’ll be surprised that when they come on over all the dedicated server talk from MS was already in place over on the PSN ;). It isn’t as easy for devs, mind, but from a gamers perspective the PSN or PC was the place to go for dedicated server online this gen.

  9. John Freitas

    “But listen up people, no one has seen the new PSN, and no one will until there are PS4′s in the wild, and until I experience it myself, I won’t believe the hype for a second. Especially since playing games on PSN will now cost money.” That is an unfair statement on your part. You don’t have to pay to play games. For multiplayer, yes, not for single player. And with PSN we will have access to Netflix and hulu and all those services without paying. Can you say the same for Xbox live?

    • Dalton Miller

      You are correct, you don’t have to pay to play single player offline games on the new PSN or XBL, as far we know, but the key operating phrase in my statement is, “playing games on the PSN”.

    • Cory McBride

      And PS4 users will have access to all of the F2P online games coming to PSN with the launch of the PS4 (Planetside 2, Blacklight: Retribution, Warframe, etc.) without paying a dime for PS+.

    • Dalton Miller

      I think Sony’s policies on free to play and self publishing are already defining those aspects for next gen. Just look at Microsoft’s recent announcement on the subject. I spend most of my time on PC these days for the exact reason Sony is so gung ho about this. Indies are largely the leading innovators of software in the industry.

    • Tyler Parsley

      On that note, it seems like Microsoft is kind of hijacking Sony’s policies. With the 180 on several policies by MS that mirror what Sony has been doing for a while now, it’s like MS is doing it’s damnedest to keep up. That’s perfectly fine of course, but I’ve seen a trend of MS being praised for announcing policies that Sony has been practicing for a bit. Just seems that Sony’s thunder is being stolen, that could just be my inner fanboy talking though haha.

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