One of my biggest pet peeves with Xbox is how clunky its Windows 10 app is. It's functional for party chat, accessing your Game DVR, and things of that nature, but it's painfully slow, particularly so for text-based communication, which is dominating gaming right now. Steam chat, Discord, and various other services are simply far faster than the Xbox app when it comes to sending messages at any sort of scale.
In a recent Q&A session at E3, Phil Spencer touched on the topic, noting that progress on the Xbox app has slowed down, due in part to Microsoft rethinking how it approaches PC gaming. Spencer said that rather than bring console-like features to PC, it will focus on bringing PC gamers playing Xbox games on their computers features that emulate what's already out there, such as Steam and Discord.
We got a glimpse of at least some concepts Microsoft is working on to achieve this goal, starting with changes to Game Hubs and Xbox Clubs.
Microsoft is exploring ditching Game Hubs entirely, replacing them with what they're referring to internally as "Official Clubs." Official Clubs will function similarly to Clubs, but they will be owned by the publisher or developer of the games they are attached to and will come with robust features to help developers engage with their customers over Xbox Live.
If Microsoft moves ahead with this plan, Official Clubs would get links wherever they're contextually relevant, such as a Microsoft Store page or within the Xbox Guide menu.
Microsoft's documents say the Official Clubs will come with moderation tools similar to what's available today, with features such as locking comments down on a thread, allowing community managers to add scheduled posts, and robust engagement analytics.
Discord-like Clubs channels
Microsoft is working on Discord-like channels for its Clubs system, which look as though they will allow users to customize different types of content feeds, chat channels, and also voice-chat channels, dubbed "parties."
You will also be able to pin Mixer channels to your Club, making it easy for your friends (or customers, if you're a publisher) to find your content.
A step in the right direction
Microsoft has an opportunity to create deeper integration between its gaming systems and its social systems, some of which have been dramatically underserved in recent years. Discord has become the go-to tool for building gaming communities almost everywhere, and the explosive growth shines a spotlight on just how slow innovation has been at both Xbox and Skype with regards to communication for gamers. Thankfully, it looks like Microsoft is putting more investment into Xbox to take control of some of these features and get them to where they need to be.
As always, plans such as they can and often do change, but Microsoft is at least exploring building on Clubs and its Xbox app, and hopefully, we'll see the fruits of that exploration sooner than later.