We recently reported on some of Microsoft's plans to replace Game Hubs with a new "Official Clubs" feature for Xbox One, and it seems some aspects of those updates are now available to Xbox Insiders.
I noticed recently on the Alpha ring of the Xbox Insider Program that Official Clubs had begun encroaching on Game Hubs, and has since replaced them altogether.
The idea behind them is basically the same, but it merges the terminology with Microsoft's Xbox Clubs platform, which hasn't really seen a huge amount of traction when pitted against the likes of Reddit, Discord, and indeed, Steam, for gamer community creation. We've detailed some of the ways Microsoft is looking at improving Clubs in the past, but these early moves are an encouraging signal of further investment.
Official Clubs for dev engagement
While Xbox Clubs might not have set the world on fire when it comes to gamer communities, Official Clubs have more potential for developers building games that feature on-going updates. While many will defer to news sites, Reddit, or simple word of mouth for getting information on their favorite games, having it appear directly where they're playing their games cuts out the middleman, in a lot of cases.
Many games, like The Division, simply place news feeds within the launch page of their games, but with Official Clubs, Microsoft is potentially removing the pressure on developers to build their own systems, surfacing related content directly in the Xbox Guide menu, and potentially other places in the future, such as the Microsoft Store (like Steam).
When opening the context menu, you'll be offered the opportunity to visit a game's Official Club. From there, you can see any posts the developer has linked to, whether it's a Tweet, a YouTube video, or a manual status update. The rest of the Club functions as you might expect, with LFG posts, shared screenshots, and clips, and any live broadcasts currently taking place. Where it gets more interesting is how it's implemented directly in the Xbox guide.
Now, when visiting the most recent section, selecting the new Official Club icon will instead open a new blade, showing a feed of relevant content without having to leave your game. Curious whether that hitching game you're playing is getting an update? It'll be a simple case of firing up the Guide, opening the Club feed, and seeing if any devs have posted an update. Of course, they actually have to go and use it, though, and many simply don't.
A step in the right direction
Official Clubs are still a bit clunky. The amount of space developers have to write updates is very limited, forcing them to close out by saying "message continues in the comment section," which isn't even sorted by most recent comment first. Of course, Steam doesn't have this problem, with unlimited rich text editing. Official Clubs have a damn long way to go, but it's a nice step forward.
Microsoft has arguably failed to capitalize on Xbox Live's potential as a community platform, with sluggish Xbox apps across mobile and PC and slow development of its existing communication platforms, like Skype, allowing competitors like Discord to completely outpace it. There's a huge amount of untapped potential to get developers and gamers building communities on Xbox Live, and hopefully, Microsoft has begun to realize it. It'll be interesting to see where these features go next.