4 things Microsoft needs to do to make Xbox Live more social

"Monthly Active Users," or MAU, is the primary way Microsoft measures the success of its Xbox Live platform, which is growing at an impressive rate. More engaged users mean more spending on Xbox Live, whether it's on movies and TV shows, subscriptions such as EA Access, or on games themselves.

We revealed recently how Microsoft is planning to open up Xbox Live Clubs to developers to help Xbox players stay connected to the network for longer, even when they're not at their computers or consoles. The primary method of achieving this will be the Xbox app, which is available across Windows 10 devices, iOS, and Android.

If Microsoft wants to make Xbox Live the defacto social network for gaming, there are some key things it needs to address.

1. Xbox app needs work

The Xbox app tries to do far too much right now. Particularly on Windows 10, it is quite slow when switching between sections, typing messages, and beyond. It simply doesn't deliver a pleasant experience, particularly for communicating through messages in Clubs or with friends.

Discord is the number one hotness in video game communication right now, and its apps on Android and iOS are incredibly fast, lightweight, and intuitive. But above all, they're focused on the social experience. Xbox Live has great features, but they're spread out and disparate, and bringing them together under the Xbox app just creates a cluttered experience.

I created a Club recently for friends on Twitter, but one of the first responses I got was, "let's create a Discord server instead." Xbox Clubs might have great features, such as a shared Facebook-like activity feed, a Looking For Group tab, and a high degree of customizability. But let's face it, you're never going to use it over Discord (or other IM-focused apps) for chatting with your gamer buddies.

Discord is a million times faster than Xbox chat.

Discord is a million times faster than Xbox chat.

Either the speed and access of the Xbox app's social features need to be improved, or Microsoft needs to allow Xbox Live Club members to sync chat across some of its other services, too, such as in a Skype group, or Microsoft's excellent-but-often-forgotten GroupMe chat app.

2. Xbox Live sucks for sharing

Xbox Live is great for sharing Xbox content. But what if you want to express yourself in a GIF, or upload a highly-produced video to your Club or profile page? You can't, and it's lame.

Trending user content is buried in a separate screen, rather than showing up on the main dashboard.

Trending user content is buried in a separate screen, rather than showing up on the main dashboard.

Microsoft recently opened up Xbox Live to custom avatars, which is a step in the right direction, and I appreciate that Microsoft has a duty to ensure children and youngsters are adequately protected from potentially offensive content. However, there are parental controls for that functionality, and the company could easily let adults decide the extent to which they want to participate in the network.

Perhaps Microsoft doesn't want the headaches faced Twitter and Facebook, which have both been criticized for facilitating the sharing of controversial (and even illegal) images. But these scenarios are on the periphery of the full blown range of interactions and content you can get on real social networks.

If Microsoft wants to stop people from leaving Xbox Live to chat on Discord, or from sharing things on Facebook, then perhaps it needs to match them on sharing non-gaming content as well. Perhaps the company could even integrate it with the new My People bar coming in Redstone 3.

3. Streamline and improve the activity feed

Microsoft has already made some hefty improvements to the Activity Feed on Xbox One, allowing you to disable automatic sharing and filter different sorts of content. However, far more could be done to fix these features.

Achievement pops waste a lot of space.

Galleries that consolidate multiple screenshot uploads or achievement pops, algorithms that surface favorite friends' content at the top as well as filter, and, as mentioned above, the ability to share content that isn't necessarily gaming-focused, would all be welcome additions. Of course, allowing users to filter and customize their experiences as much as humanly possible would also be great. I really don't need (or want) to see a huge list of every single achievement my friends have unlocked, but I'd love to keep seeing their game clips and screenshots, for example. The feed is a cluttered mess right now, and Microsoft needs to make it more compelling if it wants users to engage more proactively.

Finally, verified Xbox partners are allowed to post videos and embedded URLs in their respective Game Hubs, which appear in the Activity Feed, and I think it's frustrating and patronizing that Xbox users aren't afforded this functionality as well.

4. Clubs vs. Clubs

This is more of a future consideration, but there are a few ways Clubs could be evolved to improve their engagement potential. Beyond boosting the speed of the chat app, giving us the power to create moderation hierarchies and highlight different types of members, similar to Discord, would be a great start.

The ability to create your own channels based around different topics within the community would also be welcome, but perhaps the most obvious thing I can think of is integration with Xbox's new tournament system.

The Xbox Arena system allows players to schedule and create their own competitive tournaments, restricted to Killer Instinct as of writing. It would be awesome if, one day, you could have Club-versus-Club tournaments, with all the other Beam streaming and activity feed integrations to go along with it.

Wrapping up

Xbox Live is a constant work in progress, with new features being piled on all the time. Whether it's Clubs, Arena, Looking For Group, or the recent additions of customizable avatars, Microsoft is always looking at ways to improve the experience, based on UserVoice feedback. However, I feel like the insistence on including new features before polishing or properly integrating existing ones is a little detrimental.

Either way, polish takes time. I just hope Microsoft is serious about making Xbox Live a quality social experience, and that it isn't simply a side project, because it could really make Xbox a fun place to be, even when you're away from the controller.

Jez Corden
Managing Editor

Jez Corden is the Managing Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • Some of the things you are asking for will require Xbox to become a much less kid-friendly enviornment.  Judging on many metrics, this is a bad idea.  For example, the last Sea of Thieves play session I was in, I was forced to team with three 13 year old British kids.  It was a terrible session and these little crumpet munching brats had no idea how to play and were loud and unwieldly.  It sucked.  However, that is a huge crowd for Xbox and you cannot just insert any image you want into that mess as the author suggested without offending the kids or their parents.  There has to be a line when dealing with not only different age groups, but different cultures (in this case, cowardly Brit surrender monkey raised socialists that could be offended by not typing COLOR with a u in it)
  • use the MUTE button or disconnect :)
  • Holy... Crap.. That's just, intense?
  • Haha. I (being British) had a similar experience on Titanfall getting stuck with a similar set of ?Californian kids who couldn't stop saying brah...
  • So you don't like us British then? Not surprising you disagree with Jez. The only thing that sucks is your personality. You should work on that.
  • Agreed the app is pretty ordinary. I have to log in to it at least once a week on iPhone. And get that blank green screen trying to log me in all the time. I kinda wish it would just open everything when I open the app and not have the feeling it's having to do a lengthy authentication while I stare at a blank green screen 
  • ANOTHER social network?  Don't we have enough?  And, it's been my experience that it's virtually impossible to get away from all the foul language and inappropriate sexual comments.  And far too many people think it's okay to just submit inappropriate images into that environment. It all remains an unsavory atmosphere, and it's gotten to the point where I just avoid any social aspects to gaming whatsoever.
  • I'm sure people don't want to socialize with you anyway, so there's no loss when people can't hear your constant complaining.
  • I agree with you. Call me whatever. But if this became any more of a social console, I'll remove my kids' accounts. Tough luck for them then. People don't realize the crap they say and do in front of kids. Kids need to be kids till they are actually adults.
  • I actually acree with ScubaDog here.  I just want to play my games, I couldn't care less about the social aspect of XBL other than being able to have make/join parties and play games with my friends.  I would much rather see them put the money into making sure the live service itself is robust and able to handle any loads we throw at it as opposed to making it a social network you can play games on.
  • I have been saying integrate Xbox chat with Skype, Groupme, and the People app for a while
  • That would make total sense considering they are all one now.
  • The app is slow for sure. But as far as the activity feed goes, I dont want another play full of GIFs and political BS. I just want to see my friends amazing game moments.
  • The thing Xbox needs is LESS social crap and MORE gaming and media features. The current UI s*cks ar*e and is absolutely worthless for media consumption. It's just ads and more ads everywhere (because we apparently didn't pay for the console...) and has completely ruined the original, far superior, Xbox UI. Instead of focusing on social crap for people with no real life friends who need to resort to consoles to make some, I'd rather see the Xbox turned more towards ENTERTAINMENT which, you know, if the point of a console to start with. They could start, for example, by bringing PiP to it which is way overdue for a console which was SUPPOSED to be the only media centre for our living room.
  • ??? My entire family have been using my Xbox One S for 6 months. Live digital TV, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sky Sports, all my digital films are bought through the store and of course all outle music through Groove and Games. My 5 year old daughter EASILY navigates the very simple UI. It's colourful and far faster and easier to get to any app or content than anything else under the TV currently. Things like Apple Tv, Amazon Prime Stick or PS4 are either much slower or provide intermittent streaming of content in comparison. Heck I can watch content faster than people with the new Sky Q box which they pay £70/month for that service. For less than £30/ month I get more content than any Cable provider provides in the UK. And I can get more 4K HDR content through my Xbox One S than any other device available in my country.
  • Yeah. Your 5 year old is a genius. For the rest of us, the new interface is terrible. You hit the Home "X box" button, you don't go to a Home Screen, but instead a left slider comes out with a Home button for you to click again. The new UI feels haphazardly arranged. There is too much of everything crammed into one screen. It is nothing like a Windows 10 (Tablet view) or W10M home screen. A Living Room console needs to have a UI that is plain, simple, easy to navigate (up/down/right/left +Enter) and all ages friendly (including 70+ years old).
  • EVERYONE asked MS to bring back the quick menu. On the 360 when you hit the home button it didn't take you back to the home screen. It brought up the mini menu. Which is now what the slider menu is. People asked for it. It was the major complaint ever since the Xbox One came out. So you can blame the users for that change if that's something you don't like. It means you can access things without leaving your app or game and going all the way to the home screen all the time. They won't change that back because they had so many complaints the guide menu was taken away.
  • "EVERYONE asked MS to bring back the quick menu."   No. A handful of dumb fanboys on the Xbox Insider program asked for that. And because Microsoft is now using the dumb insiders to do their work for them, they went ahead and delivered what the fanboys asked instead of consulting with anyone who knows 2 sh*ts about UX.   And it doesn't mean you can access things without leaving the app. What you can do on the side panel is EXACTLY what you could do by going home. The only thing on the side panel you can do without leaving the game is control the background music. But that you could already do on the 2nd iteration of the Xbox UI. Literally everything else will take you OUT of the game. So pray tell me, what's the difference between clicking the Xbox button, opening the side panel and leaving the game by opening something else, and clickig the button, going home (while keeping an active tile) and leaving the game by opening something else? I'll tell you what's the difference: it's that now you have to take THREE steps to get to the Home screen instead of one.   That is called bad UI and bad UX. And I think the moment they stop relying on postulent virgin fat greast boys in their mother's basements who they call "Xbox Insiders" and replace them with people who actually understand about UI and UX - like, for example, those working on Windows 10 - the Xbox UI might return to a usable state.   Until then, it's just a cesspool of ads amidst an unusable UI.
  • The media also at launch of the Xbox one made no Mini menu one of the Largest complaints of the UI. The guide Button as it has ALWAYS been called since it's inception back in 2005 on the 360 should access the guide menu. Going back to the home screen is unintuitive and makes navigation slow and cumbersome. Now we can flick between apps without having to go home all the time. Everyone I know loves it so much better. It makes more sense. Also I'm not sure what ads your getting. I literally get a maximum of 3 small things on the right of the home screen. 1 always tells me what new games with gold games are on currently. 1 is telling me the Forza 6 championship is currently available to watch on Beam. And the last is telling me Injustice 2 has just released. That's it. Nothing else anywhere in the entire Xbox User interface. Down the left is my quickfire Thumbnails. Hit RT to go straight to my Pins. And across the top is the Bumper menus to flick between Commuinty, Store, media content and Home. Front and centre is the currently active app. Under that is the last 3 used app/games. And to above the little ads is the My Games and Apps Area. Which you only need to enter to pin something new to the home screen. It's fast, easy to understand and intuitive. A joy to use. Literally any app/game can be pinned to home. Making it customisable to what I use. So I can access my stuff quickly and efficiently.
  • 2 things.... 1) Add in a USB mic so people can chat without the Kinnect
    2) Fire half the monkeys who work in 'Xbox Enforcement' or be more transparent as to why people can or do get blocks. It's an absolute joke and a stain on the Xbox service... especially that everyone is a paying customer on the service.
  • 1) You already can chat without Kinect. Your controller has a port for it. 2) Don't be toxic and no one will report you and get you blocked.
  • I'm still surprised how slow the Xbox app is on phones. That should've been corrected years ago
  • Xbox Live should autodetect if there is no microphone connected or if they're in party chat, and only lobby them with other people in party chat or are mic-less. This once game changing social platform has become a desolate wasteland of mute imbeciles.
  • I think that article is 100% on the money
  • Never heard of Discord. All my friends use Xbox Live chat.
  • Surprising really. If you're on Xbox only with your friends i get that but Discord is just a fantastic experience. Useful for all sorts of things.
  • How would i use that if we are all playing on Xbox? Or how would I chat to a club with over 1000 members?