The deeper I dive into Windows 8’s App Previews, the stranger it gets. There are half-complete apps, semi-useless apps, apps that promote commerce over your local content, and apps that make no sense at all. And then there’s Xbox LIVE Games, which seems to break every rule in the book. It’s fun, but bizarre.
To be clear, many Metro-style apps are horizontally-scrolling, multi-screen experience, much like Windows Phone 7’s hubs. So when you launch these apps, you’re generally staring at the leftmost part of that multi-screen experience. This can be demonstrated with the following mockup, which shows how what you’re seeing onscreen is only part of the entire app user experience.
Xbox LIVE Games, available now in App Preview form in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, is a similarly designed Metro-style app. It features a horizontally-scrolling, multi-screen experience, like many of these apps. It sandwiches your own content between links to Microsoft’s various (and really, there are too many of these things) online stores, as do the Music and Video apps. But from a navigational standpoint, Xbox LIVE Games is fairly unique. That is, when you launch the app, you don’t start at the leftmost edge of that of that horizontally-scrolling, multi-screen experience. You start about a third of the way in.
A screenshot may help explain. Here’s the default view in Xbox LIVE Games:
Looks obvious enough. But what’s this? You can scroll to the right, normally, but you can also scroll ... to the left. So what you’re really seeing, in mockup form, is the following:
Come on, Microsoft. This is not obvious, it’s not good design, and it’s inconsistent with virtually all other Metro-style apps you’ve made so far. (But not all. Xbox Companion, curiously, does the same thing.)
Complaints about the weird design notwithstanding, Xbox LIVE Games is an interesting front-end to the Xbox LIVE gaming activities that Windows 8 users will one day be enjoying along with, curiously, some Xbox 360-related functionality as well. It’s sort of like the Games hub in Windows Phone except, again, that it weirdly draws in a lot of Xbox 360 content for some reason.
The following groups are available in this bizarre app:
Friends. Here, you’ll see the avatars of the first several of your friends that are currently online. Tap the Show All box to see the full list of your online (and recently online) friends, also in avatar form.
Gamertag. In this group, just off to the left of the default app view, you’ll find your Gamertag, first name, location, Xbox LIVE account type, and Gamerscore, as well as links to your achievements and an avatar customization utility. Your avatar displays your motto, as well, in a voice bubble.
The achievements interface lets you view your Xbox 360, Windows Phone, Games for Windows LIVE, and Windows 8 Xbox LIVE achievements by game or date, with the ability to sort between all achievements and unlocked achievements (those you’ve actually achieved).
You can also click on individual games using the box art or More Details link to see the landing page for that game in what’s called the Marketplace (yet another front-end of Microsoft’s online stores). This screen provides different capabilities depending on the title, but you’ll see such things as a trailer movie, Buy Game and Play on Xbox links, lists of game achievements and extras, and more.
The Customize Avatar option is exactly what it sounds like.
Spotlight. This group functions as it does in the Windows Store: It’s a place for Microsoft to highlight and promote games and other offers that it thinks you’ll find interesting. It’s also, sadly stocked with a couple of outright advertisements, which is a bit insulting, given the $50 per year fee I’m paying for my Xbox LIVE Gold subscription.
Game Activity. Here, you’ll see a grid of the games you most recently played across all of the platforms on which Xbox LIVE is supported, in reverse chronological order (newest games first).
Show More does just that, presenting the entire list of Xbox LIVE games you’ve ever played on the Xbox 360 or newer, in my cases dating all the way back to 2005. In keeping with the “game activity” theme here, the games—each is represented by box art—can display messages about the activities that friends have done with each. So you may see something like “1 beacon,” “2 online” or similar noted on individual games.
When you tap on an individual game, the display expands to accommodate more information, much as the Marketplace sections in the Music and Video apps do.
Most games provide a number of options, including Play, Play on Xbox, Buy Game, Game Details, or Play Trailer. (Not all are available with each game of course. Play only appears next to Windows 8 Metro-style games, for example. Play on Xbox only appears next to Xbox 360 titles.)
Windows Games Marketplace. This one is confusing considering Microsoft’s message that Windows Store is THE only place where you can find Windows 8 apps and games. But I think it’s fair to say that Microsoft really controls just one giant back-end service and that it exposes this service in various online stores—Xbox LIVE Marketplace, Windows Store, Windows Phone Marketplace, Zune Marketplace, and so on—depending on the situation. From what I can tell, Windows Game Marketplace is the place to go to find that subset of Windows games 8 that utilize the Xbox LIVE service and thus provide unique features like achievements. There’s almost nothing there right now, just FX Pinball 2 and Solitaire. Neither of which actually supply achievements (yet).
Xbox Live Marketplace. Even more curious is this PC-based way to browse the electronically available library of Xbox 360 games. It provides different views, such as genres, Games on Demand, demos, indie, and arcade (for Xbox LIVE Arcade), and most oddly of all, you can browse, find, and purchase games ... for the Xbox 360. I guess you’d want to do this from Windows because it’s a better experience than doing so on the console itself. But when you make the actual purchase, you need to start up your console in order to actually download and install the game. I’ve done it, and yes it does work.
Honestly, this app is kind of a bizarre mess. But it will make a lot more sense when more games are available for Windows 8, and it offers some interesting integration with the Xbox Companion app and the Xbox 360 that will probably please some gamers. I’ll be watching this one closely to see how it evolves.