Lost in the shuffle of conflicting reports and gamer skepticism over what XBOX One has to do with gamers was a profound claim by Microsoft spokesman Don Mattrick who stated that XBOX Live will have half a million servers at some point after launch. Though a timeframe was still sketchy, the claim itself represents an alleged 1600% increase over the current network’s capacity, a giant leap for a service that already boasts industry standard-setting online connectivity. What could this mean for gamers?
Unfortunately, this question only breeds more speculation. XB1 promises great plans for cable (and satellite?) TV access with some interactive entertainment bells and whistles. A rumored $400 million partnership with NFL to bring fantasy football and live stat tracking for both NFL and ESPN sports will require at least some use of these servers. With all XBL users being interconnected to feed their trending areas of the new XBL home pages, one has to wonder how much of that server capacity will be dedicated to games.
The upside is that while the sports live stat feeds might take significant server side bandwidth, they shouldn’t be hugely intensive and probably won’t take up much of the load. That of course depends on how many simultaneous users end up utilizing those features and how much of the load NFL and ESPN are going to be lifting themselves. How much bandwidth is Skype going to take? Video calls, especially in 1080p, can be quite cumbersome to an internet connection. How much of these types of computations can be done on the server side is beyond my own understanding of modern streaming but I imagine quite a bit of the load has to run through a third party. And 40 million potential users is a huge weight, one that could be both expanded and simultaneous in the years beyond 2013.
On the gaming front, that half a million server number can only serve to improve an already bustling XBOX Live service. Microsoft has promised smart matchmaking and lower latency in online gaming. Improvements like this are crucial to a gamer’s experience with a given game. How this pans out remains to be seen but signs point to an already great service lining its coffers with XBOX Gold, pun intended. XBL account carryover has been confirmed along with an expanded “dynamic” achievement system, satisfying the needs of their current user base at least that much.
So little was mentioned about these connectivity features and what was stated was done so in an almost subtextual claim. The hangover from Micrsoft’s new brew (more intentional puns) has begun to set in and, in retrospect, it appears as though they MIGHT have nailed their goal with this console reveal. Of course more speculation is required to summise their goal since all we know is their pitch of “Simple. Instant. Complete.” Instant being the operative word here for living room afficionados, both TV viewers and gamers alike. Nothing is INSTANT in the digital technology age but faster would suffice. Noticeably faster, if everyone has their way. If their goal was to tease their new system’s gaming capabilities, they succeeded in kind. 3 weeks of buzz has begun surrounding just what this system means for gamers.
500,000 servers is a ton, 250 of them to be exact. The possibilities for such a server structure are endless and we still don’t know exactly what a network of that size will entail, or what the network itself will be responsible for. This exalted entity known as “the cloud” was a recurring talking point during the conference. That heavenly body will no doubt be dependent upon a gigantic server structure and also be responsible for a large number of the computations needed to pull off this all-in-one wonder known as the XBOX One.
Conflicting reports from the horse’s mouth are never the best precursor to a hardware reveal but any publicity is good publicity, right? The jury is still out for gamers, though, and the general media has been quite hard on the computing juggernaut in the past 24 hours. Countless promises about E3 have the world literally turning an apprehensive eye toward a conference room in mid-June, hoping for more concrete details and less burning questions or at least answers that will extinguish a growing fire of criticism. If, in fact, I am graced with an E3 pass, these are the types of questions I will be asking.