For reasons that remain unclear to me, I bought an Xbox One with Kinect over the holidays. I’m trying to remember how I talked myself into the purchase—something about being able to communicate with my TV via voice. “Xbox! Go to Skype!” I commanded. It worked, except I didn’t have anyone to Skype with at the moment. “Xbox!” I declared. “Go home!” (this reminded me of a movie). Then Xbox explained that it wanted me to create an avatar and a tag. So I did. Then I downloaded one of those horrible fighting games and deleted it in fifteen minutes.
Impulse purchase, my Superego scolded. ”Is this all there is?” I asked out loud. In response, Xbox mysteriously moved me several pastel green Xbox boxes to the right, at which point I noticed Xbox Music, which offered me a one month free subscription, which I took. Here’s the thumbnail assessment of Xbox Music. The sound is really good: excellent out of my Sony HDTV and even better than Spotify on my desktop and Android. And if you are looking for a less visually complicated interface than Spotify, Xbox Music is for you. Basically you get your options plus a big overhead screen that wants you to check out artists like Lourde and Kanye West. Very sleek.
But beyond that, Xbox Music doesn’t offer anything new. You can search for stuff and make playlists and listen on your Android or iPhone. You can share your tracks on Facebook (not Twitter as far as I can tell). You can type in some category and you’ll get a “radio” station based on your choice. But at this point I’m guessing that eight out of ten folks will ask why they should pay $9.99 a month for this instead of just listening to Pandora gratis.
The thing is that Xbox Music could be so much more if Microsoft thought about it like the company thinks about games. Xbox Live games are all about sharing. You can play them with friends by searching for their tags and adding them to your friends list. You can follow other game players or get followers. Why should these options be limited to gaming?
So three suggestions for Xbox Music.
First, make it accessible for anyone who maintains an Xbox Live subscription. It is hard to imagine that Xbox Music is going to pick up that many subscribers based on a monthly fee of $9.99. After all, Pandora One is $3.99. At least give Xbox Live subscribers a substantial discount.
Second, integrate Xbox Music into the friends and followers system. Your followers should be able to access your playlists and chat with you as you pick tracks and listen to them. You can receive “achievement” points for doing various things with Xbox Music (such as adding a certain number of playlists). Adding friends to Xbox Music should also qualify you for achievements.
Third, integrate Xbox Music into the games themselves. Xbox should offer you the option of using your Xbox Music playlist as an alternative to a game soundtrack (assuming that there is one).
The social experience on Xbox Live is immensely complex, while the same experience on Xbox Music is comparatively poor. Perhaps if Microsoft thought about music the same way that it thinks about games, we might all enjoy a much more musically rich Xbox experience.
We cover social music sharing communities every Monday in our Internet DJ feature.