"By Christmas, Microsoft could become the nation's fourth-largest phone company."
May 21, 2002 7:38 AM   Subscribe

"By Christmas, Microsoft could become the nation's fourth-largest phone company." So ends an article in the NYT about the upcoming online gaming service for X-Box. What does this have to do with phone service? "A critical component of the social experience planned for Xbox Live will be the audio headset, enabling players to cheer and jeer one another. The technology includes a "voice masking" feature that will conceal the identities and even ages of the contestants — a Disneyland safeguard meant to deter adult exploitation of children online."
posted by gwint (13 comments total)
Eh? Won't voice masking make it easier for adults to pretend to be children?
posted by Mwongozi at 7:50 AM on May 21, 2002

"i am sorry, but the number you have reached, 459-1212, has not been activated. Please dial 1-800-mssucks and have your authorization code available."
posted by quonsar at 7:56 AM on May 21, 2002

'Could' seems to be the operative word here. Microsoft has only sold a few million xboxes and would have to get basically 100% of it's installed base to sign up for their online service, plus sell a few million more xboxes, to even approach being a large long distance provider. I think I would change the headline to 'By Christmas, it's extremely unlikely Microsoft will be considered a phone company by anyone.'

posted by Tempus67 at 7:57 AM on May 21, 2002

I'm with you Mwongozi, but I think it's more likely all the kids would sound like adults -- an even bigger risk. But hey, the cops could get on and sting pedophiles pretty easily, I suppose.
posted by me3dia at 8:05 AM on May 21, 2002

So, people will pay for other people to laugh at them while playing console games. Right.
posted by Summer at 8:09 AM on May 21, 2002

So, people will pay for other people to laugh at them while playing console games. Right.

The idea isn't so much to be taunted by strangers. The headset would be useful for communicating with teammates in "massively multi-player games." It'd also be fun to talk shit in sports and fighting games like I would if my friend were sitting on my couch, rather than his or hers.
posted by yerfatma at 8:20 AM on May 21, 2002

I think I'd prefer just to have my friends on my couch. Bring back split-screen bomberman. :)
posted by Mwongozi at 8:27 AM on May 21, 2002

Hang on a second, here.

Most people get IP over dialup, don't they? And now they'll pay money to use the dialup and cram compressed voice over it?

Doesn't make Microsoft much of a phone company so much as a teleconference provider. Not to mention (as has been stated before) the simple fact that there aren't all that many Xboxes in consumer hands.

There are likely more people using Roger Wilco than Xbox users. By this standard Gamespy is a bigger "phone company" than Microsoft stands to be.
posted by majick at 8:28 AM on May 21, 2002

a couple of points:

- Voice over IP is nothing new, but in most incarnations it requires a decent PC ($1,500) opposed to a game concole ($200)

- X-Box Live will require a "broadband" internet connection. Microsoft claims that half of their current X-Box users already have access to broadband connections.

- Once you assume voice over IP in a broadband context, you're talking about a quality that can easily match your current phone.

- Microsoft already owns the business space. They are desperate to get into your livingroom. They are currently losing money on every X-Box they sell. That could change if they can convince people to fork over a monthly fee for X-Box Live, perhaps with an additional fee for "standard" voice over IP service.
posted by gwint at 8:49 AM on May 21, 2002

personally, it still seems to me that they're awful early on this. if they've sold in the range of 3.5 million to 4 million X-boxes domestically (that's a guesstimate, I haven't bothered to try to find the real numbers) then that means at this point there are about 1.75-2 million customers who will actually have access to this service right now. that doesn't seem to me to be enough of an installed base to do anything but lose money on this setup for some time yet. (though i will concede that Microsoft seems to be willing to lose untoward amounts of money on their box just to get it into people's houses). but i still am unsure that the market is ready for a service like this to work.
posted by zoopraxiscope at 9:29 AM on May 21, 2002

- Once you assume voice over IP in a broadband context, you're talking about a quality that can easily match your current phone.

I wouldn't be too sure. With broadband upload caps for many dsl and cable services stuck at 128kbs it might still be a stretch to cram decent sounding voice and data into that line. Not to mention there will be usual problems associated with internet telephony - lag, echo, etc.

It'll be good enough for tinny sounding low-bitrate game chat, but nothing near what you can get out of the phone company or even a cell phone.

"The X-box is ringing!"
posted by skallas at 10:13 AM on May 21, 2002

Although it's an Electronic Arts product, the submarine simulator "game" Sub Command is sufficiently complicated that it almost requires realtime coaching from a more experienced player -- often an actual submarine veteran -- to learn effective techniques for battle management, ship handling, and especially target motion analysis (TMA), where from sonar data you derive the information you need to ensure you aim your torpedoes effectively. (Readers of The Hunt for Red October and similar submarine-warfare thrillers will understand that it's considerably more abstract and complex than simply looking through a periscope and yelling "Fire One! Fire Two!").

Currently one or two Sub Command gurus occasionally offer to chat with newbie sim players, but in my experience it's usually been via text chat over ICQ or irc. That's fine if all participants are touch-typists, but in such a sim, scenarios that develop over hours can accelerate steadily to reach decision points rapidly in scant minutes. (Imagine that the Akula sub you've been stealthily stalking for three hours suddenly counterdetects you and fires a "snap shot" 200-knot Shkval supercavitating torpedo down your line of bearing -- the predator and prey switch roles instantaneously.)

It's all to the good if voice-over-IP becomes more readily available, even built-in over tunneled networks of game-management center sites, so that players can discuss tactics in real time. I'd hate to be typing, "Do I fire countermeasures, or blow emergency, or what?" as that Shkval is boring in on me. Speaking the question and hearing the advice would save precious seconds.
posted by alumshubby at 12:33 PM on May 21, 2002

The Register has some thoughts on X-Box Live. Mostly about how it will fail.
posted by gwint at 8:46 AM on May 22, 2002

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