Xbox Live expands offerings

XSNSports.com goes live today. Hear what its lead product manager has to say about the new service and how it stacks up against the competition.

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Earlier this week, Microsoft began overhauling its Xbox Live service and incorporating new community features with friends lists and scoreboards. In the coming weeks, the company will update the Xbox dashboard with non-game VoIP (voice over IP protocol) and online support, as well as communities for offline games.

Part of this initiative is the launch of XSNSports.com (officially announced today by Microsoft), a portal designed to nurture competitive spirit with tournaments, leagues, and sports-related community features for various Microsoft titles. We spoke with John Rodman, lead product manager, XSN Sports, on what he and the Xbox Live team are most proud of.

GameSpot: Your past history at Microsoft saw you working on the PC side, managing a number of golf and baseball titles. From that perspective, how has the Xbox caught up with or even eclipsed the community and gameplay features of online PC games?

John Rodman: The Xbox has met and exceeded my expectations as far as delivering the best sports games experience to gamers worldwide. XSN Sports gives sports gamers new reasons to play by combining the best of online and offline sports games with a service that lets you monitor your experiences among your friends and other gamers.

GS: Sony and 989 Sports have touted the voice recognition and ability to call audibles in their football games, NFL GameDay 2004 and NCAA GameBreaker 2004. In your opinion, what are the top features that set Microsoft's first-party sports games apart from Sony Computer Entertainment's?

JR: There are many different remarkable features in XSN Sports games that set us apart from the competition. For example, NFL Fever 2004 has an innovative coaching mode that analyzes the opponent's tendencies and gives you tips as to which play you should call next. NHL Rivals 2004 features a pond mode that allows four Xbox gamers using Xbox Live to play a two-on-two game against each other on a frozen virtual pond, pickup style. Amped 2 lets you guide snowboarders down a mountain and watch as other online snowboarders are pulling off tricks and riding the lift up the hill. These are just some of the notable features that make XSN Sports an amazing sports video game experience.

GS: Can you tell us a little more about Microsoft's plans to inform Xbox Live subscribers that their friends are playing online via various portable devices?

JR: In the near future, you'll be able to send updates to your friends using devices like your cell phone and PDA. The service is linked through the existing Passport identification. Just like you'd send your friends a text message using MSN Messenger, you'll be able to tell your friends who you just beat in an XSN Sports game and who's next on your list of opponents. You can do this through XSNSports.com. Think about being out with your friends and having your cell phone ring with a message that other friends are playing an XSN Sports game and what that means for your league or tournament. XSN Sports allows you to experience sports competition anytime and anyplace, just like getting real sports scores in a similar manner.

GS: What can gamers expect while playing XSN Sports-supported titles?

JR: NFL Fever 2004 puts you into an intense football game and lets you guide your team downfield by picking apart defenses with precision with "read and lead" passing--or throw an interception, if you're not the field general you should be. Top Spin lets you feel the power of letting loose with a Pete Sampras serve and beating your opponents with a powerful backhand. Amped 2 lets you pull off tricks and ride freestyle down a mountain, impressing photographers along the way and choosing your path on the run or away from it. These are incredible experiences only available through XSN Sports. The online PC community is dedicated--the online tournaments with Links showed we have incredibly devoted PC golfers. We see that same community, and many more, joining XSN Sports this year for the six games launching this year: NFL Fever 2004, Amped 2, Links 2004, Top Spin, NHL Rivals 2004, and NBA Inside Drive 2004. The PC now becomes an important element in the console sports gaming experience with XSN Sports. XSNSports.com revolutionizes how Xbox gamers will play sports games by allowing them to set up leagues and tournaments and track results using their PC.

GS: Have you been over to the sports lobby at 989OnlineSports.com since it launched earlier this week? Games aside, how does the community feature set stack up against that of XSN? What about in terms of creating teams, leagues, and tournaments?

JR: XSN Sports is focused entirely on creating an immersive experience in sports video games for Xbox gamers. Because the Xbox is the only video game console designed for online games with a built-in hard drive and Ethernet port, XSN Sports is the natural progression to creating an online world for Xbox sports gamers to compete against each other and use devices they'd use daily anyway like their PC, cell phone, or PDA.

GS: Thanks, John.

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