I've used and recommended Microsoft's Xbox gaming platform since the first console appeared in 2001. But the constant abuses that one must suffer through while playing online with Xbox Live have made the systems' gaming service almost unbearable. When Microsoft announced its Reputation service for Xbox One last year, I thought they were going to clean things up. That hasn't happened. And I've had it.
I've been thinking about writing this article for a long time. The original title, seriously, was "F#%K YOU XBOX," because that's the type of baloney I put up with regularly on Xbox Live. During the lifetime of the Xbox 360, I complained about several hundred individual abuses to Microsoft through its in-console player feedback system. Racist comments. Horrible, unprintable Gamertags that never should have been allowed. Cheating. All kinds of crap.
In all those years, I received exactly one emailed response from Microsoft: Thank you for reporting this issue. Once. No explanation for what happened. No details about the crime against Xbox Live that I helped prevent. Just one reply.
Last June, when Microsoft announced that it planned to fix all that with a new Reputation system for Xbox One, I stupidly believed they would do the right thing. I thought that Xbox One would be different. I didn't get why we needed to wait for a new console to fix a problem with Xbox Live—still don't—but ... I procrastinated.
Xbox One is not different. It's not better. It's exactly the same.
So. Today, the firm announced that this vaunted Reputation system basically isn't even live yet. Which explains why Xbox Live is still such a cesspool, I guess. What I've noticed in the months since Xbox One launched is that finding a place where you can report abuses is actually harder on the Xbox One than it was on the 360. And so I've grinded my teeth, and just sucked it up. I've actually stopped reporting the crazy, awful stuff and I see and hear on Xbox Live because the Xbox One is so broken.
Reputation is actually there today on Xbox One, of course. You can see a player's reputation on their Gamecard. Here's mine (it's "good," which is the highest score):
It is ponderously slow to load someone's Gamercard on Xbox One (the interface remains in molasses, just like the 360), but I went through a dozen or so of my friends' Gamercards, and everyone is "good." As I'd expect. They're my friends. But I know Reputation doesn't work currently because I'm constantly saddled in online games with jerks. With gabbers and singers. With racists. With cheaters. You know. Same as ever.
But it's going to change, supposedly. "The more hours you play fairly online without being reported as abusive by other players, the better your reputation will be," Microsoft notes. "The algorithm looks to identify players that are repeatedly disruptive across the community on Xbox Live. The vast majority of players do not regularly receive feedback from other players and, thus, will stay at the 'Good Player' reputation level."
Meanwhile, players who "do not heed warnings and continue to have a negative impact on other players and the Xbox Live community will begin to experience penalties," Microsoft claims. For example, people with an "Avoid Me" rating will have reduced matchmaking pairings and may be unable to use certain privileges such as Twitch broadcasting.
That's neat. But for this to work, it needs to be easy to report transgressions. These needs to be actually viewed—I assume everything is recorded now—and action needs to be taken. People who report things need feedback, good feedback. And people who provide fake or superficial reports need to be edged into the "Avoid Me" area as well.
Will this system work? I have to be honest: I seriously doubt it. I no longer trust Xbox to do the right thing. But I'm absolutely not going to sit through another console generation of abuse online. If Microsoft doesn't fix Xbox Live—really fix Xbox Live—I'm out. I pay for this service, Microsoft. I expect it to work for me, not against me.
PS: Just to head off the obvious, someone will mention, no doubt, that it's just as bad on PlayStation. Maybe it is. But you know what? There's only one way to find out for sure.