Microsoft announces Xbox Live public beta featuring local currency payments

If you’ve always dreamed of paying for your Xbox 360 downloads with greenbacks instead of Microsoft Points, now is your chance. Microsoft on Friday announced a new Xbox Live public beta, and according to a post by Larry “Major Nelson” Hryb, the beta has a significant change: the ability to pay with local currency. Unlike previous betas, you don’t have to sign-up for this one on a Microsoft site. Instead, gamers in all 41 Xbox Live countries (except Japan) will see an Xbox Beta Program tile on the home hub of the Xbox 360 dashboard.

The new local currency switch for Xbox Live was one of our top picks for features we wanted to see in the new Xbox. The aging Microsoft Points system made sense in the early days of Xbox, since it allowed the company to use a single “currency” worldwide. But now with the widespread availability of digital stores that can handle local transactions like the Windows Store and the Windows Phone Store, it’s about time Microsoft Points disappeared.

Microsoft apparently heard our pleas—mixed in with millions of others, no doubt—and announced the switch in June. Microsoft Points will be retired in the fall most likely around the time the Xbox One becomes available in November. When the switch happens, anyone with Microsoft Points left over in their account will receive local currency “equal to or greater than the marketplace value” of the points, according to a Microsoft FAQ. Microsoft Points Cards will be redeemable through 2014; any points earned through Xbox Live Rewards will also transition to local currency.

Space is limited for the new Xbox Live beta so if you want in, you’ll have to sign-up fast. Once the spots are filled the beta will be closed to the public.


Defense Grid: The Awakening free for Xbox Live Gold members

While Microsoft’s “Games with Gold” promotion promised Xbox Live Gold members free triple A titles for free, they haven’t forgotten about the smaller scale projects.

Microsoft will be making Defense Grid: The Awakening its next free title starting today and ending on July 15.

Originally seeing an Xbox 360 release in September 2009 for 800 Microsoft Points, the Hidden Path Entertainment developed tower-defense game made its debut a year earlier on PC. An OS X edition would be released on OS X in 2010.

Defense Grid: The Awakening has players defending military bases from waves of aliens attempting an invasion by re-activating defense system with the assistance of a computer.

Last month, Microsoft made Lionhead’s 2010 action RPG Fable 3 the first game available in its “Games With Gold” after announcing the promotion at its E3 press briefing in Los Angeles.

The promotion will give a free game every two weeks to those with gold level Xbox Live memberships. Other games to be released in the future include Assassin’s Creed II and Halo 3.

According to Microsoft, the promotion was a way to show Xbox Live Gold members gratitude.

“As our way of saying thanks for being part of this community, we’re giving all qualifying Gold members two free Xbox 360 games each month for the rest of the year,” read a release on Microsoft’s site. “Each specially selected, fan-favorite game will be available to download only for a limited time, so grab them before they’re gone and keep them no matter what.”

The move by Microsoft is similar to what Sony has been doing with its Playstation Plus service for quite some time. Playstation Plus members have enjoyed free Playstation 3 and Playstation Vita downloads of games including,Saints Row: The ThirdUncharted 3: Drakes Deception, Vanquish, The Cave, Little Big Planet and more.

As Microsoft plans to move into the next-gen with the Xbox One, the hardware maker hasn’t forgotten the Xbox 360. Last month saw a redesign launch in US, UK, Canada, Ireland and Australia in three different models.


Xbox 360 ‘Golden Chrome’ Controller Revealed

Microsoft has unveiled a new Xbox 360 controller. Here is the blurb from Microsoft regarding the announcement: “Today we are thrilled to announce the newest addition to the Xbox 360 Special Edition Chrome Wireless controller series: the Gold Chrome Controller!”

Microsoft has stated that the new Xbox 360 controller will be available exclusively only through GameStop and Microsoft Stores in the USA starting this August with a price-point of $54.99.
It’s kind of interesting to see Microsoft release new hardware perheprials just a couple of months before Xbox One’s launch in November. When August hits Xbox One will be three months away from launching.


Microsoft: Kinect for Xbox One will not work on PCs

When Microsoft announced a special next-generation Kinect for Windows pre-release developer program earlier today, the move got us wondering whether Windows-based tinkerers couldn’t just plug the Kinect that came with the Xbox One into their PC instead, as hackers did almost immediately after the release of the original Kinect for Xbox 360. Unfortunately, the answer is no. Microsoft has confirmed to Ars Technica that the new generation Kinect that comes packaged with every Xbox One console has a proprietary connector that can not be plugged directly into a PC and that Microsoft is not planning to release an adapter to allow such cross-platform use.

“The Kinect for Xbox One sensor will not have an adaptor that allows it to plug into a computer,” a Microsoft spokesperson told Ars in an e-mail. Instead, “the new generation Kinect for Windows sensor will connect to computers using a standard USB3 port [emphasis added].”

Microsoft says the Xbox One and Windows versions of the new generation Kinect are “built on a shared set of technologies” and have similar capabilities such as 1080p video, an active IR mode, and a wider field of view than the first Kinect. But that doesn’t mean the devices are exactly the same, or designed to be interoperable with the other platform.

“The new generation Kinect for Windows sensor will be a fully tested, licensed, and supported Kinect experience on Windows,” the spokesperson told Ars. “Kinect for Xbox One is being built for and tested with the Xbox One.”

Of course, hardware hackers may well develop their own adapter to allow the Xbox One Kinect to talk to a PC. Even in that case, though, Microsoft says the Xbox One’s Kinect “is not licensed for commercial use, supported, or under warranty when used on any other platform, including Windows.”

The original Kinect for Xbox 360 also features a proprietary plug that is designed to be inserted directly in to a specially shaped slot on later model Xbox 360 systems. This plug provides both data transfer between the console and the Kinect and power directly to the camera. However, Microsoft also includes an adapter with each Xbox 360 Kinect that allows the unit to plug in to standard USB ports on older Xbox 360 models and to draw power from a standard wall outlet at the same time.

Windows-based hackers almost immediately used this adapter to plug the original Kinect into their PCs and tinker with the new depth-based camera technology, which was much cheaper than other 3D cameras at the time. A variety of PC demos and unofficial PC drivers were available for Kinect months before Microsoft launched its official Windows SDK for the device, and well before Microsoft split off a separate, USB “Kinect for Windows” sensor.

Things will be different this time around. Even if you get your hands on an Xbox One launch unit this November, you’ll have to sign up for Microsoft’s newly announced pre-release Kinect for Windows developer program and pay $399 to use the new Kinect on a PC at that time. That will get you early access to a “pre-release/alpha” edition of the Windows version of the sensor in November, as well as the final version of the Windows-based Kinect when it is released some time in 2014 (plus access to official SDKs and development support from Microsoft). Microsoft has not discussed how much the Windows version of the new Kinect will cost when it is released for general availability.

It seems likely that the ability to use the original Xbox 360 Kinect on a Windows machine was an unintended bonus, born of Microsoft’s need to offer compatibility with legacy Xbox 360 systems. For the launch of the new Kinect, Microsoft seems committed to producing two highly similar yet distinct versions of the hardware for two different platforms.


‘Heartbroken Xbox One engineer’ criticises Microsoft, details cancelled features

Someone who claims to be a Microsoft engineer has chosen Pastebin to express his outrage against the Redmond giant’s inability to explain to consumers how the always online model of the Xbox One could have benefited them.

The angst filled note comes a day after Microsoft took a U-turn by backing off plans for the Xbox One consoles to require Internet connections and put restrictions on playing second-hand disk games after wide spread outrage among the media and gaming community and the good response to PlayStation 4 pre bookings that does not have any such restrictions.

The engineer acknowledges backlash amongst game publishers and says that the used gaming industry was killing game developers whose only source of revenue was from game buyers.

He then talks about the Family Sharing feature of the Xbox One that has now been removed after Microsoft announced a change in its policies.

The Family Sharing feature enabled Xbox One owners to share game libraries with anyone they deemed to be family, no matter where they were located. He also gives details that were not previously revealed by Microsoft.

According to the engineer, Family Sharing would only let family members access a “demo mode” of the game for between 15 mins and 45 mins, and in some cases an hour, after which it would stop and the user would be asked to purchase the full game.

He also added that Microsoft was thinking of limiting the number of times Family Sharing could be accessed for each game till it was purchased. He says that it would have generated revenue for developers and allow users to retain their progress in the game. He does mention that the feature might still be implemented at least for digitally downloaded games.

The engineer goes on to talk about another feature that Microsoft didn’t speak about, mentioning that the company was building a ‘natural social network’ with Xbox One, so that gamers could post their high scores, show off their best Game DVR moments, share what they’ve watched via Xbox TV and leave messages for others to read and respond through their account’s “home space” to without the need to use their laptops/ tablets or keyboard add-ons.

The engineer suggests that the Kinect 2.0 and Xbox One voice to text capabilities would be utilised for communication and though the network would be independent of Facebook or Twitter, there would be integration with the services.  He reiterates Microsoft’s message that people who don’t prefer new add ons that make the Xbox One an entertainment consumption device should probably be happy with the Xbox 360.


Xbox 180: Microsoft Fully Reverses Xbox One’s DRM Policies

Xbox One will not require regular online check-ins or place restrictions on game-lending “as a result of feedback from the Xbox community,” Microsoft announced today.

The announcement is a complete reversal of the company’s previously announced DRM policy for games on the Xbox One.

“After a one-time system set-up with a new Xbox One,” Xbox executive Don Mattrick wrote in a blog post, “you can play any disc based game without ever connecting online again. There is no 24 hour connection requirement and you can take your Xbox One anywhere you want and play your games, just like on Xbox 360.” Mattrick added that Xbox One would be region-free; any Xbox One disc would function in any Xbox One console.

Additionally, Mattrick wrote, players will be able to “trade-in, lend, resell, gift, and rent disc based games just like you do today. There will be no limitations to using and sharing games, it will work just as it does today on Xbox 360.”

This will come at a small cost — despite previous announcements, Xbox One will require that discs remain in the tray in order to play games, and players will be unable to share downloaded games. In other words, it’ll work exactly like the Xbox 360 — for better and for worse.

Before today’s announcement, things were looking bad for Microsoft. Scores of memes mocking the Xbox One were made. Public consumer polls put the PlayStation 4 ahead of the Xbox One by a wide margin. The Navy Times called the Xbox “a sin against all service members,” arguing that the console’s restrictive online policies were “a ‘showstopper’ for any service members who rely on their Xbox for off-duty diversions downrange, in the field, or at sea.”

The company had also planned a complicated license-transfer scheme that would allow Xbox One users to trade in games at approved retailers, but which would prevent them from simply allowing a friend to borrow the disc, also putting the kibosh on game rentals.

Capitalizing on online anger about Microsoft’s policies, Sony took E3 by storm with their announcement that the PlayStation 4 would use no similar DRM scheme. Sony even went so far as to publicly mock Microsoft’s complicated policies via its YouTube channel.