XSN Sports Preview (Xbox)

On our last day at E3 the good folks at Microsoft were kind enough to invite us over for a closed-door demo of their new online gaming community XSN. I was curious to see what exactly XSN was, and to see it in action.

So what exactly is XSN? Basically it is Microsoft’s new online league/gaming community that is accessible through browsing the Internet from your PC. Basically you play the games on your Xbox and view and run the league from any PC with an internet connection. The MS reps told us that initially it will be compatible with several titles including the coming versions of NFL Fever 2004, Top Spin, NHL Rivals 2004, NBA Inside Drive 2004, Amped 2 and Links 2004. XSN will allow you to setup tournaments and leagues and the system does all the menial tasks for you, like keeping track of scores, statistics, standings and creating and maintaining your leagues schedule. You can view all of this information from your PC. I am told that while initially all the league activities can be created, viewed and managed from only your PC, eventually (year 2) you will be able to perform all league tasks from both your PC and your Xbox.

We got to demo a version of XSN using NFL Fever 2004. Setting up a league was pretty quick and painless. Because you do it from a PC, it’s pretty easy to navigate. To create a league you just follow a set of menus in which you set your league parameters. You can make the league public or private, you can set what kind of players you want to allow in your league, what kind of rules you will play with, how large your league will be and what kind of schedule you want to create. Once you are done creating your league, you can then invite players to join. One thing that I liked is that you can invite players by XBL gamertag or by email. Once you get everyone on board and they get their teams created, the system creates a schedule and you are off and running.

Once league play starts the system will automatically update scores, standings and statistics. All are easy to find and the navigation system was a simple but intuitive point and click setup. Since stats are tracked so well it makes it easy to go ahead and scout your next opponent. Click on his team and pull up his team stats. Notice that he’s averaging about 290 yards per game in the air and only 40 on the ground, you might want to prepare for an air assault. Again this kind of information is easy to find and laid out pretty well. I wish there was a little more detail on tendencies, but perhaps that’s something that can be incorporated in the future. Each league also has a forum that you can use to schedule your game with your opponent or talk trash or whatever you want. I think this will help bring a sense of community to your league. Every online league that I have been in that has a forum really seems to be a tighter knit group. According to the reps we talked to eventually you can set it up so that game results and league news can be forwarded to your text paging cell phones and other wireless devices.

One intriguing thing about XSN is its compatibility with some non-traditional sports games. I think that being able to setup a tennis league using Top Spin, or a golf tour using Links 2004 is going to be something that’s new for a lot of sports gamers. I know that for myself I have been in a ton of online football and baseball leagues, but can’t say that I have ever been in an online tourney or league for Tennis, or Snowboarding or Golf. I am pretty sure we will get some good-sized tourneys with Top Spin here at OS.

I think this is the next step in online gaming. The ability to easily setup, maintain and view an online league or tournament is what a lot of hard core sports gamers have been asking for. The ability to do it from any PC that has an internet connection is a nice bonus. The mere fact that after my football game I no longer have to physically write down the stats and then send them to a commish is reason enough for me to give XSN a shot.