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Friday August 7, 2009 3:55 pm

Editorial: It’s time to raise the Xbox Live friend limit

Xbox 360 Friend Limit

Okay, I’ve had enough of the friend limit that Microsoft has imposed on us for far too long. I think this has gone on long enough, and I’m really not seeing a good reason for it. As many Xbox Live gamers know, the current limit on friends you can have is set to 100. The thing is, in the age of social networks like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and all the others, we are now used to connecting with many people in our social graph across many different services.

Now, all that said, there is still one more very annoying piece to this puzzle. Did you know that the Zune Social and Xbox Live share one common friends list? In other words, if you currently have 100 Xbox Live friends, and you go out and buy a Zune, and want to connect with people who also have Zune’s (but don’t necessarily play games,) you are out of luck. You’ll have to remove someone from your Xbox Live friend list to add someone else. This is, in two words, absolutely ridiculous. I get wanting to share the and Xbox ecosystem, but to shoot yourself in the foot like this is just puzzling. I personally have at least 15 people that I would like to add as friends on the Zune Social, but I can’t, because my Xbox Live list is maxed out.

Sure, Microsoft has promised, time and time again, that a friend list increase is on the horizon, but at this point, it sounds like nothing more than empty words. I mean, the last time specifically addressed this with us was over a year ago. We were speaking with the Zune team in particular, going over the new Zune 3.0 features, and we asked about the friend limit. At the time, they said they were going to be increasing it “as soon as possible” and that the Zune friends and Xbox friends lists could be independent. They also said that the Zune Social didn’t have to rely on (read: is not at the mercy of) decisions made by the Xbox team. Yet, here we are, over a year later, and still…nothing. If you don’t believe us, here’s a video we shot with the Zune team over a year ago. We have it set to start right before they talk about the friend limit:

Seriously, Microsoft, do you really think that the 100 people who I enjoy gaming with are the same 100 people who will purchase a Zune or a Zune Pass subscription, and will just happen to have similar enough tastes in music to me that I would want to friend them automatically? If the people that run the Zune department are as big into music as you guys say they are, then they’d realize that nothing is further from the truth. Just because me and some other dude both like Halo, doesn’t mean I want to share in his Justin Timberlake listening habits. Really - who thought this was a good idea?

I can applaud Microsoft for all the good they are doing with the Xbox 360 as a platform. After all, we are getting Games on Demand, a heap of new functionality, Avatar Marketplace, and more come August 11th. Even later this Fall, we get Twitter, Last.fm, Facebook, and instant-on 1080p streaming with the Zune Marketplace. Fantastic - but really, how about addressing this one need that people have been begging you guys for ever since the launch of the Xbox 360?

As my friend Doug from DizzyDoug.TV says, “In these times where social media networks are growing like never before, and with Xbox Live as a very popular and thriving social network, why are members limited to 100 friends? Forcing them to “clean up” regularly just to add new friends? Can you imagine the outrage if Twitter or Facebook limited to to 100 friends or followers? Time to be more “social” Microsoft.”

Yeah, I can definitely agree with that. I mean, how “social” can the Zune be if you buy into it after amassing 100 Xbox Live friends? Also, I’m getting tired of going into my friends list every few weeks, and checking to see who hasn’t logged in over the past 30 days so that I can find people to delete, just so that I can add others. I’m tired of having to pick and choose who I want to play with, and who I want to establish a recurring gaming relationship with. I’m tired of paying $50 per year, and constantly feeling the limits on my Xbox Live account, rather than the freedom. Most of all, I am tired of the empty promises from both the Xbox and Zune teams on this issue. It’s time to solve this. I talked to Devin Kofsky, and he says “I have more than 100 friends. I also have a Zune, and have Zune friends. The Xbox Live service has grown tremendously, and therefore, my friends list should have the ability to grow as well.. besides, the age old argument that says that the original Xbox can’t handle a larger friend list ain’t going to cut it anymore. Soon the Xbox 360 will have Twitter, Facebook, Last.fm. And still, 100 friends? Seems rather, weak.”

My boy Jason Chen of Gizmodo had a simple solution, which seems like a no-brainer: “The 100 friends limit on Xbox Live is fine for Xbox Live, for most people, and fine with Zune users, for the most part. The problem comes when you combine the two together. I’d say very few people who have Xbox Live has Zune, which means you’re going to use many of your valuable slots on your Zune friends list with people who you can’t interact with. Same goes the other way, for Xbox users who can’t play with your friends who only have Zunes. The solution? Either double the list to 200, or somehow allow 100 Xbox users and 100 Zune users, with overlap if a user has both.”

Okay, so we agree that we need an increase. So what are our options? I see this working in one of four ways:

  1. Microsoft increases the friend limit across the board. This is the one everyone wants. Increase the friend limit from the current 100 up to something like 250. Seriously, it’s been 7 years. Those of us who’ve been with Xbox Live since it launched have a good chance at being at, or close to, the max.
  2. Microsoft increase the friend limit for Xbox Live Gold Members. Need a way to get more people to buy a Gold membership, or even better, maintain one when it is nearing the end of the cycle? How about adding the perk that Gold Members get more slots for friends? Again, go with the 250 number. That is more than double what Silver members are allowed, and then it was time to renew, if I went well over 100, I would definitely think twice (or even thrice) about letting it lapse.
  3. Microsoft splits the Zune and Xbox Live friends lists for Zune Pass holders. This wouldn’t solve the problem for the gamers, but for those who both have an Xbox Live account and pay for a Zune Pass, it would sure as hell be nice. Napster charges $5 per month for unlimited streaming of music, so the main differentiator between the Zune Pass and Napster is that the Zune Pass costs $10 more per month, and has the Social element to it - if I am paying for it, then the Zune Social needs to stand on it’s own, not as the red-headed stepchild of Xbox Live.
  4. Microsoft charges for the privilege of adding more friends. Seriously. I’ve pay a one-time charge of 800 points to add 100 friends slots to my account. And if I run low again, I can just pay another 800 to add 100 more slots. Then, I am in control of however many friends I can have, and it is only limited by how much I want to pay for the privilege.

I’m sure there are other ideas out there - hit me with them in the comments, as I’d love to hear them.  One thing I heard from one of our Twitter followers, James Proud, is that “the 100 person friend limit is not too much of a problem, because having to manage more than 100 friends on Xbox Live is a lot more effort than on Facebook. for example. For a friend limit raise to be useful, they need to enable you to more effectively manage large numbers of friends.” Yeah, we hear that - maybe some sort of grouping feature.

Frankly, we are on the verge of an Xbox 360 Dashboard Update that will be integrating Twitter, Last.fm, and Facebook into your gaming experience. Meanwhile, the Zune Team is preparing for their biggest device launch ever, with the Zune HD. If it sells as well as they hope it does, that just means the Zune Social is going to get even more popular. Oh, and the holiday season is upon us as well, which means more Xbox 360s and more Xbox Live members. See how things are starting to feel a bit…crowded?

Our pal Marques Lyons thinks so, and he’s even a fancy Zune MVP. Here’s what he had to say on the matter: “Personally, I think it’s inevitable that something is done about the friend limit. Right now both services are emphasizing social aspects, which means that you’re doing more and more activities that allow you to include other people. It would be like going through your actual life, while only allowed a limit of 15 friends for your entire life. Wouldn’t make sense, right? With the inclusion of Movie Parties, Live party, Zune Social, and the like, more and more people are starting to see themselves hampered by the friend limit.”

Xbox Live has been around for 7 years, and Microsoft constantly touts it nowadays as one of the largest social networks out there, and yet, they are the very ones standing in the way of just how social it can be. Microsoft, you are standing in the way of greatness. Move.

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