Upping our game: What’s new in the Games Hub for Mango

Upping our game: What’s new in the Games Hub for Mango

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I used to play games on my Xbox only on the weekends. Now that I work on and own a Windows Phone, I play them at least once a day. As a new “avid gamer” and one of the program managers behind the Games Hub, I’m excited to take you on a gamer’s tour of Mango, the next release of Windows Phone coming this fall.

One of the first things you’ll notice about the Games Hub in Mango is its new look: A cleaner and lighter design that emphasizes your game collection and Xbox LIVE info—the heart of the hub. Responding to your feedback, we also made tweaks to improve the overall performance and speed.

Finally, the Games Hub in Mango now comes with many of the features previously found in the popular Xbox LIVE Extras app, such as 3D avatars with fun animations, a new Collection view, and more. Here’s a rundown of the changes.

The Games Hub in Mango has a new design and great new Xbox LIVE-friendly features.

Improved Collection view

When you download a game from Marketplace, it shows up in the Collection view of the Games Hub. Large icons now dominate this view. But we found this design forces some users to memorize icons to identify a game. The layout also isn’t currently consistent with the App list, located off the Start screen, where all your apps appear.

Since our guiding principle for Mango was making it easier for people to quickly and efficiently find the games they want to play, we’ve made some improvements.

In Mango, games are neatly organized in the same familiar alphabetical list view as your apps—icon on the left, name on the right. Once you’ve amassed more than 20 games—something that can happen pretty quickly on this Xbox-friendly phone—finding titles you play frequently can become a chore, requiring multiple swipes. Our customer research and your feedback told us people want to quickly and easily get back to recently-played games.

To fix that, in Mango we’re introducing a new Recent category. When your collection exceeds 20 games, the last three titles you’ve played now appear right up top, so you can get to favorites faster. (This has been very useful every time I find myself with a couple minutes to spare during the day!)

If you have a lot of games, you'll see the last 3 games you played in the Collection view.

New 3D avatars with attitude

We know how much Xbox LIVE users love their avatars. In the current release of Windows Phone, the Games Hub displays avatars as a static 2D image. To flesh out your alter ego with an extra dimension, you need the free Xbox Live Extras app from Marketplace.

In the past few months we’ve received a lot of feedback from people wishing 3D avatars would be the norm on the phone. We’ve heard you loud and clear! So you’ll be happy to know that in Mango, we’ve fully integrated 3D avatars into the Games Hub.

Avatars on the phone are also now more playful: They wave at you, yawn, and perform a host of other actions. Shake your phone and your avatar dances—or even faints. Bug your poor alter ego too much and it might lash out at you (I won’t spoil the surprise by saying what it does) or pull the Collection screen into view to hide behind (my personal favorite).

Avatars are now more lifelike and display more emotion.

Better Xbox LIVE experience

Besides better avatars, all the features previously found in the Xbox LIVE Extras app are now built into the Games Hub. These include:

  • Improved Xbox LIVE messaging: Read and reply to Xbox LIVE messages sent from another Windows Phone, a PC, or an Xbox console. We’ve also added more avatar delighters here. If a message contains certain emoticons (e.g. Smile, Sad smile), you’ll notice your avatar’s expression change to reflect that emotion! (If a sender overloads a message with conflicting emoticons, your avatar will look bewildered.)

Send and receive messages from your Xbox LIVE buddies!

  • Connect with Xbox LIVE friends: Find out if your Xbox LIVE friends are currently online through the friend status view. You can also search, browse, initiate, and respond to friend requests right from your Windows Phone 7.
  • Integrated achievements and new comparison views: See the recent games your friends have been playing, and compare gamerscores and achievements for all Xbox LIVE games played on the phone, console, or PC.

See all your Xbox LIVE achievements, and how they stack up against your friends. games_achv_compr

  • Edit your profile: Moved to a new city? Have a new motto in life? Now you can update your name, bio, motto, and location right from the phone.
  • Improved Spotlight content: We’ve improved the news and info delivered to you via Spotlight in the Games Hub. Your window to the Xbox LIVE community will now be complemented with rich and vibrant images!

The improved Spotlight feature now has eye-popping images to accompany game-related news and info.

  • Improved game request notifications: In Mango, you’ll receive notifications for multiplayer game or turn requests and can track them in the Requests section of the Games Hub.

In Mango, it's easier to track multiplayer game invites and turn requests.

It’s been fun to watch the new Games Hub go from concept to reality over the past year. I hope you’re as excited as I am about all the tweaks and improvements on the way for gamers in Mango—many of them inspired directly by your feedback. Let me know what you think!

41 Comments
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  • I second Greg's request and would like to add tile notifications for messages as well to the requested feature list, and maybe number of friends online, although I could see push notifications getting annoying, and data intensive for the last one.

  • Mod74
    19 Posts

    Hi. All of this is looking really good. 2 things though. 1) the current interface(s) takes an age to update. Is this going to be quicker? 2) I've now lost progress in both Rocket Riot AND GeoDefense [sic]. You can fiddle with the interface all you like but is games are losing player progress you're going to have a massive problem on your hands. You can take pretty much any liberties you like with gamers but don't ever mess with their save files.

  • CAVX
    14 Posts

    @Curtieson - Not really...

    XBOX Live as a service prior to WP7 was all about connecting people, centralizing entertainment into one hub, and creating an enjoyable gaming experience...but WP7 is literally limited to one user. This means that in versions of PvZ where multi-user gaming is allowed, users can change players within a game, but they cannot do so on WP7 because the platform literally restricts them from allowing that feature. That's not a game developer choice.

    I'm not saying to get rid of Achievements, etc....I'm just saying that platform partiy should be more important.

    Not to say that I still don't love the game...it's great. But this could be a serious drawback in the future as WP7 gains momentum and looks to excel beyond the gaming abilities of its competitors.

  • Curtieson
    12 Posts

    @CAVX and @Ken

    Both of your suggestions are to change all that is the core of Xbox LIVE....

    If you do not want Gamerscore, go after games without Gamerscore!  If you want to be able for your friend to start on level 1-1...that is up to the game designer, not Microsoft....  I can pickup my wife's iPhone and play Angry Birds on level 1-1, and Apple didn't do anything to cause that, it was all Rovio.  And come Wednesday she can play level 1-1 on MY phone finally, haha!

    Also, there are no total GamerScore rewards as your GamerScore is reward enough.  That is just the way the system really works down to the core.  You don't need a t-shirt to show you have earned 25,000 pts...I have my score of 28,989 to show that!  Plus, 1000 is a pretty weak number when you consider that is only 1 retail game (but I know that was just an example)

  • Ken
    6 Posts

    Hey Shirlene,

    What would also be cool is if our Xbox Avatar would receive avatar gifts for reaching a certain number of gamer points.  For example, after getting 1000 points, you receive a new shirt or hat  or something cool.  I find just having gamer points just to out beat other avatars not thrilling enough.  Just a thought you can pass on to the Xbox live games department.

    Thanks

  • CAVX
    14 Posts

    Hey guys,

    Love what you've done so far, but I'm starting to have concerns that the XBOX Live infrastructure is going to make our games worse. For example, I can't switch players on Plants vs. Zombies - a simple feature that every other platform supports. This is very unfortunate, say, when I'm driving on a road trip and my girlfriend wants to try to play for the first time. I can't start her on my game. I feel like the "one-player-only" XBOX Live mentality is draining features from games. For your information, I'd take multiplayer (local to phone, or online) over achievements any day.

    XBOX Live won't be considered a "great thing" about the phone for long if the games don't even have all the features they do on other platforms.

    I love you guys though. Thank you for taking in feedback so well!

  • demetre
    1 Posts

    Well awsome new look and more polished organised game hub , definitely loving the new improvements .will there be any multiplayer availible so we can game with our mates or somebody else ? or maybe add leaderboards nice little feature ......but overall very happy  TY again  shirlene

  • techieg
    25 Posts

    Any word on Bing Maps voice-enabled turn-by-turn-navigation? This is an important feature that MS is not talking about AT ALL! We need to know.

  • Thanks for all the comments and feedback. Appreciate all the great suggestions and feature ideas. I’ll pass them on to the team for consideration in future releases. Here’s answers to some of the questions you had…

    Q: Do we support push notifications for messaging on Xbox LIVE?

    A: No, we do not support that for Mango. I agree it’ll be cool to have instant notification like we do for text and IM. We will look into this.

    Q: What about real-time multiplayer support?

    A: What about real-time multiplayer? Right now, we’re focused on delivering a great selection of Xbox LIVE games for WP7 and integrating the features that connect the community on mobile, like achievements. We currently offer asynchronous multiplayer functionality in certain Xbox LIVE games. We will continue to evolve and improve the experience in future releases.

    Q: Any news on more countries being supported?

    A: When Mango arrives in the fall, you’ll see a significant increase in the number of countries where Xbox LIVE service for Windows Phone is available. We’re not quite ready to announce the details yet – expect to hear more about this later this summer.

    Q: Will there be a way to quickly sign in and out of different Xbox LIVE profile in the games hub or have support for multiple Xbox LIVE account?

    A: No, not at this time.

    Q: Will non Xbox LIVE games be integrated in the games hub?

    A: Yes. You will find all games in your games hub regardless of whether they are Xbox LIVE or not.

  • Adnan
    17 Posts

    Xbox Live on WP7 was a reason for me now to get Windows Phone. Two Thumbs up :)

  • dkb1898
    167 Posts

    @ScubaDog - Agreed! CPU is becoming less important, though dual core isn't a bad thing, and can actually save you battery. Especially if one of the cores is a more effeicient core like TI is doing with their Quad cores.

    I suspect though, in the near future, with C++ AMP, CUDA, DirectCompute, OpenCL, etc... the focus is going to shift to "GPU" performance...eventually the CPU and GPU will be one unit, like in the 90's when they integrated the floating point unit into the CPU to dramatically increase performance.

    Couple this, with a database file system that uses compression and the footprint of the next generation software can be much lower, if it relies on much more effecient processing power of massively parallel processing of the GPU.

    I think that's the next wave of computing, and I think MS still has some power then can get out of the Adreno 200, even after Mango. Imagine all the more complex math, physics, etc... algorithm in the entire .Net framework going through a GPU insead of the much slower CPU. Couple that will some of the more advanced compression, decompression, encryption, decryption, and complex OS operation all going through the GPU. There is still A LOT that can be done to speed up the existing 1st Generation WP's.

    What this will do, is make it possible to sell these super cheap in a year and a half from now, and blow away the competition on the same hardware.

    Unless of course, Apple or Android moves it's kernal to hardware...then that might create an advantage.

  • "do you think that will truly work, though?  It was not very successful between XBox and PC games...PC gamers typically whooped the daylights out of their XBox counterparts.  I'm wondering if the differences between the smartphone platform and the console might present the same issues."

    @ScubaDog2011

    You missed what I was saying.  I'll clarify.  I was talking about MOBILE cross-platform gaming.  Potential WP7 users migrating from Android or iOS  would like to retain the ability to compete against Android and iOS users as they do now using either of those platforms.  If you did understand that this is what I meant, then your concern that mobile cross-platform would be to the advantage of one platform over the other, I disagree as, outside of graphical performance) there's a greater difference in PC vs Xbox than WP7 vs. Android vs. iOS for gaming.  I've yet to have found a disadvantage cross-platform in competing using iOS or Android.  The only disadvantage would be the intelligence (or lack thereof) of the end-user, which can't be helped regardless of the platform on which the game is being played.  The disadvantage between XBOX and PC competitors is likely due to the fact that you can do more using a PC with a keyboard and a mouse than you can with an XBox controller that only has a couple joysticks and 10 buttons, most of which are ancillary to maybe four major inputs.  Long story short, your concern is inflated by that on the mobile cross-platform front.  Very different field of play ...

  • @JBundyLive, do you think that will truly work, though?  It was not very successful between XBox and PC games...PC gamers typically whooped the daylights out of their XBox counterparts.  I'm wondering if the differences between the smartphone platform and the console might present the same issues.

  • Enable cross-platform gaming. Not everyone is a Xbox user, but many would like to compete against users on other mobile OS's.

  • So they finally integrated the Live Extras into the the actual games section so you can do everything in one place. I am wondering if they will finally allow you to hear audio messages from friends on XBL now, and maybe even reply with one?

    Also, after reading the comments I am really saddened to hear you can not send messages without having a gold subscription. I have one, so I was not aware of this MAJOR flaw, it's obscene that you would charge people who don't have an Xbox to send messages to their friends.

    PS I love the new games layout, much more user friendly.

  • Now, to throw a bit of a focus change, here, I was listening to the WPDev podcast and Brandon Watson said a number of very interesting things.  One that jumped out was at the very end when he was asked if the dual core issue had "landed on his beach".  He basically asked for a reason to really care about dual core.  As he elaborated, it pretty much fit some things I've said about that, too.  He said if "speeds & feeds" is what it takes to sell and Android phone, well....  And I agree.  Back in the day, I used to actually play the "mine's faster than yours" game.  But if you've created an environment that performs amazingly well on lesser hardware with lower cost and power requirements, why on earth do you want to go chasijng bleeding edge speed when it DOESN'T ACTUALLY IMPROVE your experience?  Oh, I don't doubt we'll start seeing some dual core WP7 devices eventually, but to what end?  Brandon's point was that the mom in Peoria going to buy a phone not for the processor, but for "great apps, great experience, she can connect with her friends, send email to her buddies, text easily with her friends, go check her Facebook updates without jumping in and out of apps."  So, I think that pretty much spells it out: Geeks are not their target customer.  Having said that, I think I'd be more impressed with geeks who can help make WP7 and apps far surpass Android or iPhone and need LESS in the way of hardware & juice.  So, when it comes to things like dual core processing, I'm Just Not That Into You.  Bringing this around to the gaming aspect, do we think that this might be the one area that could suffer by taking that stance?  So far, I'm inclined to say "no".  I compare different games types on my Focus to my wife's iPhone 4 and I see, generally, a better gaming experience on my Focus.  It takes advantage of certain hardware aspects, eg., acceleration, so I'm thinking that if any hardware area would be a big focus for continued advancement it would be in the GPU front, not the processory.  I see this even on my desktop.  I've even stopped chasing processors there in favor of chasing GPU upgrades.  I'd be interested to hear developers comment on why WP7 should push harder into the dual core arena.  So far, I'm not seeing it.  I could be persuaded, though.

  • Yes, I'm with @Razor on the membership issue.  I'm not a console gamer.  I don't like consoles in the least.  The kind of games I play are much better on the PC than on a console, as far as I'm concerned.  And, frankly, now that we're seeing Kinect expand into the desktop realm, the one "feature" of the XBox console that enticed me will no longer require me to get an XBox.  In fact, I won't be surprised if Kinect 2.0 turns out to be a completely standalone unit that can simply interface via wired, WiFi & Bluetooth to whatever device (be it XBox, desktop, tablet or Windows Phone).  Because I actually have MORE friends using WP7 than I do that have an XBox, I would find the messaging more useful in the Games Hub for that reason.  But I purposely don't even go down that road of connecting with them BECAUSE it would cost me to add it only for messaging.

  • Curtieson
    12 Posts

    The one question I have left, since the messages will now be part of the native phone experience...will the AutoCorrect feature be used?  It bugs me now when I send a msg that it does not work, and would love for that to be available.

    I just wish I didn't have to wait so long to get all of these features!!! But, in the back of my mind, I know all these features are already completed and you are working on the testing phase with the phone companies, so THIS TIME, when you say Fall it will be FALL and make all of us happy.  I am onto you Microsoft...you are smart, I know it, haha.

  • Very Nice!!

    But will it be possible to add additional Xbox live accounts to be used in the Games Hub.

    For example i have the Gold Family Pack with my wife and son as the additional gold accounts.

    I know that my son will want to play some of the games on my phone when he's bored in the car, but i wouldn't want him getting achievement for me and i'm guessing he won't want to miss out on those achievement going to him on his xbox account. ( He's very upset that i have more achievements than him but thats a 6 year old for you)

    Would there be a way of being able to signout of the main xbox live id on the phone to sign in with an other within the Gold Family pack as the other live id's are linked on the xbox for recovering the profiles. I put my details in and i can recover either mine or my wife's or son's profile. (Makes it easy for me to remember the details for the other accounts... just use mine!!).

    I hope this will be possible, maybe not with the launch of Mango but a small update after Mango goes live.

    Say the week after :p

  • I don't get it, will normal games (not Xbox live) be integrated in the games hub or not?

  • Very Interesting, It would be great to see new looks in wp7. I hope this would also be available soon on my HD7 to test ?

  • Razor
    53 Posts

    Add me to the list of annoyed WP7 owners that don't own an Xbox and have no intention of getting a Gold membership just for the "privilege" of  sending messages to friends. Microsoft is only shooting it's own platform in the foot with these lame and arbitrary limitations.

    Plus, wouldn't it make sense to integrate Xbox Live messaging with the other methods being aggregated in Mango? Hell, if you can do it with Facebook, you should be able to do it with your own platform.

  • dkb1898
    167 Posts

    Let me third StevenClarey's post. I don't own a console, or play games on my PC, and probably won't in the future, but I do enjoy playing them on my phone. I can't see paying 60 bucks a year for non-serious gaming, but would like to be able to compare scores and times of xbox live games to other members, and have some basic friend functionality. I could see myself paying 20 bucks for this, or 3 dollars for a month.

  • WixosTrix
    16 Posts

    It would be nice if Xbox Live could automatically post new achievements to your Facebook wall.  Also, will only Xbox Live games be able to utilize the invitations and turn notifications?

  • All of that is great and all, but listen to this scenario.

    So the other day me and my buddy are sitting at a popular coffee shop when he busts out his windows phone and I do the same and he's showing me his games and I'm showing him my games and WHAT! We both have Rise of Glory!

    Hey let's play together! COOL!!!

    Waitaminit. . . We can't play multiplayer Rise of Glory? Well maybe there's another game that we can play multiplayer.

    So a quick push of the search button and through bing we search for wp7 multiplayer games.

    What? No games are playable through multiplayer? C'mon how cool would it be that for ONCE there is a feature that we wp7 users can brag about that hasn't been done before huh!

    Just saying. ;)

  • MSicc
    4 Posts

    I love this improvements. Here you can find my blog post and my opinion: http://fb.me/LESmYCNT

  • I'd like to second StevenClarey's post: let us send messages to XBox friends over WP7. The current system is incredibly fragmented. I can send messages via Games for Windows Live, but not from my WP7 or from the XBox Live website. It's stupid.

    I understand that paying for XBox Live should give some value, but messaging is a simple and necessary feature. In fact, if I could message over my phone it might get me more involved in XBox Live to the point that I might actually get an XBox. I'm hooked on WP7 and GfWL achievements, and I love that I can message a friend when I'm playing a PC game, but it's a shame that I can't message from the phone or website. So I get messages I can't respond to.

    I'd also like XBox Live messages to be integrated into the new threaded conversations so I can contact my friends in more ways, and therefore more seamlessly.

  • Will there be the ability to quickly sign in and out of different Xbox Live profiles? So your children or wife can play as well

  • Real time Multiplayer would be an absolute killer feature and it is possible with SL 4 sockets in Mango, pretty please!

    Heck even some compelling turn based games XBLA games would be great, it's a seriously underutilized feature.

  • I have a couple of issues with Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7!

    Multiplayer gaming or the lack of it.

    I really thought with the introduction of Windows Phone we would at least have a couple of games, even turn by turn games like monopoly, that we could play against our friends who also have a Windows Phone. As far as I'm aware there are no titles available on the marketplace that have this feature, WHY?

    Sending messages via Xbox Live.

    I really like the idea of being able to contact my friends who are playing their Xbox 360's online via Xbox Live by using my Windows Phone. I don't own an Xbox 360 and never will (I don't own a games console at all), this means I will never pay a subscription to a service I will never use i.e. Xbox live gold membership. To enable me to send simple messages to my friends who are playing on Xbox 360 online, I would have to either pay £5.99 a month or £39.99 a year for a Gold Membership! Isn't there something you could sort out for us non console gamers who want to send simple messages to our friends without charging us a fortune for the privilege?

    I really thought Xbox Live on my phone would be better than it is, I feel a bit let down...

  • arrow22
    50 Posts

    @Light_Shadow

    I disagree. The sentence missing is "Microsoft Points will be forever abolished and you can now finally see the monetary value of your purchases."

  • WoW all the improvements look amazing you guys are really taking Windows phone in the right direction I can't wait for the next update will there be any real time Multiplayer games? Multiplayer really is what xbl is all about and the only reason I pay for my subscription

  • The one sentence that would make me care about the update is missing:

    "You can now buy games with Microsoft Points you have on your Xbox Live account"

  • cmwind
    71 Posts

    the question is when will we get a "killer game" that takes advantage of multiplayer? when you have such a small user base you need one game that almost everyone is playing in order for multiplayer to work. kind of like halo 2 on the original xbox... good post... love to see the improvements... love that y'all are taking your time revealing them... helps keep you in the press spotlight when there is so much noise about android and apple and other garbage... at this point i'm waiting for the "must have games" promotion to end just to see if we will get anything other than iphone ports with achievements... those are important too BUT would love to see some killer exclusive games

  • csmikle
    14 Posts

    "In Mango, you’ll receive notifications for multiplayer game or turn requests"

    You can't leave people hanging like that; if they speculate that you mean real-time multiplayer is included when you don't, they'll complain

  • arrow22
    50 Posts

    Like ChrisLynch asks, when can we expect real-time multiplayer? Seems odd to be missing this on a platform named "Xbox Live". A game rating system would be great as well and a huge improvement from what all the other platforms are offering.

  • Ken
    6 Posts

    Thanks for the update Shirlene.  What other games will support game request notifications?  Is it only Xbox live games?

    Thanks.

  • Sogeman
    51 Posts

    Is it buying games with Microsoft Points? No? Well, nothing to see here then.

  • Any news on more countries being supported? The reason I'm not buying anything XBOX LIVE / Games For Windows LIVE related is because my country is not supported.

    Other distributors are happy to take my money, though.

  • Love the visual improvements.  I hope that Xbox Live Messages would be integrated within the People Hub as well.  Also, what about multiplayer game support?  And I don't mean the turn-by-turn we have now.  Also, some of the items that are available in the Avatar Marketplace are not available on the phone.  I hope you guys are working on new license agreements to make this possible.  Also, I hope you announce Parental Ratings for not just Xbox Live Games, but also indie games.

  • Great post, Shirlene!

    Question: Will the new Games Hub support push notifications for messaging on Xbox Live? It would be great if a friend sent me a message through XBL from their phone, PC or Xbox 360, and I get an instant notification about it, similar to how I get texts and IMs.

    Thanks!