The odd math of Xbox One's profiles and controllers

One of the more surprising, unexpected announcements to come out of the Xbox One over the past few months is the revelation that it would support eight simultaneous controllers — but that number doesn't quite match up with the six simultaneous Xbox Live profiles that can run on a single system.

Earlier this month, Microsoft revealed those numbers through the Xbox One's product page, which explained that six users — either using accounts native to the Xbox One they're playing on, or brought over from their own home consoles — can be signed in at any one time. All six users can have control of the dashboard, can launch and play games, see their Friends lists and even unlock Achievements and the like.

But in the instance that you're actually able to wrangle eight players together on a single console, two won't be able to access those features — a restriction necessitated by the new Kinect's ability to track six skeletons at any given time.

Before you start to feel too bad for that unlucky remainder, Xbox One planning team member Albert Penello told Polygon during a TGS 2013 demo session that the likelihood of an eight-player game ever being developed is pretty low.

"People sort of mistake this; there's like, more than six Rock Band guitars, and things like that," Penello said. "So, I don't think there's gonna be a game that uses eight controllers, right, but we can support up to eight controllers, so it could be like, a combination thing. [Rock Band] is a specific example of where the eight might make sense, because you might just have some guests that are there that aren't logged in."

Penello clarified that someone could develop an eight-controller game for a single console, but that the login cap wouldn't increase to meet it.

"I suppose they could, but two people wouldn't be getting Achivements or anything while it's happening," Penello said.

Increasing the number of max logins isn't an option, as the Kinect is only capable of detecting six skeletons without losing any fidelity, Penello said. He's not worried about the discrepancy, though — Microsoft has stats on how many controllers users have connected simultaneously during the lifetime of their 360. Nearly everyone has one connected, most folks have had at least two — but then there's a precipitous decline for users who've ever had three controllers connected at once. Four controllers is even rarer.

Having six simultaneous logged-in users brings up its own array of issues, of course — the biggest being that friends can grief you by shouting commands at your console as you play. There will be certain restrictions in place to prevent those issues, Penello said; for example, when launching a new game with a voice command, players have a few seconds to cancel that command, ensuring that a mouthy friend can't end your gaming session abruptly by shouting "Xbox load Zoo Tycoon."

The math of user inputs on Xbox One is made even more complex when you factor in SmartGlass. Ostensibly, someone should be able to create a game allowing eight players to play using traditional controls while 16 players wielding SmartGlass picked away at them using their mobile devices. That would hypothetically allow, in total, 24 players to play together on a single console.

"If there was a game that had eight controllers, and then 16 more people on their own SmartGlass, I suspect you could create a game like that," Penello said. "However, only six of them would be logged in at one time, which would be four times four more people than 90 percent of the customers ever have logged in."

And what if, on top of those physical controls, a Kinect could also track the movements of six additional players, bringing the sum total of connected players on a single console up to 30?

"I don't know if we've contemplated that scenario, but now you're going to make me go ask," Penello laughed.

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