The next Xbox, set to be unveiled during a May 21 event on Microsoft's Redmond-based Xbox campus, will bring with it not just new hardware, but a slew of tweaks to the social aspects of Microsoft's console.
Sources tell Polygon that the current version of the next-gen console includes a next-gen approach to video sharing, anti-piracy protection, social networking and a massive expansion of the Xbox 360's popular achievement system.
Like the recently announced PlayStation 4, the still-unnamed next Xbox will include the ability to capture video highlights of gameplay and then share them through networks like Facebook and Ustream.
In February, during the official PlayStation 4 unveiling, Sony officials detailed the heightened importance of sharing game experiences. The ability to share a snapshot from a game or show off a gameplay video is so important that a "share" button is incorporated into that upcoming console's new controller.
Pressing the PS4's share button allows players to begin capturing their own gameplay in real time and then broadcast it to their friends using social networks.
Microsoft is also trying to come up with a system for video sharing though all of the details are still being locked down. According to our sources, currently the next Xbox will capture your gameplay as if it were a DVR, allowing you to go back and select highlights. That function can be turned on or off, or a player can set up the console to automatically capture a recording when certain in-game events occur, like a headshot or collecting a specific achievement. Auto capturing those "magic moments" will be a feature only available on next-gen games.
Those videos can then be uploaded directly from the console to social sites, like YouTube, for sharing.
Sources tell Polygon that the next Xbox will indeed have some form of an always-on requirement. That will be both to support the suite of non-gaming entertainment applications that will be launched alongside the console, like streaming video services, but also as a possible anti-piracy tool. Currently, the console will support digital rights management and anti-piracy checks using an internet connection. Under Microsoft's current guidelines, which may still be changed, the decision of whether a game will require an internet connection to work and if that is a one-time authentication or a constant connection, will be left up to individual publishers.
The next Xbox will allow publishers to decide if their games should require an internet connection to be played.
The fact that offline gameplay, always online and one-time checks are supported, means that in the future, publishers will have much greater control over copyright protection for their games.
Another thing developers and publishers will have more control over with next-gen Xbox games is the way achievements are used and updated.
With the next Xbox, developers and publishers will be able to add more achievements to a game after launch, without the need to add DLC. This is designed specifically to allow developers to tweak player behavior, perhaps urging players to check out specific areas of a game or get past a difficult spot. Next-gen achievements can also be tied to broader events, like a weekend challenge or a communal goal, like contributing a set number of kills to the bigger goal of 10,000 kills over one weekend. Companies can also create cross-title achievements, like awarding points for finishing the first chapter in two different and unrelated games published by the same company. Some of these bigger, cross-title, communal achievements will be a requirement for all titles.
Microsoft is playing around with cross-platform achievements as well. Ideally, these achievements could be earned by playing a game on the next-gen system and then using a companion app, a website or maybe even by playing a specific game, like a prequel to a next-gen title, on the Xbox 360.
Microsoft is also looking to adjust the way Xbox Live functions to more closely align it with the way other social networks, like Twitter or Facebook, work. The next-generation Live won't have a cap on the number of friends a person can have. The way players add friends will also change. Now instead of it being a two-way friendship only, people can choose to follow one another, sort of like Twitter.
We've reached out to Microsoft for comment on their support of always-online DRM, changes to Live and achievements and addition of video capture to the still-unannounced console and will update this story if and when they respond.
Update: A Microsoft spokesperson had this to say in response to our questions and the article: "We're excited to share more about the new generation of games, TV and entertainment on May 21, but have nothing further to share at this time."