Even as it brings waves of new TV and video content to the Xbox 360, the console's latest firmware update appears to have killed the most popular feature of its Netflix app. When Netflix brought its Instant Watch catalog, Party Mode became unexpectedly popular. It let you talk to your Xbox Live friends while you were all streaming the same movie. The Xbox 360 Party Mode gave a clever, social twist to content that was available elsewhere and remained an exclusive to Microsoft's console even after Netflix expanded onto other game platforms like the Wii and PS3.
But the Metro/Future of TV update that hit on December 6th wiped out Party Mode. I asked if Party Mode would be part of the new update when I demoed it with Microsoft, they admitted that it wouldn't. Furthermore, it won't be implemented on any of the video offerings Microsoft will be hosting on the 360. The explanation I was given was that the new codebase for the update doesn't support the Party Mode so neither FiOS or Vevo or HBO Go will allow for real-time audio chat inside the apps. When I followed up to confirm, Microsoft did issue a statement:
The new app platform on Xbox does not support the video party mode feature at this time, so it will not be available in any existing app partners that have updated their app and any of the new Xbox app partners. The feature is still available in some of our international video apps (i.e. BSkyB in the UK) and is a likely feature candidate for inclusion in the next version of the app dev kit. For customers that would like to chat with their Xbox LIVE friends while gaming or watching videos, the chat feature is still available via the Xbox Guide.
When functionality like this goes away, it more than just a lost feature. Here's a note reader Billkwando sent in about how the loss of Party Mode's affecting him:
"My wife is bedridden and can't have people sitting on the bed with her, so the only way for us to watch movies and TV together was in a Party, with 2 different TVs in different parts of the room. We've been doing this for years, and now we're completely screwed. It was the one thing we could do together, cos her pain is too great to actually play games."
He's started a petition to complain about the feature loss and if you'd like to sign it, go here.