If Xbox Live was Microsoft’s online gaming service at the height of its powers, then this past weekend was Xbox Dead. For more than 36 hours in mid May, Xbox players had trouble connecting to the Xbox network. In some cases, players say they couldn’t even play single-player games offline that they purchased digitally.
The issues started late Friday afternoon, and were quickly acknowledged by Xbox’s support staff on Twitter. At first, the most crucial features—the ability to play, buy, or stream games—went down. A few hours later, the situation started to look up; Microsoft, its priorities clear as day, rolled out a fix that allowed players to continue buying games, but didn’t do anything to address the fact that folks couldn’t play or stream them. Then shit hit the fan.
Throughout Saturday, Microsoft repeatedly tweeted out announcements like “All users should once again be able to launch games” and “We’re aware that some users are unable to … launch games.” (If you have to say it multiple times…) By 1:30 a.m. ET on Sunday, the issues finally appeared to subside, though Microsoft noted some continuing problems with its European servers.
Typically, when a console’s proprietary service goes down, you know what to expect. You have trouble getting into multiplayer matches. You can’t start voice chats with your friends. You can’t stream games. All that is par for the course. But many players reported an inability to play digital games, with some saying they couldn’t even access digital versions of older Xbox 360 games. They’d run into an error, “The person who bought this needs to sign in,” despite, y’know, being the person who bought “this.” Huh.
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Back in November 2020, during the launch of the Xbox Series X/S, players had trouble connecting to the Xbox network (née Xbox Live). Only difference that time: By designating your console as your “home Xbox” (here’s how to do that, by the way), you could at least play digital games you owned while you were disconnected from the internet.
No word yet on why that wasn’t the case this time around. Representatives for Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.
The result of all this? “Xbox Live” trending on social media—where it still has some residual buzz. It’s particularly noteworthy after all the good will Microsoft has garnered for being the rare company that provides a deeper well of backwards compatibility for older titles, as the outage displayed that the offerings come with some serious limitations.
This weekend’s situation has hints of an almost decade-old misfire for Microsoft. Prior to the launch of the Xbox One, in 2013, Microsoft caught heat for saying it’d require players to connect to the internet every 24 hours—a pretty extreme case of digital right management (DRM), particularly for the era. After about a month of public backlash, the company backpedaled and said it’d remove DRM from the Xbox One. Nine years later, if only for a fleeting moment, we got a glimpse of what that alternate reality would’ve looked like.