One of Windows Phone 7's standout - and marketable - features is the Games Hub featuring Xbox Live integration. I've been immersed in the world of smartphones for half a decade now and I still found the concept and process of setting up my WP7/Xbox Live account a bit confusing, but now that I'm rolling I can see the potential. Then again, I'm not an Xbox gamer; the system is designed to be an extension of Microsoft's console-based Live experience, and so familiar to its legions of online gaming fans.
Whether you're a Live regular, smartphone expert, or neither of the above, there's a lot to explore and learn about in WP7's Xbox Live Xtras. Here are 7 things you might not know about how it all works:
1. You need to download and install Xbox Live Extras, a free app, to get all of the goodies including a nicer UI than the standard Games Hub offers. Why Microsoft didn't just include Extras as a pre-installed part of the shipping OS kind of baffles me. But I suppose it might have something to do with access to the network being region-specific and/or the recently stomped bugs that plagued Extras on some HTC devices. Whatever the case, install Extras first if you're at all interested in gaming on your WP7 device.
2. Not every Windows Phone 7 game will be an Xbox Live title. The Games Hub separates the Live from the non-Live titles, and the Live titles get spotlight placement in the Games Marketplace as well as the Gamerscore integration that's such a big part of the Xbox 360 experience.
3. You can track mobile and console (Xbox 360) gaming achievements from your phone.
4. You can track mobile and console leaderboards from your phone, and compare Gamerscores with friends. You can also see your friends' avatars, recent activity and current online/offline status and access Xbox Messaging.
5. Avatars. Making and managing and viewing avatars on Live Extras is really fun. Not as slick as on Xbox 360 - or so my gamer friends tell me - but still really fun and really pretty smooth for a mobile experience. Also, there are a ton of hairstyles to choose from, which is huge for a bald dude like me.
6. Games are priced from free to $9.99 per title. You can "try" a game by downloading a free demo version, most of which limit functionality and available play time. As of my writing this, the only ten dollar title currently fro sale is Guitar Hero 5 from Glu. Microsoft is managing title releases at regular intervals in a similar fashion to how they run Xbox Live Arcade.
7. There's a "Gamer Spotlight" feature that lets you "meet" selected gamers. Just now I met some dude from South Carolina who goes by the Gamertag Floodgates. Except I didn't meet him because the link took me outside of Live Extras to a static Web page with no "Friend Floodgates" option. So instead I just read his bio. Ah, well, this Extras thing is still in version 1, right?
Played any WP7 Live titles that stand out as good, bad, or just plain ugly? Chime in and let us know what we should be checking out!