The Xbox Insider Program Gets Even Weirder

Posted on January 30, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Xbox One with 27 Comments

The Xbox Insider Program Gets Even Weirder

As any Microsoft fan will tell you, the Windows Insider program is one of the big highlights of the past few years. So why is Microsoft so utterly screwing up the Xbox Insider Program?

As a refresher, be sure to revisit Next Up for the Windows Insider Program: Changing the World, in which I describe the inside story of how Microsoft established a system that makes Windows better while allowing its biggest fans to feel like they’re part of the team.

And remember how Microsoft’s Terry Myerson complained that the original goals of the Insider Program were too limited. “I thought you were going to build a community,” he challenged Gabe Aul at the time. “This doesn’t sound like a community.” Terry kept coming back to the term inside—as in, “these users need to feel like they work insideMicrosoft, are a part of team.”

That is not how the Xbox Insider Program works. Not even close.

To be fair, it used to be even worse. It began life as the Xbox Preview Program and, after a short period in which members could invite others, it was sealed off from the outside world. If you wanted to get in, tough. It was private.

With various changes to Microsoft’s corporate structure, Xbox has come under Terry Myerson’s More Personal Computing division. And last November, Xbox announced that it would rename this program to the Xbox Insider Program.

My hope was that Microsoft would simply make the Xbox Insider Program work like it does on Windows: Anyone and everyone can join, and then they can choose the rate at which they receive pre-release updates. On Windows, we have release rings like Fast, Slow, and Release Preview that determine the cadence of updates, for example.

At first, Microsoft did seem to indicate it would move in that direction, noting that with the Xbox Insider Program it would be “be open to all Xbox users” and “expanding to offer opt-in opportunities to provide feedback on Game and App Previews alongside System Update previews.”

But this is Xbox. And they just aren’t that open and transparent.

Xbox updates don’t head out to Preview users in a fair manner. Instead, they go out to a limited, unknown subset of Preview users first. It’s not clear how they are selected, or why. Then, updates go out to other Preview members over time. But it’s not clear what the schedule is. I’m on the Preview program, for example, and my Xbox One has not seen an update since December.

Last week, Xbox revealed how the Xbox Insider Program would work. Sort of. The only thing that’s really clear is that it will not work like the Windows Insider Program.

Yes, there are going to be multiple rings, just like on Windows Insider, and the ring you are in—Alpha, Beta, Ring 3, or Ring 4—will determine the cadence of the updates you get.

But Xbox Insider differs in that the firm is secretly judging your worth before allowing you to get updates. That is, you can’t actually pick a ring. You are assigned a ring. Secretly. And that assignment is based on your participation, and can change over time. Somehow. Meaning, those people who provide the most feedback will get earlier access to new features. It’s just not clear how or on what schedule.

Now, I know some of you are thinking this is fair. After all, why shouldn’t Microsoft reward users who provide the most feedback? I will counter that by noting that the absence of feedback does not constitute a lack of value, that my Xbox just working properly is itself a form of feedback that Microsoft can see with telemetry. In other words, if I don’t see any issues and still want to stick with the Alpha ring, or whatever, I should be allowed to do so. Again, this is how it works in Windows.

I will also argue that when it comes to enthusiasts, a far bigger percentage of the Xbox One user base is made up of such customers compared to, say, Windows. This audience is very naturally inclined to help make their favorite gaming platform even better, and not being 100 percent inclusive feels like a snub. Given Xbox’s issues competing with PlayStation, I will further argue that now is not the time for such a snub. Microsoft should, instead, just prompt Insiders for feedback, right on the console. That will scare away those who don’t want to provide such feedback.

Put simply, this is exactly the kind of system that Terry Myerson argued against when the Windows Insider Program was begin designed. It is not a true community but is rather a secret society that favors mysterious insiders over the broader body of users. And it’s unclear how or why those special few were even chosen to begin with. Friends of friends? Come on.

Microsoft, stop playing games with users and just open up the Xbox Insider Program for crying out loud. Really open it up.


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Comments (27)

27 responses to “The Xbox Insider Program Gets Even Weirder”

  1. 185

    From what I understand the releases that are targeted to groups are based on scoring and telemetry of how the consumer uses the xbox.  So if you putting in a lot of quality feedback you have a higher score, if you use a feature that is Alpha and meet the requirements of the alpha you get it.  I don't see anything really confusing here just more targeted early releases based on usage.

    • 5027

      In reply to RonV42:

      Agree, if you give a lot of feedback, and do all quests and surveys, you are more likely to get the early builds, and it works.

      I do all quests, and surveys, and also provide a lot of feedback almost every week. I also use my xbox a lot.

      I got the update day one, just like I always do.

      as a side note, I dont think they have messed up the Insider/Preview program, I think they messed up the Xbox UI this time.

  2. 5240

    I have sent a huge number of bug reports as an Xbox insider (formerly preview program member), but never completed any of their silly "quests". For my troubles, I get a big thumbs-down raspberry when it comes to updates.

  3. 5664

    I can see both sides here. On the one hand, it's good to reward users for their feedback. I see way too much in the Feedback Hub that's little more than

    "inside upade braek my window os!! HOW TO FIX!!! ?!?"

    A merit-based series of rings would really help in that regard, but... It would really be a slap in the face to the enthusiast crowd who do so much to evangelize and help their chosen vendor and platform. Finding themselves locked out of newer builds because they didn't "do enough?"

    Yeah. Hard line to walk.

  4. 5485

    The Insider scheme on XBOX One seams to be working better considering the quality of their output vs Windows 10 ... why change it? 

    Words like "fair" don't make much sense for me in this context. Its about QA around a product ...

    Microsoft its an amazing company so much so that they have probably millions of people willing to pay to work for MS ... and if MS does not let them ... its accused of being unfair ... lolol. Weird.

    To be in a position where a company rewards users by allowing them to pay to work for them its an amazing feat.

    Disguised consumerism at its best.

  5. 10298

    "Xbox updates don’t head out to Preview users in a fair manner. Instead, they go out to a limited, unknown subset of Preview users first. It’s not clear how they are selected, or why."

    Updates are first sent out to the most active Insiders - those that perform tasks and provide feedback.  So, pretty fair in my mind.

    • 2130

      In reply to NarcoSleepy:

      I've been pretty consistent about completing quests, surveys, etc. and so I ended up in the Alpha ring. Problem is, I don't really want to be in the Alpha ring. This is my sole console and I'd rather be in the Beta ring or lower, but there is no way to set it to a lower ring, only to remove myself completely from the program.

      When they tested the "Anniversary" update, or whatever they ended up calling it for Xbox, you had the option of whether you wanted to test the new builds or stay with the old ones. Something like that would even be better than the way it is now, where you are forced into whatever ring unless you'd rather completely walk away.

      • 10316

        In reply to Tallin:

        The "four-ring" setup hasn't actually gone live yet. It's still "in-or-out". When the "four-ring" setup goes live, you will be able to join any ring below the one you have been invited to. So if you're invited to Alpha, you'll be able to join any ring, but if you're invited to ring 3, you can only join ring 3 or 4.

        • 54

          In reply to UnnDunn:

          If that is how it works, then that's fair, but given this is Microsoft/Xbox we are talking about, I can almost see that you won't have a choice at all.

          Also, as far as I am aware, the Insider Preview program is still locked, so no new members can join. I'm a member of the Windows Insider program, and have provided feedback and done quests through the Feedback Hub, and I use the Insider builds on my 950XL, but can I get into the Xbox program? Nope... not a chance in hell...

      • 10298

        In reply to Tallin:

        That's a pretty good point.  For me, only my home console was added to the alpha, but it is not the console I use the most.  I've just received a message that they fixed this issue, so if you have multiple consoles, you can now enroll them in the alpha ring, if you were invited.  Unfortunately, there is no way to skip the alpha without leaving the program right now.

  6. 10316

    Xbox Insider program isn't a marketing program. It's a QA program. It does no-one any good if a bunch of numpties looking for early access to a specific feature join the Alpha ring and proceed to complain that everything is broken.

  7. 585

    The feedback is not always submitting bugs, that does help, but here have been lots of surveys and quests they have asked people to do. Doing these simple items gives you points and shows that you are giving them feedback on the experience. This point system is what shows you are active and moves you up the list.

    Last week I received the latest builds and continue to do the surveys and quests.  By doing them they do show me how to use the Xbox in new ways and give feedback on my experience.

    I agree with the plan that if you just sit and want the latest build for the new stuff you should be on a lower ring with more stable builds.  Being early comes with problems and I have had them and they can suck.

    PS - I have several friends in the Xbox Preview program and it shows me their scores.  Most of them have done no surveys or just a few items so the participation I would guess has been low, just lots of people wanting the "new stuff"


    • 399

      In reply to will:

      Even being late can come with problems. A couple months back a non insider update pretty much killed my XBox until I did a full system restore (I now appreciate how it automatically backs up game saves to the cloud). I'm still kinda pissed off about it - as a pleb I shouldn't have to put up with that sort of thing as a trade off for not having the latest builds. That the first comment from MS on the XBox forum was that I should file such reports in the insider part of the forum even though I specifically mentioned in my post that I was not an insider did not inspire much confidence.

    • 5027

      In reply to will:

      So true, if you have a score less then 600, done no surveys and quests....dont be surprised you don't get the early, often unstable builds.

      To me it's a perfectly balanced system for updates to a console.

  8. 289

    I think they should just open it up and let users choose which ring they want to be part of.  As long as they understand the risks, let them join the Alpha ring.  

    If Microsoft wants to keep rings based on participation, then at least make the scoring and the inclusion/exclusion criteria transparent so people know where they stand.  Make a leader board and say that only the top X% will be in the Alpha ring; the next X% will be in the Beta ring; etc.

    Exclusivity + Opacity = Frustration 

  9. 9201

    Boo Hoo I wanna be the Alpha ring.

  10. 412

    I'm one of the original Dashboard Preview Users and I rarely had time to do the "quests" needed for the Preview Users. 

  11. 6513

    I don't get what is so hard to understand.

    Do the quests - this is how they decide if a feature is good or not and what you didn't like or if it could be improved. When I first saw the home screen I was like wtf? Then , when I wanted to go home it took an extra step. This made zero sense to me but one of the quests is what do you use home for. I couldn't come up with a reason as everything is built into the guide there was no reason I could come up with. 

    Do the surveys - again Microsoft wants to know what could be better.

    If you have a bug,report it! If it's on the list say, me too! 

    Rate the updates. Is it great, is it awful, is it middle? 

    Participate in the forums, share your experience. Help others that fail to understand how you are testing for bugs and should not be surprised things aren't always working. 

    I am listed as 9,200 in the leaderboards for participating and got in the first wave. So, I'd wager the alpha ring has a lot of users. As others have said if you have a 600 and your stats don't reflect active participation it's why you didn't get the first wave. It's pretty simple. 


  12. 663

    One of my issues with submitting feedback on xbox is the part of actually submitting feedback.  I'm not always sitting at my computer, nor do I have my phone on me.  Let me create a ticket for myself and add details later when I'm on the pc in a draft like fashion.

    • 5027

      In reply to elitemike:

      you submit the feedback on the Xbox itself ..not on a PC , at least if you want to include telemetry and other data when the issue actually happens. 


      If you find it tedious to type with the controller,  connect a keyboard.

  13. 1364

    I have 2 Xbox ones. Both are in the preview program. One was recently updated the other was last updated in December. Before the update, I got a message from MS Insider saying that it was coming and I could opt out if I wanted. I am pretty good about completing quests and surveys. I don't do them all, but I do most of them.

    I don't have a big problem with the current system.


  14. 313

    I mostly agree that they need to open it up more, but one thing to consider is that with a windows machine, if something goes bad with an insider build you always have the nuclear option of just re-installing the production version of windows on the computer.  I don't believe that a way exists to do this on Xbox One.  If an update goes bad there, it has the potential to brick the device.

  15. 6319

    I think one of the issues to take into consideration when comparing Windows Insider  to Xbox Insider, is that Xbox likely needs to be more carefup that new builds are higher quality. I think the recovery options of a bad build on Xbox are more detrimental than on Windows. If I get a bad build on Windows, I just repave it and then sync my saved data. On an Xbox, I've never had to recover my game data so I wouldn't even know where to start.