Responding to what I assume was a mountain of negative feedback, Microsoft will retool its Xbox Insider Program to be just a bit more open to everyone.
“Xbox gamers will now be able to easily opt into the Xbox Insider program and gain earlier access to the latest system updates and flighted games,” Microsoft’s Todd Headrick revealed today.
To be clear, however, the Xbox Insider Program is still in no way “open,” and it doesn’t work at all like similar programs at Microsoft for Windows 10, Office, and other products. Which, yes, is frustrating.
Microsoft announced the Xbox Insider Program as a replacement to its invite-only Xbox Preview Program in November 2016. At that time, I noted that it would be “open to anyone,” based on Microsoft’s description.
“The Xbox Insider Program will be open to all Xbox users,” Microsoft said.
As fans quickly noticed, however, the Xbox Insider Program was never truly open. Instead, Microsoft created a unique four-tier system of rings, unlike anything the firm does with other products. And as I wrote in January, “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.”
This system is non-transparent and unfair, obviously, and Microsoft has just as obviously been receiving complaints ever since. So they’re changing the program. Slightly.
But don’t worry, folks. It’s just as stupid and complex as ever.
Now, some fans who are stuck in the slow motion Ring 3 and Ring 4 ghettos can be granted “user-selected ring shifts,” or the ability to actually gain entrance into the vaunted Alpha (Ring 1) or Beta (Ring 2) tier. You just have to reach “certain Xbox Insider XP and tenure milestones.”
So, here’s how the rings break down now.
Omega. Previously called Ring 4, this least desirable ring is open to anyone because it’s not very interesting: You will only get to test minor changes to previously-released updates before the general public gets them. Some secret group of Omega testers will apparently also gain early access to the occasional monthly update too, but there’s no explanation of how that selection occurs. It’s like a lottery.
Delta. Previously called Ring 3, this ring is now available to any Xbox Insider who has been in the program for one month or more and has reached Xbox Insider Level 2 or higher. (You go up in level by performing tasks in the Xbox Insider Hub or by submitting feedback.) Delta ring members “may” also receive early access to monthly updates; you just never know! Or as Microsoft puts it, “not all users in the Delta group will have access to the same features at the same time.”
Beta. This previously closed ring is now open to any Insider with a membership time of 3 or more months and an XP of Level 4 or higher.
Alpha. This ring is still closed. It’s invite-only and you are not getting in. As Microsoft says, “from time to time, the best Beta and Delta users will get invited to join the Alpha group.”
As if this wasn’t confusing enough, Microsoft is also changing how Xbox Insiders receive updates. So those on the higher rings will receive more updates, which could become a bandwidth issue for some. Alpha members can expect 15-20 updates per month and 60-80 GB of bandwidth usage. Beta members are looking at 8-15 updates per month and 32-60 GB of bandwidth. Delta and Omega members have variable update schedules, with fewer updates (3 per week on Delta, 1-8 per month on Omega) and less bandwidth needs (12 GB or so per month for Delta and 4-32 GB per month on Omega).
In the good news department, Microsoft is also working closely with “multiple 1st party and 3rd party game studios” to bring pre-release game access to Insiders. Predictably, what you get will be based on seniority and status, as always.
Man. They really do make this complicated.
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