Microsoft’s Xbox Live may have surpassed the 10m user milestone but this is no time for ebullient press releases from the Redmond-based giant. Since Christmas, playing Xbox Live online has been nothing short of a nightmare.

Microsoft has totally failed to manage user expectations, to accommodate new Xbox users, and to cater for the spikes that were bound to appear over the holiday period. It’s a pity, since the Xbox Live experience, when it works, is nothing short of sensational, and should get better and better.

Some 5.5m gamers have bought Gold accounts from Microsoft, to make the best use of its online gaming platform. They are currently paying for something that doesn’t work properly.

Overall, Microsoft claims that it has 10m Xbox users. Good going, but service levels have been so bad over the past three weeks that it isn’t worth the effort of switching on the console, and it rankles to see the firm pushing out puffy press releases before fixing the problems.

There remains a window of opportunity for the firm to get it right, but that window closed a little earlier this week when Bill Gates avoided saying the things Xbox Live users wanted to hear.

Here’s what he should have said during his otherwise flat keynote at CES:

“We’re going to stop selling Xbox Live Gold accounts until all of the problems have been sorted out.”

Seems like a basic starter for ten, but why is MS continuing to accept new Live accounts when it cannot support its existing user base? It has added 2m in the past couple of months. Surely it is sensible to temporarily prevent new users from upgrading accounts to Gold status?

“We’re going to prioritise service levels for Gold users.”

Too bad, Silver account holders, but needs must. Gold users pay for this service. You will have to wait. 

“We’re going to stop relaying confusing messages to Xbox users when Live is broken.”

Please stop telling me that I have a problem with my router / connection, when in fact the whole Xbox Live service is down. Stop telling me to test my settings or to reconfigure anything. Just tell me that Xbox Live is not running. The error messaging on Xbox is appalling. Stop making it sound like it isn’t your fault.

“We’re going to buy a small fortified island and fill it up with 2,500 additional gaming servers.”

If Microsoft can’t realistically plan for – or accommodate – scale, then what hope is there for anybody else? If it thinks it might have 10m gaming accounts and maybe 3m concurrent user sessions (the real problem), or whatever the figure is, then why not multiply those numbers by 10 or 100 to ensure there’s plenty of room for everybody?

“We’re not going to blame gamers for the Xbox Live problems!”

It pretty much has pointed the finger at the amount of players who are trying to play games on Xbox Live! It finally admitted that the problems were caused by ‘server strain’, which is theoretically a nice headache to have since it means the service is popular. But engineers don’t always win easily when battling scale. That said, Microsoft has some of the best technical talent in the world – and lots of it – so it seems astonishing that they haven’t been able to plan for this level of usage. After all, it expected to have 10m Live users in 2008.

All of this – especially the fact that these issues are still happening – suggests that Microsoft is having a hard time finding a fix.