A few days ago I had found out a memory from my PC gaming past was going away. Xfire, a game chat client, was shutting down its client and account services. This news saddened me, as Xfire and me go way back.
To describe Xfire, it was part instant messenger, part server browser. It was a lighter, sleeker Gamespy Arcade, or for a more recent example, AMD’s Raptr client. While Steam has basically taken over that landscape, for a long time having a complimentary client like Xfire was sometimes mandatory, almost to a point where it was bundled with some games, even being used in console games like Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom, something that Sony Online Entertainment thought was fit for a press release.
For those who weren’t around in Steam’s early days, Steam was mostly garbage. Games didn’t run, you had to wait hours to install games (and there was no guarantee you’d get to play it right away!), and the most important feature, the Friends/Community, was perpetually broken and unusable. This is where Xfire excelled: It was a great chat client program to keep up with your gaming friends. Though it wasn’t just for Steam games, but other games where the server browser was cumbersome, like Soldier of Fortune II, or Battlefield 2, were also helpful for finding games back before peer-to-peer multiplayer was more common.
The Xfire website — which still exists, but only in a fragile shell nowadays — also had a fairly cool profile system setup. Here you could make friends, keep your favorite game servers for convenience, even take screenshots and video. All of these were considered pretty impressive for the mid-2000s, and paved the way for competitors to adapt that into their social features.
I think the last time I used Xfire for anything useful was around 2008-09. Since it was a good video capture client that was free compared to the $35 FRAPS, I captured a few videos here and there through Xfire. Though my fairly new PC, an HP Pavilion with 2GB of RAM and Windows Vista, was recording things smoothly with Xfire’s capture. The only times I used Xfire footage was for old Half-Life mods, and for a montage of Goldeneye: Source Beta 3 when it had just come out.
I was not a fan of Goldeneye Source. Still think it could be improved to this day.
In fact, the only thing that I was able to salvage from Xfire’s account system was an old video I did of me playing Left 4 Dead‘s singleplayer, rather terribly. I think it was for a video review I later did that was a real headache for me. Alas I had no other cool things from that era, so those are presumably lost to time (or on an old PC that no longer works.)
People also shared their silly videos of stuff, and I wanna say Xfire was where I first saw the infamous “Leeroy Jenkins” video. This was pre-YouTube, so finding these videos was a bit harder than it is today, so Xfire excelled at having cool videos on occasion. Xfire even had its hand in streaming games, which was considered an impressive feature in the days before Twitch existed. I remember watching a few streams through Xfire and thought it was a nifty little idea.
Alas, Valve finally got off their lazy bouncy ball and introduced the Steam Community around 2009, which has most of the ideas Xfire implemented years ago: Friends, servers, groups, screenshot and video capture. Thus Xfire’s purpose slowly disappeared, leaving it as a ghost town that I opened once every few months, only to be forced to mandatory update to support some of the newest games. It was around this point where Xfire got bought by different companies over the years, including Viacom, which also owned GameTrailers at one time. I don’t think they did anything with it, and by the time Steam had improved its features, Xfire just couldn’t keep up. Thus the era of Xfire being the king of gaming chat clients was over.
I found out they still had the old account info from my old days, and I took a screenshot for posterity. Look at all the old-school games I played! Plus I saw some of my friends on my Xfire list I’m still friends with today, like Blaze of Better Late Than Never and TSSZNews, and a few other friends from several different communities. It’s a great snapshot of what I experienced back in the day.
I hope that there’s people taking screenshots, videos and other assorted things (like the several sponsored client skins!) and preserving them, since Xfire is shutting down this stuff on the 12th. This was an important thing of online PC gaming in the mid-2000s, and I’d hate for it to just be a forgotten memory of the past.
Man, this is the second time I’ve written about something that’s died this year that was somewhat of an old memory, the first being PlayStation Home. I hope this doesn’t become a trend…
(I could’ve written another one about the ill-fated OnLive and it shutting down, but I don’t have any fond memories of it outside of finding out Homefront was garbage. At least I still have the game console and controller, which makes a great paperweight. :P)