What is the Xbox Preview Program? 

Microsoft’s Xbox One sort of looks like an appliance. It’s not hard to mistake it for something that you can plug in and forget about, something that simply does what you need it to do and gets out of the way. That’s not by mistake, that’s what Microsoft intended. Here’s the thing though, the Xbox One is really a complex PC with a number of alterations and software changes. When Microsoft wants to improve the experience, it needs to test it widely, it needs to make sure that whatever new software upgrades it sends out to Xbox Ones around the world will work correctly. That’s where the Xbox Preview Program comes in.

Here’s what you need to know about the Xbox Preview Program.

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Read: Xbox One Review 2014: My Experience A Year Later

What the Xbox One Preview Program Really Is?

Before walking you through joining the Xbox One Preview Program, it is very important that you understand exactly what it is and what it isn’t.

Broadly, the Xbox Preview Program is how Microsoft tests new Xbox One software ideas and services before they’re available to everyone else. It’s completely voluntary and users don’t get paid for joining. What they do get are early looks at features coming before anyone else outside of Microsoft does. Microsoft updated the Xbox One’s software in some form around 10 times last year at least; Xbox Preview Program members got those updates before they were made available to anyone else.

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In exchange for getting new features before anyone else, Microsoft asks Preview Program members to test out new features and provide feedback. Usually, that’s through Xbox Preview Program forums, but last year Microsoft also launched a Preview Program app and dashboard that allows users to pass on their comments and critiques without picking up their smartphone or PC. Take this year’s first Xbox One update for example. Today, Xbox Preview Program members are testing transparent tiles that lets users see more of their backgrounds. In a survey about the feature Microsoft asks users to rate the feature and whether adding different levels of transparency might make it a bit easier to use.

So now that we’ve established what the Xbox One Preview Program is, let’s talk about what it isn’t. Sometimes Microsoft asks Xbox Preview Program members to test out new features. Other times, the company makes prerelease versions of coming multiplayer games available. For example, Xbox Preview Program members were able to try out Halo 5‘s multiplayer beta before anyone else. There hasn’t been a time yet when Microsoft simply game away a game to Xbox Preview Program members. If you’re looking for a free game, the Preview Program isn’t the way to get it.

Why You Shouldn’t Join the Xbox Preview Program

If you’re looking for an easy way to get the latest and greatest features without issues, the Xbox Preview Program isn’t for you either. Again, users who participate in the program are getting access to features that others don’t have yet. With that comes bugs. Last year, Xbox Preview Program members actually received an update that reset their console. Every game, every app, every setting had to be changed again. What’s more, Xbox Preview Program participants can’t decide that they don’t want an upgrade and still play online. The update needs to be downloaded or you’re forced to play offline until you’re ready to make the upgrade.

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If all that wasn’t enough, you can’t easily get out of the Xbox Preview Program. When users decide they don’t want their console participating anymore, they have to wait until the next release to exit the program. Finally, there are a lot of updates involved. Usually, Xbox Preview Program participants only see one update a month. Other times, they could see a few in a week.

How to Join the Xbox Preview Program

If you’re still committed to joining the Xbox Preview Program then you’ll need to do a little detective work. Early on, the Preview Program was open to any and all who owned a console and wanted to join in. That isn’t the case anymore.

Sometimes Microsoft hands out invitations to the Xbox Preview Program at gaming events and trade shows. The only sure way to get in is to find someone who is already a member of the program and ask them for an invitation. They’ll submit your gamertag for inclusion and then Microsoft approves it. Once it’s been approved, you’ll need to download the Preview Program app and include your console in the program. It could be a few days before you receive the software update that’s currently available to Preview Program members.

Think long and hard about whether you’re really want to provide feedback before singing up for the Xbox Preview Program. It’s not a bad idea to ask your friends how they like participating in the program before you join too. Good luck.