Xbox Live enables gamers with a broadband connection to find their friends easily; talk to other players during game play through the Xbox Communicator headset; download current statistics, new levels and characters to their Xbox hard drive; and play online.
Xbox Live will be available from 30th November in the UK, France and Germany as part of the Xbox Live Test Drive phase. The service will launch at retail on 14th March 2003 - the one-year anniversary of the Xbox launch - in eight European countries: UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Sweden.
The Xbox Live Starter Pack, available online in the UK, France and Germany during the Xbox Live Test Drive and at retail in all eight countries from 14th March 2003, has an estimated street price of €59.99/£39.99 - about the same cost as one Xbox game. The Starter Pack includes the Xbox Communicator headset (used for voice communication during online gaming), a 12-month subscription to the Xbox Live service and special versions of two top Xbox games, MotoGP and Whacked!™ - both optimised for Xbox Live play.
The starter games are just the beginning - from 30th November, Xbox Live will support five Xbox Live-exclusive games in Europe this year: Unreal Championship (Infogrames); MechAssault and Whacked! (Microsoft Game Studios); Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon (Ubi Soft); and MotoGP (THQ). In 2003, more than 50 Xbox Live-enabled games will launch, including Halo 2, CounterStrike, Star Wars: Galaxies, and Project Gotham Racing 2. More than 60 game publishers are currently working on Xbox Live-enabled games.
Xbox also announced some of its broadband provider partners who are working with Xbox. BT Openworld, Noos, NTL, Telewest Broadband and Wanadoo, the broadband industry leaders in France and the UK, are working with Xbox to provide offers for their customers over the coming months. Microsoft is committed to continuing the development of broadband partnerships in Europe for Xbox and plans to make additional announcements regarding the March launch countries over the coming months.
"In my 20-plus years playing games, I've never laughed so much, taken such a whooping, or had such a blast as I did in a few hours playing games on Xbox Live - it's thrilling to see our vision become a reality," said J Allard, general manager of Xbox at Microsoft. "A few years from now we will have completely changed the way games are played. Consoles will go through their lifecycles, but online will forever evolve and Xbox is poised at the forefront of this revolution. Together with our partners we will combine exceptional gaming experiences, a world-class service and a viable business model so all parts of the online ecosystem thrive."
Xbox Live will roll out in three distinct phases in Europe:
- Consumer Beta Test (30th October - 29th November 2002): A closed beta test with 3,000 gamers participating in the UK, France and Germany, the Consumer Beta is a testing phase designed to capture anticipated levels of usage to the service in Europe. It's also where any service glitches will be identified and corrected.
- Xbox Live Test Drive (30th November 2002 - 13th March 2003): Open to any Xbox owner with a broadband connection in the UK, France and Germany, the Test Drive lets gamers have an early chance to play Xbox Live. Gamers can participate by ordering a special Test Drive starter pack online, which includes all the software needed to get playing, plus the Xbox Communicator and a twelve-month subscription to the Live service. The benefits to getting in early are first choice of Gamertags, and also free months of Live - the twelve months of Live don't begin until the 14th March, meaning that gamers will get to play for free!
- Xbox Live Retail Launch (14th March 2003): Gamers in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden can purchase an Xbox Live starter pack at their local retail outlet and get playing right away.
"We are introducing a phased approach to Live in Europe to ensure gamers have the best possible experience," said Michel Cassius, European Director, Xbox Platform. "The feedback we've had from European gamers wanting to experience Live has been tremendous since we announced details at E3 in May, and that excitement has convinced us to open our consumer beta phase to a much wider number of gamers - in fact, anyone who wants to participate. That's how the Xbox Live Test Drive phase was conceived - we're expecting it to be the largest online gaming trial ever in Europe.
"Also, there are some tremendous Xbox Live-enabled games coming out this Autumn from Microsoft Game Studios and 3rd parties," said Cassius. "Unreal Championship, MechAssault and Ghost Recon are just a few of the titles scheduled for release before Christmas. We wanted to make sure that gamers were able to start building their legend with these games as soon as they became available - after all, Xbox Live is all about games. This phased approach will help us bring a robust and mature gaming service to retail on the first anniversary of the European Xbox launch."
Xbox Live - By Gamers, For Gamers
With a hard drive, Ethernet port and slots for the Xbox Communicator built in to all controllers, Xbox was designed by Microsoft to facilitate online play right out of the box. Moreover, with more than 20 online service sites and 270 million unique monthly users world-wide on the MSN® network of Internet services, and the No. 1 online PC gaming site with Zone.com, Microsoft is uniquely qualified by its resources and experience to lead the way in online console gaming.
Xbox Live has been designed to benefit gamers and publishers alike. Microsoft is building four datacentres - in Seattle and Tukwila, Wash., Tokyo and London - in order to run a scalable, secure and gamer-friendly service. Xbox will assist publishers by managing the hosting, networking, security and billing so that game creators can focus on creating awesome game content.
With this serviced approach, Xbox Live is poised to deliver the most seamless, easy-to-use and consistent online gaming environment for gamers, developers and publishers alike. It was designed by gamers for gamers and includes features such as delivery of real-time scores and statistics, so gamers can compare themselves to the best players in the world; quick and easy game launches; fast downloads; the ability to find friends online across games with only one click; and the ability to maintain a single identity across all games with a single password, allowing gamers to grow their reputation no matter what they're playing.
Key, consistent features of the Xbox Live service across games include the following:
- Gamertag. Gamertag is a gamer's unique online ID for all games across the global gaming service, allowing gamers to have one persistent identity and to build their legend not matter what game they're playing.
- Friends list. This feature allows gamers to find friends online and invite them to a game - no matter which Xbox Live game they're playing.
- Xbox Communicator. Voice communication is integrated with all Xbox Live multiplayer games and enables voice interaction with team-mates and opponents. Key elements of this feature exclusive to Xbox include voice masking, global muting and parental control.
- Matchmaking. QuickMatch enables players to enter a multiplay experience with a single button-click, and OptiMatch, an Xbox Live exclusive, helps them select games and opponents based on similar skill levels.
- High-speed content downloads to the Xbox hard disk. Only Xbox offers console gamers the ability to download and permanently store both free and for-a-fee content that can include new levels, characters, missions and statistics.
"Within five years every important game will be online," said Allard. "There will be new categories of collaborative and competitive console games that are possible only online. The ability to download new worlds, levels, characters, weapons, vehicles, teams, statistics and missions will change the way developers think about creating games, and will change the way gamers play them."