Xbox LIVE is Microsoft’s online gaming service for it’s own console, the Xbox. Xbox LIVE lets you play multiplayer games online using broadband internet.
Microsoft has invested $2 billion in Xbox LIVE, and will have 4 data centers across the globe, 1 in Europe and Japan and 2 in North America.
The service is exclusively for gaming, so you won’t even touch a website during the time you use it – this protects your machine from viruses, hackers, etc. Xbox LIVE is an internal system, so you can only access it using an Xbox.
Your Xbox already has the potential to play online inside it, locked away. The Ethernet modem and hard drive are already inside your Xbox, so you don’t have to worry about upgrading or buying extra peripherals. All you need to use LIVE is a broadband internet connection (fast internet) and the Xbox LIVE starter pack. The Xbox starter pack will cost about $50 and comes with a 12 month subscription, a communicator headset, a start-up CD and a game.
The communicator headset that comes with the start-up pack allows you to talk to other gamers while you play. This is one of the main features of the service. The headset fits snugly around the back of your head, and a small block with a mute button and volume control dial fits into your Xbox controller. You can use the ‘mute’ button to block out enemies, so you can discuss tactics with teammates, or just take a break from the constant screaming of an annoying player. The potential for the communicator is massive – just imagine how voice communication will transform Counter Strike; one of the games that will support LIVE.
When you select ‘Play LIVE’ from the dashboard of your Xbox, you will enter the central lobby of the service. From here, you can download extra levels, skins, weapons, etc. onto your hard drive; manage your account; view global rankings and statistics; enter tournaments; and enter the games lobbies. When you enter the lobby for the game you have in the drive of your Xbox, you are given the option of an Optimatch game or a Quick Match. Quick Match launches you into the first availiable game with the lowest ping. Optimatch lets you create your own online game, or you can opt for the system to find you a game which matches your skill level, fav. map, etc.
It’s easy to join friends in online battles with LIVE. You have a ‘Friends list, which unsurprisingly, is a list of your fiends who are Xbox LIVE subscribers. As soon as you log onto the system , you’ll be able to see if any of your friends are online, and you can join them in their game. LIVE will also tell you if one of your friends logs in while you are already playing online. It doesn’t matter if your playing Halo 2, and they’re playing Counter Strike – all you have to do is swap disks and start playing.
There are so many other small features in Xbox live, like voice masking and matchmaking, but what it really comes down to is the games. Thankfully, the amount and quality of the games on offer seems good:
Star Wars Galaxies
Rallisport Challenge Online
Return To Castle Wolfenstein
Project Gotham Racing 2
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon
Soldier Of Fortune 2
Rainbox Six: Raven Shield
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4
Shaun Palmer’s Pro Snowboarder 2
Delta Force: Black Hawk Down
Steel Battalions Online
NCAA College Basketball 2K3
Spike Out Extreme
Sega GT 2002
Moto GP Online
Giai Blade Online
ToeJam & Earl III: All Funked Up
Shayde-Monsters vs Humans
Amarda 2 Ededus
Midtown Madness 3
Phantasy Star Online
Expect the list of Xbox LIVE games to grow and grow as the service gets up-and-running.
Xbox LIVE is currently available in North America and launches in Japan on January 16th, and in Europe on March 14th.