Microsoft names the day for Xbox online

The company will hit the switch on its Xbox Live online game-playing service in November, a year after the console was released. But the timing could let Sony steal a march.

David Becker Staff Writer, CNET News.com
David Becker
covers games and gadgets.
David Becker
2 min read
Microsoft will launch its Xbox Live online game-playing service on Nov. 15, a year after the video game console entered the market, the company plans to announce Tuesday.

As previously reported, Microsoft will sell a $50 Xbox Live starter kit that includes a headset microphone, a one-year subscription to the service, and software that allows the Xbox to tap into an existing broadband Internet connection.

Microsoft is betting heavily on online play as one of the features that will distinguish the Xbox from Sony's PlayStation 2 and Nintendo's GameCube. The software giant has said it will spend $2 billion over the next few years to build out the Xbox Live network and develop the next generation of its game console.

The Nov. 15 launch date for Xbox gives a two-month head start to Sony, which on Aug. 27 will begin selling a network adapter that will let the PS2 tap into a broadband or dial-up Internet connection for online game play.

Besides Sony's support for dial-up connections, the main difference between the two companies' approaches is that Xbox Live will be a closed network, with Xbox gamers able to connect to each other only through the Microsoft-maintained Xbox Live system. The system will include games from Microsoft and third-party publishers.

Sony will leave it to game publishers to do the back-end work of maintaining servers and other infrastructure, with the PS2 maker providing the software to make it work.

Analysts and game publishers have modest expectations for both approaches, with few expecting online gaming via consoles to draw a significant audience until a new generation of Internet-ready game boxes enters the market in a few years.

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Xbox Live will play six games at launch: Sega's "NFL2K3" and "NBA2K3" sports titles; Infograme's "Unreal Tournament" and UbiSoft's "Ghost Recon" shooting games; Microsoft's "NFL Fever" football title; and jump-and-run game "Whacked." The company expects to have 50 games offered through Xbox Live and more than 100,000 players signed up by the end of next year, said David Hufford, Microsoft's Xbox marketing manager.

Microsoft is looking for opportunities to promote Xbox Live in conjunction with broadband providers and manufacturers of home networking equipment, Hufford said. Many potential users will need to set up home networks to extend their Internet connection to the living room.

"Part of the retail push will be a lot of education for the consumer," he said.