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Xbox Live applicants: No game for you

The odds of getting hit by lightning may be better than getting picked to test Xbox Live. Still, users aren't pleased with the process.

Microsoft begins beta testing Friday of the online service for its Xbox video game console, amid grumbling from thousands of console owners who weren't selected for the trial.

More than 100,000 Xbox owners applied to participate in the beta program for Xbox Live, said Jennifer Booth, marketing director for Xbox Live. A total of 5,000 applicants were notified Tuesday that they had been selected for the first round of beta testing and will be able to tap into online versions of "NFL Fever" and racing game "Re-Volt" starting Friday.

Booth said the response from potential testers was way beyond Microsoft's expectations and an encouraging indicator of interest in the online service. "There's a lot of pent-up energy and excitement," she said.

With such worse-than-Vegas odds for making it into the first round of testing, there's been plenty of grousing on Xbox message boards from those who weren't picked. Some described setting up home networks and checking e-mail obsessively this week in anticipation of a beta program invitation that never arrived.

Richard Watkins, a college student in Birmingham, Ala., said that while he figured he only had a 1-in-5 chance of making the beta program, he was irked that Microsoft hadn?t contacted him yet.

"They promised an e-mail if we were selected or not, but a lot of people haven?t heard anything yet," he said, "There's a lot of people left hanging...It seemed like Microsoft was just trying to build up the hype."

Watkins said he was leaning towards giving up on Xbox Live, set to launch Nov. 15, in favor of Sony's PlayStation 2, which will offer online gaming starting next week.

"It's not the end of the world or anything, but after this whole episode I'm really not sure if I want to wait for Microsoft," he said.

Booth said Microsoft was in the process of notifying all beta applicants and advised those who didn?t make the first cut to be patient. The beta program will be expanded with another 1,000 testers per week over the next five weeks, and further expansion of beta testing is planned after that.

Selection for the beta program was made largely on the basis of surveys sent to applicants to ensure they could contribute to the program, Booth said.

"The beta is all about getting the avid influencers online, learning from them, getting a dialogue," she said. "We want to make sure they have the right aptitude and the right equipment."

Correspondents on some Xbox fan sites, however, claimed they were accepted for the beta program without completing any surveys.

Booth said Microsoft representatives were contacting applicants with complaints about the selection process. "We're doing our best to make sure we keep those people happy," she said. "I'm sad that some people are upset about this, but it's really motivating to the Xbox team to see how passionate people are about this."

Most would-be testers seemed to understand the nature of the beta process, as indicated by an anonymous posting on a Usenet message board devoted to the Xbox: "It's just a good reminder that life isn't fair, but if this is how you're learning that fact of life, consider yourself lucky."