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Xbox Live: online gaming FAQ

This resource rounds up answers to all the questions we are frequently asked about gaming online with Xbox Live, from getting connected to games, membership, points and more.

14 min read

Why settle for beating your friends when you can take on the world?

With the huge variety of multiplayer games now available on the Xbox 360, as well as an extraordinary amount of game add-ons and Xbox Live Arcade games, you're missing out on hours of fun if you're not connected to Xbox Live and all the joy that it ensures. Luckily, CNET Australia is here to help you with this handy guide to connecting and playing on Xbox Live.

This article should answer most questions you might have, but feel free to comment below if there's anything else you'd like to know. Otherwise, try visiting the Microsoft's Xbox Live help page for more information. Have fun!

What do I need to connect to Xbox Live?

Before you even start thinking about playing online, make sure you have the following:

  1. An Xbox 360 console (obviously)
  2. A broadband internet connection
  3. An Ethernet cable or Xbox 360 Wireless Network Adapter

When you have these things, we can begin!

So, how do I start?

The fastest method is simply connecting your Xbox 360 console to your router or modem via an Ethernet cable. Plug in the cable to the back of your console, and away you go.

You'll need a high speed broadband cable or DSL connection to connect to Xbox Live, so forget it if you're on a dial-up, ISDN or satellite internet connection — Microsoft recommends a 256Kbps connection at minimum. Check with your service provider to find out how fast your connection is. At the minimum speed it should provide a fairly lag-free experience when gaming, but bear in mind if you're planning on hosting games as other people will connect to your session, so you'll need a faster connection for smooth gaming. There's nothing worse than the host's connection failing just before a grand victory!

The Ethernet port on the back of an Xbox 360 (Credit: CNET Australia)

Do I have to use a wired connection or can I go wireless?

Don't feel that you're restricted to having cables running all over your room. Microsoft sells an Xbox 360 Wireless Network Adapter for AU$149.95, and once you connect this to your wireless network, you should be good to go.

There are, however, some minor issues associated with connecting to Xbox Live with a wireless connector. The Wireless Network Adapter, which is the only adapter to work with your Xbox 360 console, works in the 2.4GHz frequency range. A lot of other electronics, including wireless phones and even your microwave, work at this frequency, so if you have any of these working near your Xbox, some interference could ensue. Wireless connections are also generally slightly slower than wired ones, with higher instances of drop outs, so if you're a very competitive gamer, a wired connection is the way to go. Though, for the vast majority of gamers there's no appreciable difference in speed or signal strength.

The Xbox 360 wireless network adapter (Credit: Microsoft)

I've plugged my Xbox 360 into my router, and nothing happens. Help!

If you're having trouble with your connection recognising your Xbox console, or your Xbox simply isn't acting as if it's connected, try using the Xbox 360 Connectivity Wizard located in the Settings blade of your Xbox 360 New Xbox Experience, which is the equivalent of a PC desktop. By following the on-screen prompts, your Xbox will check your IP address, network adapter or wireless connection; Network Address Translation settings; and whether the issue is with Xbox Live itself, amongst other things, to see if it can detect a problem in your settings. It will then advise you what to do to correct the problem and get you playing online faster.

Look for this page when troubleshooting (Credit: CNET Australia)

I just connected and now my Xbox is downloading something, what did I do?

Don't worry, it's just the New Xbox Experience, an update for the Xbox 360 operating system that enables you to play on Xbox Live. The download is about 128MB in size, which will take up a fairly hefty chunk out of your storage if you only have a 256MB Xbox memory card. One of the benefits of the New Xbox Experience is the ability to install games directly onto a hard drive, dramatically speeding up load times in-game, so we recommend buying an Xbox hard drive if you don't already have one.

Newer "Jasper" series consoles have a limited amount of internal memory to fix this issue, so you may want to check what model you're buying as there is still a lot of older stock on store shelves.

Why is my connection so slow?

There are many reasons on why your Xbox Live connection may be slow. First, check that you haven't gone over your download limit — this doesn't always stop you from connecting to Xbox Live, or even playing online, but it can dramatically reduce your connection speed and increase lag.

Another reason for a slow connection could be from other devices in your household that are connected to the internet. If they're downloading something while you're trying to play, it could be the reason behind the lag. The fewer connections to the internet you have while trying to play, the faster and smoother your Xbox gaming session will be.

What is NAT, and why am I having problems with it?

When testing your internet connection, you may be told you have a connection issue in the form of your NAT, or Network Address Translation type.

In a typical home situation, multiple internet-enabled devices are connected to the internet via a router. While those multiple devices all have internet access to the outside world, all of these actually appear as one device — the router itself. When your router receives data from the internet, NAT ensures that the information intended for say, your Xbox 360, ends up at the Xbox like it's meant to, and not your PC.

According to the Xbox 360, there are three NAT types that your router may be set to: Open, Moderate and Strict. If your NAT type is Open, your home network is set up to best support Xbox Live and other people should have no issues connecting to you. If your NAT type is Moderate, you may have problems connecting with other Moderate or Strict users.

If your Xbox 360 identifies you as having Strict NAT, you'll likely only be able to talk to those who are on Open connections, and perhaps some Moderate, but they may have problems connecting to you.

There are a few methods you can employ to improve your NAT rating. Firstly, see if your router supports Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) in its settings. If it does, make sure this option is turned on in the router's web interface — this should simplify the implementation of your network and help with your NAT issue.

If you're a bit more technically minded and you still have an issue, you may need to clear your router's firewall and set up port forwarding properly, sometimes called "virtual server". To do this, you'll need to know the IP of your Xbox 360, and you'll need to either open these ports in your firewall, or point them towards your Xbox 360's IP. Unfortunately, every router is different so you'll have to find the appropriate settings on your own.

If technical stuff scares you and you're still pulling your hair out, as a last ditch option you could try disconnecting or turning off any other devices that are also attached to your network, such as laptops and other gaming devices. This may give priority to your Xbox and help address the problem.

Finally, if you are in the market for a new router and don't wish to encounter this problem, try looking for one that is marked as being compatible with Xbox Live or Windows Vista — these devices have been tested to work well with Xbox and other Microsoft systems.

If you have this issue, we recommend going to Microsoft's support site for help. If your Xbox 360 is connected directly to your modem, you should not experience any NAT issues.

Hey, it's working! So, what can I play on Xbox Live?

Most new Xbox games have at least some form of Xbox Live functionality, even if it is only the occasional game fix. More common is full multiplayer gameplay, from the Xbox giants such as Gears of War 2 and Halo 3, to the smaller titles like Xbox Live Arcade's FunTown Mahjong or Uno. Some games also allow friends to work together in cooperative gameplay modes, like in Call of Duty: World at War's cooperative campaign and Nazi Zombie mode.

Some of the popular titles that have downloadable content or can be played on Xbox Live, as indicated by the "Live" logo in the top right corner. (Credit: CNET Australia)

Aside from the joy of outshooting, out-driving or out-thinking your friends and strangers alike online, many games also offer downloadable content, which often take the form of extra missions and story lines such as in Fallout 3's Operation Anchorage and 's Lost and the Damned. Other such downloads can be map packs, such as those on offer for Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Gears of War 2, and new weapons and other items available in games such as Skate 2 and .

Any game that has downloadable content or multiplayer action for the title will include an Xbox Live logo in the top right of the box, next to the Xbox 360 logo.

You can purchase games, images, etc on Xbox Live's Marketplace (Credit: CNET Australia)

So how do I pay for this pleasure?

There are two ways to pay for your Xbox Live Gold membership. Firstly, three- and 12-month subscription cards are available in most gaming and electronic stores for AU$44.95 and AU$89.95 respectively. These cards provide you with a code which you enter either online or into your console, granting you Gold membership until the code expires.

The other way to pay is to subscribe via credit card either through the "My Account" menu on the Xbox site or via your console. It costs AU$29.95 for a three-month Gold membership, or AU$79.95 for a 12-month membership. Obviously, these two options are much cheaper than their in-store equivalents, but be warned, if you don't specifically cancel your subscription after 12 months, it will automatically renew and you'll be charged once more.

When you buy a new Xbox 360 console, you should find a free one month Gold membership trial for Xbox Live in the box. Some games, usually ones made by Microsoft Game Studios, also come with a free trial, and if, heaven forbid, you experience a Red Ring of Death, Microsoft provides you with the same trial to soften the blow you were dealt.

One final thing of note is the Xbox Live 12-month Premium Gold Pack. Whilst a mouthful to say, this box is available for purchase at most gaming and electronics stores, and includes a 12-month Gold level membership, 200 Microsoft points, a wired Xbox headset and the Bankshot Billiards 2 Xbox Live Arcade game.

This is where you can check your account and update your membership level (Credit: CNET Australia)

What's the difference between Gold and Silver membership?

Xbox Live membership is divided into two types — Silver and Gold.

Silver membership allows you to create an online gamer profile and manage your friends list, along with accessing the Xbox Live marketplace to download game demos, add-ons, Xbox Original and Xbox Live Arcade games. It also allows you to create an Xbox avatar, which you can personalise and use in several Xbox Live Arcade games.

Gold membership lets gamers play online against or with other Gold membership gamers, along with enhanced friends list management and matchmaking.

Xbox sometimes holds "Gold Weekends", which allow Silver users free Gold membership for the weekend — look out for these events on Xbox.com.

What do I need to create an Xbox Live account?

An internet connection and a computer! You don't need to connect your Xbox 360 console to create either a Silver or Gold account. Simply head to the Xbox site to begin your account creation. From there, you'll need to enter basic information to create a Silver account, but an address and credit card information will be required to create a Gold account, even if you'll be paying with subscription cards bought from stores. You won't be charged, but Microsoft still requires a card for validation purposes.

What are Microsoft Points?

Microsoft points are the online currency used to buy game add-ons, Xbox Original games and Xbox Live Arcade games on the Xbox Live. A typical Xbox Live Arcade game will cost 800 Microsoft points, or about $15, but all XBLA games are available as free trials, limiting you to only a few levels and no Achievements, but it's a good way to try a game before you buy.

Additional songs for music games such as Rock Band, Guitar Hero World Tour and Lips cost about 160 points a song, depending on the title. Track Packs are available for Guitar Hero and Rock Band games for 440 points, and usually include three titles, although larger ones are available. Recently, entire albums, such as Red Hot Chilli Peppers' Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Pixies' Doolittle and Foo Fighters' Colour and the Shape have become available for download, with many more titles on the way.

How do I buy Microsoft Points?

Microsoft points are available for purchase either online through the "My Account" page on Xbox.com or your Xbox console, or from stores in the shape of cards similar to iTunes gift cards (they're also a great gift idea). A 1500 Microsoft Points card bought in a store costs AU$29.95, while 1000 Microsoft Points bought through your Xbox or online costs only AU$16.50. It's probably simpler to buy points online rather than through your Xbox as you'll have to choose to buy an item before you can buy points — you won't have to buy the item itself, but the method itself is fairly obtuse.

You can purchase Microsoft Points from Xbox.com (Credit: CNET Australia)

I really need to download something, but I'm at work away from my Xbox! What can I do?

If you can't access your Xbox console and have a burning need to download that Call of Duty map pack right away, you can purchase the item on your computer, and your Xbox will automatically begin downloading it when you next connect to Xbox Live. So you'll always be able to download stuff from Xbox Live, even when you're away from your 360. Thanks, Microsoft!

Speaking of which, how much data does Live use up?

Each download from Xbox Live tells you how large the item is, and the range is huge — individual songs on Guitar Hero games can be as small as 14MB, with albums going all the way up to 1GB for Metallica's Death Magnetic. Large mission packs, like Oblivion's Shivering Isles expansion or Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Jedi Temple Mission pack are of a similar size, with Xbox Live Arcade games being very small in size, around 20-50MB.

Multiplayer gaming on Xbox Live uses up a variable amount of data per hour, depending on the game — killing zombies with a friend in Call of Duty: World at War will use up a lot less bandwidth than a 16-player Halo 3 death match, for example. Each game will use up a different amount, so there is no real way to say how much data you'll use up, but it would be a good idea not to play online if you're approaching your download limit.

Be very careful when playing online and downloading Xbox content because you can easily push yourself over your download limit without realising it — downloading three demos on a whim one afternoon could set you back over 6GB.

When is the best time to play online?

Most people jump onto Live in the evenings and on weekends, so that's probably the best time to get on-board as there will be more people online that you can play with. Bear in mind, though, that there are far more Xbox Live players in the US and Europe than in Australia, and they generally go online during the Australian morning and afternoon, respectively, so there's no bad time to go online.

One way to quickly secure a game is to make extensive use of the Friends List feature. By adding friends and those you enjoyed playing with, you can quickly create a list of gamers who (hopefully) share a similar taste in games as you, giving you more of a chance to play your favourite game online.

You should also look out for events hosted by Xbox, and gaming sites such as GameSpotAU. GameSpotAU regularly hosts Games Nights for a variety of different games and consoles, which allows you to play a fun game and maybe meet some new people of similar tastes online.

I happen to have a modded console. Will this effect my Xbox Live experience?

Unfortunately for you, yes. If you connect to Xbox Live with a console which has been mod chipped, and Xbox Live detects it, your console will be locked out of Xbox Live permanently. This is not done by your gamer tag — this is done by Microsoft communicating with your console to see if you have valid firmware and other software. If you don't, you're out of luck — your console will be banned by the Xbox system.

If you're using a modded console, you will be permanently locked out of Xbox Live
(Credit: CNET Australia)

What is a gamer tag, and how do I access mine from another console?

A gamer tag is the Xbox equivalent of a forum handle, username or nom de plume. It allows you to gain achievements, personalise your console and create a friends list, as well as having other people add you to theirs.

If you want to access your gamer tag from another console, simply select "Retrieve gamertag" after pressing the Xbox Guide button (the large circular button in the middle of your controller) when not signed in. This should allow you to enter your gamer tag, and Xbox will download the relevant information from Xbox Live.

Access your gamer tag by pressing the Xbox Guide button (Credit: CNET Australia)