Microsoft's Xbox goes online

Microsoft has unveiled Xbox Live, a plan to take its gaming console online in Northern Autumn, and promises more than a dozen multiplayer games will accompany the debut of the broadband-only service.

A US$49.95 Xbox Live starter kit will include 12 months of service plus an Xbox Communicator, a headset that plugs into an Xbox controller so gamers can spread their voices over the network. The Monday night event was the first announcement of the annual E3 gaming conference here.

It is also the first of several expected announcements about online game services; several Microsoft competitors are scheduled to unveil their offerings this week as well. While Microsoft is newer to gaming, the company emphasized its expertise.

"At E3 this week, you'll hear a lot about online gaming," said J Allard, Microsoft's general manager of Xbox. "But you won't hear any company that's delivering more than Xbox Live. We're the only console company with a decade of online experience." The company is signing up 10,000 beta testers to try out the service this summer.

Pushing broadband

Microsoft claims half of its more than 1 million Xbox owners already have broadband access to the Internet, and that Xbox Live will encourage others to upgrade from dial-up. Allard compares gaming via narrowband to sucking pizza through a straw. "Technically, it might be possible, but it's decidedly unsatisfactory," he said.

Besides releasing more than a dozen titles at launch, Microsoft expects more than 50 will be available by the end of next year. Among the scheduled offerings are Counter Strike, Unreal Championship, Star Wars Galaxies, and NFL Fever 2003. To show off the service and the headset, Microsoft demonstrated a video of NFL quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Matt Hasselbeck playing their teams and avatars head-to-head between Indianapolis and Seattle, complete with sacks and smacks.

"It'll be the world's biggest playground with the coolest rides," Allard added.

In addition to multiplayer gaming, the service will let gamers share content on the Xbox's hard drive. They can swap and download game enhancements from vendors, collecting new play levels, characters, and other enhancements, Allard said. Each user will get a unique identity in the service, so friends can find each other wherever they're playing.

Games galore

Microsoft also demonstrated myriad upcoming Xbox titles. Chief Xbox officer Robbie Bach promised more than 200 Xbox games will be available before the 2002 holiday season. Judging from audience hoots and applause, several were literally crowd-pleasers.

Project Ego, Lionhead Studio's role-playing game, features characters that evolve depending on how you control them. Microsoft's own Blinx: The Time Sweeper, stars a time-controlling cat and supports TiVo-like effects such as pause, rewind, and record (to double the cat's actions) in midgame. But the biggest cheers from the predominantly male audience came for the campy Dead or Alive Extreme Beach Volleyball. In it, pixel-bouncing bikini-clad women of Capcom's Dead or Alive 3 fighting game take combat to the beach.

In the six months since its release, Microsoft's Xbox has weathered market challenges. Xbox executive and cheerleader Seamus Blackley recently departed, and last week Microsoft cut console prices along with its competitors, notably Sony. But still, Microsoft's Xbox team is optimistic.

"It was a fun week," said Ed Fries, Microsoft's vice president of Xbox game content. "We were ready for it. We just provide so much more value than what you get from other consoles." Now the team hopes its players will find that value out of the box and online.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Joel Strauch

PC World
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?