Microsoft's Xbox to go online on Nov. 15

Microsoft has picked the first birthday of the Xbox, Nov. 15, as the U.S. launch date for Xbox Live, an online gaming service for the game console, the company announced Tuesday.

At launch, about 5,000 U.S. retailers will offer the US$49.95 Xbox Live starter kit that includes a year's subscription to Xbox live, an Xbox Communicator headset to chat with fellow gamers and an online racing game, Microsoft said in a statement.

The Nov. 15 launch date means Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc. gets a head start with online gaming. Sony plans to start selling a network adaptor for its PlayStation 2 for $39.99 this month, the company has said.

The online services will enable users to play against each other via the Internet. However Xbox Live is limited to broadband Internet connections such as DSL (digital subscriber line) and cable. Sony's offer supports slower dial-up connections.

Xbox Live will be introduced in Europe and Japan before the end of the year, Microsoft said.

Microsoft expects at least seven Xbox Live-enabled games to be available on Nov. 15, with up to 10 more to follow by the end of the year and another 50 to be introduced in 2003. The online gaming service is supported by infrastructure from Level 3 Communications Inc. and Microsoft data centers in Seattle, London and Tokyo.

Games scheduled to accompany the Xbox Live launch are Unreal Championship from Infogrames Inc., Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon from Ubi Soft Entertainment, SEGA Sports NFL 2K3 and SEGA Sports NBA 2K3 from Sega and Microsoft's own Whacked, MechAssault and NFL Fever 2003, Microsoft said.

Halo 2, announced last week, is the sequel to what Microsoft says is one of its best-selling Xbox games and will also support online gaming. Halo 2 is due out by the end of next year, Microsoft said.

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