XBox Goes Live

XBox Goes Live XBox Goes Live XBox Goes Live XBox Goes Live

The Microsoft hype machine was once again put to the test on Friday, while arranging a media event to celebrate the official launch of XBox Live. Struggling sales, stiff competition and the odd hardware glitch, have not put Microsoft off and the launch marks the start of a, promised total, USD 2 billion investment over two years on the console.
Considering video game hardware and software sales topped USD 9 billion in the United States in 2001 and are expected to go way past that figure in 2002, the amount is not disproportionate to what is at stake.

The online arena is officially open, and the days of sitting alone silently playing video games in the living room are over, said J Allard, general manager of Xbox at Microsoft. We're thrilled to be bringing the next step in social entertainment and community to console gaming. This is uncharted territory for most players, and we can't wait to see friends connect and have rivals duke it out to become the superstars and heroes of Xbox Live.

With Xbox Live, U.S. and Canadian players can connect with each other across North America, chatting with old friends and meeting new ones to share game experiences online, no matter where they are or what time of day it is. With a broad lineup of sports, action, racing, first-person shooters and role-playing games set to roll out in the coming months, Xbox players will be able to test themselves against a wide variety of opponents on a unified service.

On Friday more than 10,000 U.S. and Canadian retail outlets began selling the Xbox Live Starter Kit for an estimated price of USD49.99, 79.99 (CDN). For the average price of a new game, the kit includes a one-year subscription to Xbox Live, the highly anticipated Xbox Communicator headset, and online trial versions of THQ Inc.'s MotoGP and Whacked! from Microsoft Game Studios, so players can start competing against their friends right away. All Xbox units come with a built-in Ethernet port and hard drive, enabling any Xbox owner to plug into Xbox Live through almost any high-speed Internet service provider.

Retail programs will be supported by a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign that will include advertising, retail communications and promotional activities.

There's a tremendous amount of anticipation around online gaming this holiday, said Peter Roithmayr, vice president of merchandising at EB Games. Our presales indicate that gamers can't wait to get connected to Xbox Live. We're on track to sell our entire allocation on day one.

The success of any game based service however, relies on the games on offer. Microsoft have been criticized as not offering enough for their console. But with Microsoft's home entertainment division, which includes the Xbox, losing USD 177 million in the last quarter, the company can only look at games as a means of moderating that loss. So let's take a look at what games are, or will soon be on offer...

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Nine Xbox Live-enabled games are already on retail shelves, and up to 14 total are scheduled to be available at retail by the end of the holiday season. Among the titles expected this holiday are these:

MechAssault (Microsoft Game Studios). In MechAssault, players pilot the most powerful weapon of the 31st century, a 40-foot-tall walking tank known as a BattleMech. In this third-person action game, players can destroy every structure in the world. Players choose from 10 BattleMechs, ranging from quick 30-tonners to menacing 100-ton war machines, all with different weapon configurations and armament. Players will challenge themselves in more than 20 single-player missions. MechAssault also launches as one of the premier titles on Xbox Live. Players can enjoy an onslaught of high-intensity multiplayer action, with enough downloadable content to keep the destruction fresh for a long time to come.

NFL Fever 2003 (Microsoft Game Studios). Easy to pick up and start playing, NFL Fever 2003 delivers all the action and excitement of the National Football League, allowing gamers to create, play and control their ultimate NFL team. With the opportunity to earn all the accolades and honors of an NFL superstar, NFL Fever 2003 challenges hard-core football fans and gamers to be the best in the world. The realism and gameplay of NFL Fever 2003 provide gamers and football fans with the ultimate NFL experience.
The equivalent of 1,000 full National Football League seasons were played in XBox Live's three-month beta trial.

Unreal Championship (Infogrames Inc.). The latest addition to the Unreal universe will immerse console gamers in the adrenaline-packed first-person frag-fest that has revolutionized PC gaming. Designing the game specifically for Xbox and the Xbox controller, developer Digital Extremes has incorporated console-specific features such as joypad-activated special moves, double jumps and power-ups to keep gamers glued to their couches with knuckle-whitened tension.

This title could be a major factor in determining if Xbox Live, and online console gaming, succeeds in the short term, research firm DFC Intelligence said in a recent report.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon (Ubi Soft Entertainment). Eastern Europe, 2008. War has broken out on the borders of Russia, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance. That's when the call goes out for the Ghosts: an elite handful of specially trained Green Berets, armed with the latest technology and trained to use the deadliest weapons. Their mission: Spearhead the way for a NATO peacekeeping force and keep the lid on the conflict before it mushrooms.

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell (Ubi Soft). Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell has won numerous awards, including the E3 Game Critics Award for best action game and the ECTS overall best game of the show award. The tension-filled stealth action espionage thriller also earned the highest game review score ever given by Official Xbox Magazine, a 9.6, which earned it an Editor's Choice Award. Downloadable content of this game will be available for Xbox Live.

SEGA Sports NFL 2K3 (SEGA Sports). Building upon championship-caliber gameplay and presentation, NFL 2K3 raises the bar with new lifelike player animations, convincing play-calling intelligence, an on-the-fly audible system, a redesigned Franchise Mode, and a brand-new ESPN broadcast system with the famous overlays, scores and highlights beloved by all sports fans.

SEGA Sports NHL 2K3 (SEGA Sports). With more than just familiar faces and numbers, "SEGA Sports NHL 2K3" delivers player realism down to size, skill and behavior, resulting in individuals that exhibit accurate styles of play. Now grinders battle for pucks in the corners and against the boards, elite players see the ice and create opportunities, and fast skaters exploit their speed. The only online hockey video game this season, SEGA Sports NHL 2K3 is the closest thing to actually stepping onto the ice.

SEGA Sports NBA 2K3 (SEGA Sports). Imagine jump shots so real players actually adjust their movement in midair based on distance from the hoop and defensive pressure; a passing touch that gives players the control to skirt a defender or start a fast break; and dribble moves that let them jab left, rock right, cross over, spin and much more. SEGA Sports NBA 2K3 has captured the essence of true NBA-style basketball and given the gamer complete control in the ultimate pro basketball simulation.

SEGA Sports NCAA Basketball 2K3 (SEGA Sports). SEGA expands its library of sports simulations by bringing its dominant basketball lineage to the college hardwood. Complete with more than 300 Division I teams, authentic rankings system including a weekly top 25 and bubble watch, classic and custom tournaments and a comprehensive Legacy Mode, SEGA Sports NCAA College Basketball 2K3 delivers the most-authentic college basketball experience this winter.

ToeJam and Earl III: Mission to Earth (SEGA). Gamers can join ToeJam, Big Earl and Latisha as they set out on a mission to recover the 12 sacred Albums of Funk. Utilizing Funk-Fu and a zany assortment of gadgets, players will battle the evil Anti-Funk to pump funk back into the world. Downloadable content of this game will be available for Xbox Live.

Capcom vs. SNK 2: EO (Capcom Co. Ltd. ). Players now have the opportunity to fireball, uppercut and trash-talk any challenger from opposite ends of the continent. Players can join 44 brawlers from Capcom's legendary Street Fighter and SNK's world-renowned King of Fighters series as they battle for universal domination. To settle the score, a massive martial arts event is arranged to eliminate all conflicts. Many of the world's most famous warriors have entered, and the public is crazy with anticipation. This will be the ultimate collision of strength and power.

MX Superfly Featuring Ricky Carmichael (THQ). This next installment in the top-selling motocross series boasts several new features, including an enhanced freestyle mode with all-new tricks, expansive environments and wide-open worlds for gamers to explore. A powerful freestyle stunt track editor allows players to create and design the ultimate motocross course. Players will reap the rewards of racing through an entire season of pulse-pounding motocross action and be able to download new tracks, bikes and rider skins through Xbox Live. Numerous hidden characters, including rock-rap superstar and motocross enthusiast Vanilla Ice, and bikes, add to the mix while ESPN commentators Cameron Steele and Davey Coombs join in for all the fun. Downloadable content of this game will be available for Xbox Live.

Full versions of Whacked! from Microsoft Game Studios and MotoGP from THQ, two online trial games included in the Xbox Live Starter Kit, also are available at retail.

Whacked! (Microsoft Game Studios). Whacked! is a fast and furious combat game in which eight demented contestants are pitted against each other in the world's most irreverent and dangerous game show. When contestants take the stage, all hell breaks loose as free-for-all combat ensues. Contestants must use power-ups and zany weapons such as giant staplers and rubber-ducky grenades to flatten their opponents to win a once-in-a-lifetime grand prize.

MotoGP: Online Demo (THQ). In MotoGP: Online Demo players will have access to 23 riders as well as three courses: Jerez, Mugello and Sachsenring. The demo version lets gamers check out two gameplay modes: Play Live allows them to race against 16 other Xbox Live players and trash talk with the three closest riders using the Xbox Communicator, while "Time Trial" lets them attempt to set the best lap time in a solo race. For those who already own the full version of MotoGP, the Xbox Live Starter Kit will completely unlock online play for all the tracks in the game.

More than 50 Xbox Live-enabled games -- including More than 50 Xbox Live-enabled games --including Counter-Strike, Midtown Madness 3, Halo 2 and Project Gotham Racing 2 from Microsoft Game Studios and Star Wars Galaxies: Empire Divided from LucasArts Entertainment Co. -- are scheduled to launch in 2003 and beyond. More than 60 game publishers are currently working on Xbox Live-enabled games.

But what makes XBox Live different to other online services?

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The Xbox Live Starter Kit includes a 12-month subscription to the Xbox Live service, an Xbox Communicator headset, and more.

Xbox Live Service
Your 12-month subscription allows you unlimited access to the world's first broadband gaming arena. Play with and against friends, find matches quickly and easily, and download new content. Plus, make your mark online and track your success with a single gamertag.

Xbox Communicator
This is probably the most raved about feature during the beta trials of XBox Live. I actually enjoy not having to use a keyboard -- it's actually spoiled me, said Dan Shoe Hsu, editor of enthusiast magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly.
The headset and microphone allows you to talk, challenge, strategize, and taunt while you play-in real time. Use the voicemasking feature to make yourself sound like a linebacker, a little kid, a robot, and more.

Other features include:

-Bring your Xbox Live-enabled games online and play right away with Quickmatch, or pick your perfect opponent with OptiMatch.

-Keep track of favorite players with a Friends List. See who's online and send invites to play your games.

-Keep talking through all the action with the Xbox communicator. Encourage teammates and trash your opponents-all without interrumpting gameplay.

-Keep your game fresh by downloading new levels, skins, tracks, spells, team rosters, and more!

-Gamertag. Players have a single identity across the entire global gaming service. Gamertags are a player's call sign or alias. Players only get one gamertag per account, so their reputations will be on the line.

-Friends list. Using the gamertags, players will be able to find their friends online and invite them to a game, no matter which Xbox Live game they're playing.

-Matchmaking. QuickMatch allows players to enter a multiplay experience with a single button click, and with the OptiMatch (TM) game matchmaking system, an Xbox Live exclusive, players will be able to select games and opponents based on similar skill levels.

Europe and Japan

A beta program of Xbox Live service is scheduled to be launched in Europe and Japan this year. Gamers in these markets will have the opportunity to join Xbox Live players in North America when the service completes beta testing in early 2003. Xbox Live is scheduled to launch in Japan on Jan. 16, 2003, and in Europe on March 14, 2003.

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In, what has been described as, the toughest, roughest, most competitive age in the history of Video Gaming, it is only natural to find that all other major players, have already made their online plans.

Sony, the market leader, have already launced their online adapter in late August. It is a USD 40 unit that screws on to the back of the PS2 and offers both dial-up and broadband network connections.

Based on the results we've seen ... thus far, from an overall perspective, generally I'm very happy," said Kaz Hirai, president of Sony Computer Entertainment of America. We basically have now more than 200,000 network adapters in the marketplace just in North America. Sony claim they are on target and will most likely beat their goal of 400,000 adapters sold in North America by the end of 2002. Of the users of the network adapter, 57 per cent are connecting to game servers via broadband, with 43 per cent choosing dialup. This could be an advantage Sony may have over rivals, Microsoft who have chosen to completely snub dialup users.

The other important difference, between Sony and Microsoft online services is the setup of the network. Microsoft will have a centralized network which also handles billing, with data centers in Tokyo, London and Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Washington. The network, according to Microsoft, can support up to one million users, including as many as 250,000 at one time. Sony, on the other hand, has left it to publishers of each game to handle their own infrastructure.

They're two very different models, said Peter Moore, president and chief operating officer of Sega of America. There's potentially, if you will, a bigger upside on PS2 if your game takes off.

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