The Xbox finally goes online on November 15 this year, exactly one year after the original launch of the console. But only in the US, where Microsoft rolls out its Xbox Live service, along with six online-enabled software titles.
The Xbox Live Starter Kit will be sold for $50 (about £33, although no European details have yet been confirmed) and includes a headset for voice communications, a years subscription to the Xbox Live service and software to enable the Xbox to utilise an existing broadband connection.
Xbox Live is initially supported by six software titles, three of them sports games – Sega's NFL2k3 and NBA2k3, and Microsoft’s own NFL Fever title. The Sega Sports titles were the biggest success story for Dreamcast in the USA, and Microsoft hopes that similar success will greet the games in launching the Xbox online service. Elsewhere, shoot 'em up fans are catered for by Epic's Unreal Championship and Ubisoft’s Xbox version of Ghost Recon, while Microsoft Game Studios provides more family-oriented online antics with the "wacky" racing title Whacked.
Microsoft hopes that Xbox Live will help to distinguish the Xbox from its competitors in the console market, although Sony will beat it to the online arena by two months – the Japanese giant plans to start selling a network adapter for the PS2 in the USA at the end of this month, and of course, has already managed a limited roll-out of the PS2 online PlayOnline service in Japan, backed by Square, Namco and other major game companies. Nintendo is cautious as ever about the new technology, although it will be launching a modem and broadband adapter for the GameCube to support Sega’s Phantasy Star Online titles on the console.
The primary difference between Sony's approach and Xbox Live is that Sony is, for the most part, leaving the infrastructure of PS2 online to publishers,while Microsoft retains complete control of Xbox Live. The company believes that this control of the entire system from basic infrastructure to actual game titles will enable it to provide a more seamless and enjoyable user experience, giving it an edge over its rivals in the console wars.