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Xbox Live (trademarked as Xbox LIVE) is an online multiplayer gaming and digital media delivery service created and operated by Microsoft Corporation. It is currently the only online gaming service (on consoles) that charges users a fee to play multiplayer gaming. It was first made available to the Xbox system in 2002. An updated version of the service became available for the Xbox 360 console at that system's launch in 2005. On the Windows platform, the service is named Games for Windows - Live, which makes most aspects of the system available on Windows computers. Microsoft has announced plans to extend Live to other platforms such as handhelds and mobile phones as part of the Live Anywhere initiative.

History

Xbox 360 Dashboard
As Microsoft developed the original Xbox console, online gaming was designated as one of the key pillars for the greater Xbox strategy. Sega had made an attempt to capitalize on the ever-growing online gaming scene when it launched the Dreamcast video game console in 1999, including online support as standard. Nevertheless, due to lack of widespread broadband adoption at the time, the Dreamcast shipped with only a dial-up modem while a later-released broadband adapter was not widely supported or widely available. Downloadable content was available, though limited in size due to the narrowband connection and the size limitations of a memory card. The online features, while praised as innovative, were largely considered a failure, and the Dreamcast's immediate competitor, the PlayStation 2 did not ship with built-in network adapters.

Microsoft, however, hoped that the Xbox would succeed where the Dreamcast had failed. The company determined that intense online gaming required the throughput of a broadband connection and the storage space of a hard disk drive, and thus these PC-style features would be vital to the new platform. This would allow not only for significant downloadable content, such as new levels, maps, weapons, challenges and characters, to be downloaded quickly and stored, but also would make it possible to standardize bandwidth intensive features such as voice communication. Steve Balmer and Bill Gates both had a vision of making premium download content and add-ons that would attract many new paying customers to earn money. Based on this reasoning, the console included a standard Ethernet port (10/100) in order to provide connectivity to common broadband networks, but did not include a modem or any dial-up support, and its online service was designed to support broadband users only. Critics scoffed at the idea, citing poor broadband adoption at the turn of the century.

When the Xbox launched on November 15, 2001, the as-yet unnamed online service was destined for a Summer 2002 deployment. Xbox Live was finally given a name at E3 2002 when the service was unveiled in its entirety. Sound-dampened booths and broadband-connected Xbox consoles - featuring an early version of Unreal Championship - demonstrated the service on the show floor. The Epic title was one of the flagship titles for the service, which was slated for a debut on November 15, 2002, marking the anniversary of the Xbox launch. Microsoft announced that 50 Xbox Live titles would be available by the end of 2003. Utilizing the required broadband bandwidth, Xbox Live featured a unified gaming "Friends List", as well as a single identity across all titles (regardless of the publisher), and standardized voice chat and communication; a feature that was still in its infancy.

Leading up to the launch, Microsoft enlisted several waves of beta testers to improve the service and receive feature feedback. The first wave of beta testers were given Revolt! (which never was released officially) and NFL Fever to beta test. Once beta tested concluded, Microsoft sent these beta testers a translucent orange memory card, a headset carrying case, and a beta tester tshirt with the slogan "I have great hands". When the service debuted, it lacked much of the functionality that later titles included, but Xbox Live grew and evolved on the Xbox and many aspects of the service were included with the Xbox 360 console out of the box, rather than through a later update. Microsoft's 5000th patent was Live-related and gave Xbox 360 users access to watch other gamers compete against each other over Xbox Live.

The packaging for playable Xbox Live titles on the original Xbox console featured the trademark gold bar underneath the Xbox header. Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell and Brute Force sported a Live "bubble" design, as they only featured downloadable content. This was changed later, wherein all Xbox Live titles included the universal gold Live bar. By the time of the Xbox 360, all titles were required to provide at least a limited form of Xbox Live "awareness".

On November 15, 2007 Microsoft celebrated Xbox Live's 5th anniversary by offering its then over 8 million subscribers the title Carcassonne free of charge and awarding gamers who had subscribed to Live since its inception 500 free Microsoft Points. Due to intermittent service interruptions during late December 2007 and early January 2008, Microsoft promised to offer a free Xbox Live Arcade game to all Xbox Live users as compensation, concluding that, Marc Whitten has released an open letter to all Xbox Live members. Increased demand from Xbox 360 purchasers (the largest number of new user sign-ups in the history of Xbox Live) was given as the reason for the downtime. On January 18, 2008, Microsoft announced Undertow would be offered free for the week starting January 23 through January 27 as compensation. The game was for both Silver and Gold users, so people who paid for their Xbox Live service got the same compensation as non payers.

On January 6, 2009, Microsoft announced that Xbox Live had now reached 17 million members.

Microsoft’s Entertainment & Devices President Robbie Bach claims that Xbox Live sets the 360 apart from its rivals. “Xbox Live is a big differentiator for us,” said Bach to investor.com, “That drives a significant amount of energy around what’s on with Xbox.” Bach cites the exclusive downloadable content for GTA IV as a reason why Microsoft’s online service is superior to its rivals.

Xbox Live exclusive servers are based in Seattle, Washingtonmarker while using some of Microsoft's other servers in Quincymarker and Yakima, Washingtonmarker.

Xbox Live features

Comparison of

Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Live Silver
Feature Live Silver Live Gold
Pricing Free
Voice chat Yes Yes
Video chat No Yes
Avatars Yes Yes
Downloadable content Yes1 Yes
Multiplayer gaming No Yes
Parties No Yes
Netflix movie streaming2 No Yes3
Sky Player4 No Yes5
Xbox Live Arcade point results6 Yes Yes6

1Some content available one week after Gold subscribers
2Available in US only
3Only available to Netflix members
4Available in UK and Ireland only
5Sky subscription required
6All Xbox Live Arcade games might go to the Xbox Live Arcade Compilation Disc when winning on videogames.







Windows Live Messenger allows users of Xbox Live, PCs (Both on the Windows and Macintosh platforms), and Windows Mobile devices to connect and directly message each other. It is possible to chat with up to six thousand people at one time, while playing games, listening to music, or watching movies. This complements the existing voice and video chat of Xbox Live. Users will see at a glance if their existing contacts on Windows Live Messenger have Gamertags. As of the December 4, 2007 dashboard update, Windows Live Messenger on Xbox Live is now available to child accounts if the user is 13 years of age or older.

On September 4, 2007, Microsoft launched the Xbox 360 Messenger Kit, a small QWERTY keypad that connects directly into the Xbox 360 controller, either wired or wireless, to support text and instant messaging.

Current features

  • Mottos for display on gamer profiles
  • Game achievements, which are earned during gameplay
  • Reputation rating which is voted on by other players who decide to either prefer or avoid another player. The reputation defaults to 100% (Five stars) over time after one player has preferred you.
  • Gamerscores, which are a total of a player's achievement points
  • Friends list, which is a list of a player's chosen friends, up to 100 friends allowed
  • Recent player list, which lists the last 50 players a user has played with
  • Complaint filing system, which allows a user to report another user that has broken the Xbox Live Terms of Use
  • Windows Live messenger integration
  • Access to Xbox Live Marketplace content, including new game content, games and movies
  • Voice Chat (wireless or wired headset required, Xbox Live Silver members are limited to two-player voice chat, while 3+ player voice chat has been implemented for Gold members with the New Xbox Experience)
  • Video Chat (Live Vision camera required, with headset optional for chatting)
  • Multiplayer gameplay, where a user can link up 4 Xbox's to play together (known as system link), or connect online (Online requires Xbox Live Gold)
  • Enhanced matchmaking using cumulative gamerscore, reputation, location/language profile, and gamer zone
  • Bio section in which one can list personal interests, URLs, etc.
  • Parental controls, limiting children's exposure to other users ("Family Settings")
  • Inside Xbox is a newsletter about Xbox Live news, events, products, interviews and games that is integrated in the Xbox 360 Dashboard. Content for Inside Xbox is created by the Xbox global marketing team and features streaming video segments "Pick Up and Play", "Major’s Minute" with Larry Hryb and "Game with Fame"
  • Halo Waypoint allows users to track achievement progress of Halo 3, Halo Wars, and Halo 3: ODST, unlock Halo-related Xbox Avatar rewards, and access videos, pictures and interviews from Halo series developers and the gaming community. Halo Legends anime episodes and previews will also be streamed through Halo Waypoint.
  • Last.fm allows users to stream their favourite music and search for related artists
  • Social networking sites Facebook and Twitter are accessible over Xbox Live. Both are currently only available to users the age of 18 and over, but a future update will also users between the ages of 13-17 to access the application under a parents agreement
  • Zune Marketplace (formerly the Video Marketplace) will allow users to stream movies and TV shows instantly in 1080p HD with 5.1 surround sound
  • Movie Parties will allow for movies and TV shows to be viewable with friends over Xbox Live.
  • Sky Player is available in the UK and Ireland for a fee. This is shows live and on-demand tv including Sky News and the Disney Channel.


Upcoming features



Tuesday November 10, 2009, the release date of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was, according to G4 via the text messaging game update service, the busiest day of Xbox Live.

User information

Gamertag

A Gamertag is the universal name for a player's username on Microsoft's Xbox Live. A Gamertag used online must be unique and can be up to 15 characters in length, including numbers, letters, and spaces. Gamertags can be changed using a premium service on the Xbox 360 console (for a price of 800 Microsoft Points), the system supports 8 Xbox Live-enabled profiles per memory unit and 32 profiles on the hard drive.

A player's Gamertag account status can be checked using a variety of online tools, which is useful especially when looking for a new gamertag, or confirming that a Gamertag exists. Using a valid Gamertag, any player can be located and messaged from within Live. There are also several websites which allow users of Gamertags to upload photos and information about themselves.

Gamertags can be used in a variety of places, including the original Xbox, the Xbox 360, Games for Windows - Live, Zune, and XNA Creators Club.

Gamertags also contain avatar images (or "gamer pictures"), often associated with certain games or game characters. Individual gamerpics cost between 15 and 20 Microsoft Points, but they are usually bundled into packs; packs of four or five gamerpics usually cost 80 Microsoft Points, while packs of ten typically cost 150.


Gamerscore

The Gamerscore (G) is a measure that corresponds to the number of Achievement points accumulated by a user with an Xbox Live profile. These Achievement points are awarded for the completion of game-specific challenges, such as beating a level or amassing a specified number of wins against other players in Xbox Live matches. Initially, retail Xbox 360 games offered up to 1,000G spread over a variable number of Achievements, while each Xbox Live Arcade title contained 12 achievements totaling 200G.

On February 1, 2007, Microsoft announced on their Gamerscore Blog some new policies that developers must follow related to Gamerscore and Achievements in future releases. All regular disc-based games must have 1,000 Gamerscore points in the base game - the title can ship with fewer than 1,000 points, but anything added later must be free. Game developers also now have the option of adding up to 250 points via downloadable content every quarter after the first year of release (for a total of 1,750 points). Xbox Live Arcade titles must have 200 Gamerscore and may add up to 50 points via downloadable content (for a total of 250 points).

On May 26, 2007, Halo 2 was the first Games for Windows game to feature Achievements, which counted towards a player's Gamerscore.

On March 25, 2008, Microsoft cracked down on "Gamerscore cheaters" (those who used external tools to artificially inflate their Gamerscore), and reduced their Gamerscores to zero without the option to recover the scores that had been "earned", and branded the player by denoting on their Gamertag that they were a "Cheater".

Gamercard

The Gamercard is an information panel used to summarize one's user profile on Microsoft's Xbox Live. The pieces of information on a Gamercard include:

  • Gamertag (in front a silver or gold bar)(active gold members feature small bubbles to the right of the bar while inactive users dont)
  • Gamer picture (avatar)
  • Reputation
  • Gamerscore
  • Gamer Zone
  • Recent games played


A player's Gamercard can be viewed via the Xbox 360 Dashboard, or online through Xbox.com. The top bar that displays the Gamertag is shown in front of either a silver or gold bar which designates if the gamer has an Xbox Live Silver or Gold superscription. If the gamer is part of the Xbox 360 Launch Team, the top bar will also have additional text stating "Launch Team" in the background. Third party sites allow users to post a rendered version of their Gamercard as a small Flash applet or JPEG image on any website or Internet forum.

Similarly, Mac OS X users can download widgets that display their Xbox Live Gamercard within Mac OS X's Dashboard. These can be downloaded onto any Mac with OS X 10.4 or higher via Apple'smarker widget download page.

There are four Gamer Zones; Recreation is for casual gamers, Family is for family-friendly gamers (without profanity, etc.), Pro is for competitive gamers who enjoy a challenge, and Underground is for no-holds-barred gaming where anything goes (as long as it does not violate the Xbox Live Terms of Use). However, in practice these gamer zones are displayed only on the Gamercard of the player, and don't tend to affect the gameplay experience or the matching of players in online games.

TrueSkill

TrueSkill is a ranking and matchmaking system premiering in the Xbox 360 live services. Developed at Microsoft Research Cambridge (England), the TrueSkill ranking system is now used in over 150 titles for the Xbox 360 . It uses a mathematical model of uncertainty to address weaknesses in existing ranking systems such as ELO. For example, a new player joining million-player leagues can be ranked correctly in fewer than 20 games. It can predict the probability of each game outcome, which enhances competitive matchmaking, making it possible to assemble skill-balanced teams from a group of players with different abilities.

When matchmaking, the system attempts to match individuals based on their estimated skill level. If two individuals are competing head-to-head and have the same estimated skill level with low estimate uncertainty, they should each have roughly a 50% chance of winning a match. In this way, the system attempts to make every match as competitive as possible.

In order to prevent abuse of the system, the majority of ranked games have relatively limited options for matchmaking. By design, players cannot easily play with their friends in ranked games. However, these countermeasures have failed due to techniques such as alternate account(s) and system flaws where each system has its own individual trueskill rating. To provide less competitive games, the system supports unranked Player Matches, which allow individuals of any skill level to be paired (often including "guests" on an account). Such matches do not contribute to the TrueSkill rating.

New Xbox Experience

At E3 2008, Microsoft announced that all Xbox 360 owners would receive a new dashboard update, titled New Xbox Experience (NXE), on November 19, 2008 that has added many new features. Though the new interface is generally downloaded when a new Xbox is connected to Xbox Live, some games, including Fight Night 4, will also update it.

One feature is the ability to watch standard quality and 720p streaming movies and TV shows from Netflix, through the Xbox 360. This feature is exclusive to Xbox Live Gold members in the USA with Netflix Unlimited. Recently added, users are able to watch Netflix titles with their friends in a party with up to 8 players. Xbox Live members have the ability to view over 12,000 movies and episodes. Users can browse for titles based on their interests and Netflix ratings with the Xbox interface. Users no longer need to visit the website to choose the content to watch. When a player parties up with a group, they also have the ability to join games together, chat together or view a slideshow of photos.

Another feature gives players the ability to create Avatars. Players are able to customize avatars by changing body shape, facial features, hair and clothes, as well as new clothing being released from time to time. Xbox Live requires that users select an avatar. Another feature is the ability to install an entire game disc onto the Xbox 360's hard drive, which decreases loading times, and significantly reduces noise due to the game being read from the hard drive and not the louder disc drive. For most games this feature also reduces the amount of time spent reading the disc, therefore helping to extend the life-span of the optical drive mechanism.

During the Press Conference at E3, Microsoft announced Xbox Live Primetime, a series of scheduled programs where Xbox Live members can play against each other. The first announced game is an adaptation of the Endemol game show 1 vs. 100 in which one Xbox Live member will play against 100 other members with a live host and prizes awarded. This service is currently in an open beta in Canada and the United States.

The Xbox Guide has also been redesigned. Players are not only able to view their friends and messages, but are able to access their game library. If a user has installed any game onto their Xbox 360 Hard drive, they are able to immediately start the game from the guide, whether they are in a game or in the dashboard. Microsoft also confirmed that every new 360 comes with 3 free Xbox Live Gold trial accounts, upon creating a new account the player is allowed to claim a trial period upon refusing to pay for Gold subscription; therefore allowing the user to try online gameplay for that one month trial period, after which the player is required to pay subscription fees to continue matchmaking online. Major Nelson also announced that the update supports 16:10 on VGA or HDMI, expanding the choice of resolutions.

While previous system updates have been stored on internal memory, this is the first update to require a storage device. The update requires at least 128MB free space on either a memory card or a hard drive. Microsoft has stated that many Core or Arcade users will not have sufficient space on their limited memory cards for the new update and thus provided them with a free 512MB memory card or a discounted 20GB hard drive for a limited time. This promotion has since ended and all new arcade units now come with 512MB of internal memory.

The NXE was leaked onto Torrent sites and could be installed via a USB drive. Microsoft's Major Nelson stated that unauthorized installation of NXE would result in the users console being banned from Xbox Live until its official release which was on November 19, 2008.

Xbox Live Marketplace and Zune Marketplace

Xbox Live Game Marketplace


Xbox Live Marketplace is a unified storefront which offers both free and premium content for download including Xbox Live Arcade titles, original Xbox games, Xbox 360 game demos, game expansion material (e.g. extra maps, vehicles, songs), trailers, gamer pictures and themes, television shows, music videos, movie rentals, and more.

On 17th of November 2009, Microsoft released a downloadable Zune application for the Xbox 360. This application turns your Xbox 360 into a Zune device. Once you download the Zune application, it takes over the Marketplace menus and sections of the console. With the addition of the Zune Marketplace to a Xbox 360 console, you are able to purchase movies instead of only being able to rent them. The Zune Marketplace has a much more extensive content offering compared to the classic Xbox Live Marketplace.

Video Marketplace

Netflix Instant Queue
On November 6, 2006, Microsoft announced the Xbox Video Marketplace, an exclusive video store accessible through the console. Launched in the United States.. on November 22, 2006, the first anniversary of the Xbox 360's launch, the service allows users in the United States to download high-definition and standard-definition television shows for purchase and movies for rental onto an Xbox 360 console for viewing. With the exception of short clips, content is not currently available for streaming, and must be downloaded. Microsoft has also announced that its Microsoft TV service will add IPTV functionality to the console, giving users the ability to stream 2 simultaneous HD and 2 simultaneous SD channels. Movies are available for rental from the Video Marketplace.. They expire in 14 days after download or at the end of the first 24 hours after the movie has begun playing, whichever comes first. Television episodes can be purchased to own, and are transferable to an unlimited number of consoles. Downloaded files use 5.1 surround audio and are encoded using VC-1 for video at 720p, with a bitrate of 6.8 Mbit/s. Television content is offered from MTV, VH1, Comedy Central, Turner Broadcasting, and CBS; and movie content is Warner Bros., Paramount, and Disney, along with other publishers.

Programs

The "Game with Fame" initiative has been Microsoft's way to connect Xbox Live members with celebrities and game developers. Notable participants of "Game With Fame" include Shia LaBeouf, Jack Black, Rihanna, Velvet Revolver, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Scissor Sisters, Paramore, KoЯn, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, and Dream Theater.

"Xbox Ambassadors" are Xbox Live members selected by Microsoft who have proven themselves to be helpful towards others, and are willing to assist new Xbox Live users and answer their questions. As of March 2009, there are ambassadors representing 18 countries in more than 30 languages.

Xbox Rewards was a promotion designed to provide gamers incentives to play on Xbox Live by subsidizing achievement points earned with actual rewards. Gamers were required to register for specific challenges which, if successfully completed, would yield a challenge-specific reward.

Security

Microsoft implements a number of different security measures on its Xbox Live service. One of these takes the form of a proactive security check that assures that only unmodified machines may access their service. On May 17, 2007, Microsoft banned consoles with modified firmware from Xbox Live. According to Microsoft, consoles with firmware of unknown origin, quality or intent were banned permanently from Xbox Live. A Microsoft representative indicated that the action was taken to assure "the integrity of the service and protect our partners and users."

Recently, some individuals have bypassed these security checks by using a custom drivechip firmware (e.g., the iXtreme firmware) which prevents detection of alterations, effectively "stealthing" the modification.

It has been discovered that pretexting has been used to impersonate an Xbox Live user for sabotage. Microsoft has implemented greater security to decrease the service's susceptibility to social engineering.

At the start of November 2009 Microsoft banned under a million consoles from Xbox Live because they were using modified firmware to play pirated games online.[80201]

Controversy

The service has attracted controversy after a woman was suspended from the service for self identifying as a lesbian, and a man was suspended for using his surname "Gaywood" in his Gamertag.

Users may not use the string "gay" in a gamertag (even legitimately, for example as part of a surname), or refer to homosexuality in their profile (including self-identifying as such), as the company considers this "content of a sexual nature" or "offensive" to other users and therefore unsuitable for the service.

Xbox Live Lead Program Manager for Enforcement Stephen Toulouse clarified the service's policy on sexual identification, stating that "Expression of any sexual orientation […] is not allowed in gamertags" but that the company is "examining how we can provide it in a way that won't get misused."

Availability

Xbox Live is currently available in 26 countries:





Xbox Live availability in the world


Users from the non-XBL countries (especially Brazilmarker, Greecemarker, Polandmarker, Pakistanmarker, Russiamarker and South Africa) are constantly appealing to Microsoft for bringing the service to them as well. In April 2009 President of Microsoft Steve Ballmer promised that XBL will be available in Poland but he did not specify the final deadline.

Live Anywhere

Live Anywhere is an initiative by Microsoft to bring the Live online gaming and entertainment network to a wide variety of platforms and devices, including Xbox, Xbox 360, Windows PCs (XP, Vista & 7), Windows Mobile and Java-based phones, Zune, and more. The concept service for mobile devices has been demonstrated at E3 and the Consumer Electronics Show on a Motorola Q mobile phone.

Microsoft's Chris Early clarified that Live Anywhere is a long-term project expected to be rolled out over several years.

See also



References

  1. Microsoft offers free game for Xbox Live holiday problems. PC World, January 4, 2008.
  2. Undertow Free of Charge Next Week on Xbox Live Arcade
  3. PS3 cant compete with Xbox Live
  4. Bach: PS3 can’t compete with Xbox Live - MCV: 06/03/2008
  5. http://kotaku.com/383885/xbox-live-preps-for-gta-iv-server-riot - Msoft Prepares for GTA IV: Xbox Live Preps for GTA Server Riot
  6. Xbox.com (UK) Sky Player
  7. http://support.xbox.com/support/en/us/nxe/kb.aspx?ID=905882&lcid=1033&category=xboxlive
  8. Gamerscore Blog: Addicted to Achievements?
  9. Xbox LIVE Achievement changes, 411mania
  10. Cheaters Branded on Xbox Live, Gamerscore Reset, Joystiq
  11. IGN: Avatars Required
  12. http://www.xbox.com/en-US/support/systemupdates/default.htm
  13. http://www.xboxstorageupgrade.com/hh/web/home/hhauthentication.jsp
  14. 20 GB Hard Drive update
  15. Microsoft’s NXE storage solution: Free 512MB memory card or $20 for 20GB HDD
  16. http://www.xbox360fanboy.com/2008/10/31/nxe-leaked-installation-disables-live-until-november-19/
  17. Steve Ballmer: Xbox Live będzie w Polsce


External links




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