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Xbox Live

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Xbox Live is an online multiplayer gaming and content delivery system created and operated by Microsoft. It was first made available to the Xbox console in November 2002. An updated version of the service became available for the Xbox 360 console at the system's launch, and a further enhanced version was released in 2013 with the Xbox One. Games for Windows - Live makes certain aspects of the system available on Windows Vista PCs, with plans to extend Live to other platforms such as handhelds and mobile phones as part of the Live Anywhere initiative the Xbox 404.

History

As Microsoft developed the original Xbox console, online gaming was designated as one of the key pillars for the greater Xbox strategy. Opting to create a unique console experience, it was decided that a hard disk drive and an ethernet port were vital to the platform, allowing for a more PC-style experience. The former would allow for downloadable content, such as new levels, maps, weapons, challenges and characters, while the latter allowed adaptability to standard ethernet equipment. The ethernet port also served as an end to a means, since Microsoft decided that their online gaming service for the Xbox console would require a broadband connection, stating that dial-up connections would not allow them to standardize features (such as voice communication) and were inappropriate for intense online gaming. Critics scoffed at the idea, citing poor broadband adoption at the turn of the century.[1] Sega made a similar attempt to capitalize on the ever-growing online gaming scene when it launched the Dreamcast video game console in 1998. The console shipped with a dial-up modem while a later-released broadband adapter was not widely supported or widely available.

When the Xbox launched on November 15, 2001, the as-yet unnamed online service was destined for a Summer 2002 deployment.[2] 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 now 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.[3] The service was revolutionary in many aspects. 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, even on the PC.

Leading up to the launch, Microsoft enlisted several waves of beta testers to improve the service and receive feature feedback. 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 a Live-related patent which gives Xbox 360 users access to watch other gamers compete against each other over Xbox Live.[4]

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".

Xbox Live hit a milestone in July 2004, [1] when it achieved 1 million subscribers; and again in March 2007, when it achieved 6 million subscribers. [2] With the release of Halo 2 later in 2004, the subscription base doubled within the following 12 months.[3] Since its release, Halo 2 has generated over a half a billion game plays totaling up to over 710 million hours. [5]

Xbox Live has been shut down temporarily for maintenance several times since its launch, with the latest down time occurring on March 27, 2007.[citation needed] During such downtimes, users are unable to access any aspect of Xbox Live, including downloadable content. Xbox Live downtimes do not typically last longer than 24 hours.[citation needed]

As of July 2007, Xbox Live has 9 million members.[6]

Features

The Xbox 360 supports voice chat through a headset, which is bundled with the Xbox 360 premium package, with the Xbox Live starter kit, or available separately. The headset is not bundled with the Australian or Mexican premium packages, instead being included with the Xbox Live 12 Month Subscription retail kit. The service includes a friends list of other users, as well as a mail-like system of either text or voice messages in which the user can take a picture with the Xbox Vision Camera and add it to the message to send to an online or offline user.

On the Xbox 360, whenever the user's console is powered on and is signed in to Xbox Live, the user's friends list and ability to send messages become available. On the original Xbox, this is only available in Xbox Live or Live Aware games. The system also reports what activity is currently being performed, so that one can see what a friend is doing on his or her console. This is typically the game being played, although the system supports more detailed information (the player's progress through the game, for example).

Online multiplayer features operating on Xbox Live do not expire and are always accessible by Xbox Live subscribers. Exceptions are online games that use Xbox Live merely as a portal to connect to external servers that are not part of Xbox Live, such as games published by Electronic Arts (EA) (which operate on EA servers instead of Xbox Live) and other games, such as MMORPGs, that require their own dedicated servers. EA, in particular, sometimes terminates the online function for its older titles, effectively requiring players to purchase the latest title in a franchise if they want to continue to access multiplayer online features.

On the Xbox 360

Upon sign up, Xbox 360 subscribers can choose to either become a Silver member, which is free of charge, or pay for a Gold subscription. A Silver account has the ability to download content, including dashboard themes, gamer pictures, game trailers/demonstrations, movies, game content such as new maps, weapons, levels, characters, challenges, expansions, arcade games and demos; connect with friends/players via voice chat, video chat, instant messenger and text message. Upgrading to a Gold account adds the ability to play online with or against other Gold subscribers, which of course, is the main function and feature of Xbox Live.

Pricing and Subscriptions

The silver level service is free, while the Gold level requires a paid subscription. Xbox Live Gold subscriptions can be purchased directly from Microsoft; many retailers and online stores also sell subscriptions, often at a discount. When purchased directly from Microsoft, the Gold subscription pricing is as follows:

Country 1 Month 3 Months 12 Months
Europe € 6.99 € 19.99 € 59.99
United Kingdom £4.99 £14.99 £39.99
Australia AU$ 10.95 AU$ 29.95 AU$ 79.95
Sweden SEK 60 SEK 179 SEK 549
USA $7.99 $19.99 $49.99
Japan ¥819 ¥2079 ¥5229

Availability

Xbox Live is currently available in 37 countries and territories: [citation needed]

Brazil, Hungary and Poland are scheduled to be brought online during the first quarter of 2007. [citation needed]

On 2007-05-05 South African Xbox Live community members compiled an open letter and petition to Microsoft South Africa protesting the lack of local support for the service.

Xbox Live features:

  • Gamer tags for user identification
  • Avatars, or gamer pictures, for association with gamer tags
  • Mottos for display on gamer profiles
  • Gamer zones which represent gaming style and influence player matchmaking (Recreation, Pro, Family, Underground)
  • Ability to change one's gamer tag for 800 Microsoft Points
  • Game achievements are listed with gamer tags and can be compared with friends' achievements
  • Reputation rating which is voted on by other players who decide to either prefer or avoid another player
  • Gamerscores which are a total of a player's achievement points
  • Friends list, which is a list of a player's chosen friends
  • Recent player list, which lists the last 50 players one user has played with
  • Xbox Live Marketplace content
  • Multiplayer online gameplay
  • Enhanced matchmaking using cumulative gamerscore, reputation, location/language profile, skill level, and gamerzone.

Marketplace

A system of Microsoft Points based transactions and prepaid subscription cards are available for the 360, cutting down the number of separate credit card transactions Microsoft handles and allowing users without credit cards access to the service.

Windows Live Messenger on Xbox 360

File:Live messenger xbox 360.png

Windows Live Messenger allows users of Xbox Live, Microsoft Windows-based PCs and Windows Mobile devices to connect and directly message each other. It is possible to chat with up to six 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.

Users of Windows Live Messenger on Xbox 360 can use the virtual keyboard accessible on Xbox 360, or by connecting any USB keyboard to the console. Microsoft will launch the Xbox 360 Chatpad, a small QWERTY keypad that will connect directly into the Xbox 360 controller to support text and instant messaging on September 6, 2007.

Gamertag

Gamertag is the universal name for a player's username on Microsoft's Xbox Live. Using a Gamertag, any player can be located and messaged from within Live. There are several websites which allow users of Gamertags to upload photos and information about themselves. Gamertags can be changed using a premium service on the Xbox 360 console; there are four available slots in which to create and delete them.

A player's Gamertag account status can be checked using a variety of online tools, this is useful especially when looking for a new gamertag, or confirming a gamertag exists.

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

Gamerscore

The Gamerscore is a measure that corresponds to the number of "Achievement" points accumulated by an Xbox Live user. 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 1000 points spread over a variable number of Achievements, while each Xbox Live Arcade title contained 12 achievements totalling 200 points. These possible totals per game have been raised to 1250 and 250, respectively; see below. Achievements surprisingly became a very potent system seller for the console [4]. There was even a minor outcry when GameSpot published an article on how to achieve 6,000 easy Achievement points due to the lax nature that some 360 titles had on Achievements, notably EA Sports and 2K Sports titles, that would require almost no effort from the gamer to get the maximum 1,000 Achievement points. It must be noted that the following year's sports titles (2K Sports' 2K7 and EA Sports' 07 titles) featured far more challenging Achievements. The more achievements, the more points for your gamerscore. The gamerscore shows of how good of a gamer you are.

Larry Hryb (aka Major Nelson) coined the term for individuals who played games explicitly for the purpose of unlocking achievements to add to their score: Gamerscore Whore[5]. The first and most prominent 'Gamerscore Champions' were ST TheKing (aka Tom Shaw) and Urgamanix (aka Geoff Wade). The rivalry between these two players was watched closely by the community, earning them media playtime in the form of interviews and dicussions on many gaming forums.

Shortly after, a form of cheating called 'gamesave downloading' become more and more widespread around the community, a process in which a player downloads other player's saves in order to instantly gain Gamerscore without playing the game. The most notorious cheater was RANCE6, who gained the highest Gamerscore after many of the top players quit, including Urgamanix and ST TheKing.

In November 2006, a gamer reached the 100,000-point Gamerscore mark. As of July 21, 2007, Sufoor has the highest Worldwide Gamerscore with 175,305. As of June 8, 2007, David Dreger (aka Knuckles Dawson) owns the legitimate record for consecutive days earning at least 1 Achievement point with 564 straight days (1 year, 199 days). The Gamerscore system and the obsession with it has been the target of ridicule in parts of the gaming press, e.g. in an April Fools' Day edition of Game Informer.

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.[7] All games must have 1,000 Gamerscore points in the base game - the title could ship with less 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 (for a total of 1,250 points) - this content can be either free or paid. Xbox Live Arcade titles may add up to 50 points via downloadable content (for a total of 250 points).

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
  • Gamerscore
  • Reputation
  • Gamer Zone

A player's gamer card can be viewed via the Xbox 360 Dashboard, or online through Xbox.com. Several third party sites, such as Mygamercard.net, XboxLC.com and Xboxusersgroup.com, allow users to post a rendered version of their Gamercard as a small Flash applet or JPEG image on any website or Internet forum.

Xbox Live Arcade

Xbox Live Arcade is the central destination for Xbox 360 gamers to find, download, try, and buy smaller games on the Xbox 360 console. The Xbox Live Arcade offers a large catalog of fun, broad-appeal games that can be downloaded via Xbox Live. Game size is 150MB or less to enable quick download [6].

Examples of some of the more popular among them are Lumines Live!, DOOM, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, Gauntlet, UNO, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, and Smash TV. As of April 25, 2007 there have been 56 titles released for Xbox Live Arcade on the Xbox 360.

TrueSkill

TrueSkill on the Xbox 360 is a skill-based ranking system that is used across all games. It involves the user playing ranked games against other players, with the results used to update the skill level estimates of those involved. For each game, a user has two hidden statistics: an estimated skill level, and an uncertainty factor. As a player continues to play further matches of the same title, the system revises the estimated skill level and decreases the uncertainty factor. As the uncertainty in the estimate decreases, the estimated level moves up or down by a smaller amount with each successive match. The eventual goal is to exactly determine the level of the player, i.e. his or her "true skill level".

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. Instead, 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.

Xbox Live Vision

The Xbox Live Vision camera was announced at E3 2006,[7] and was released September 19, 2006 in North America, October 6, 2006 in Europe and Asia, and November 2, 2006 in Japan[8]. Release dates for Australia, and New Zealand have not been confirmed.[9]

The first "Camera Enabled" game, a video game incarnation of the classic card game UNO, was released in the Xbox Live Marketplace on May 9, 2006. [10] The Xbox 360 versions of World Series of Poker and Rainbow Six: Vegas tout a "Digimask" technology that will map a player's facial expressions onto his or her in-game avatar.[11]

The Vision camera comes bundled a wired Xbox 360 Headset, one free month of Xbox Live Gold membership, and two Xbox Live Arcade games - UNO and TotemBall (both being free downloads on the Xbox Live Marketplace). A second package (the Gold Pack) is available for $79.99 which contains Robotron 2084, 200 Microsoft Points and a 12 Month subscription to Xbox Live Gold in addition to the headset, UNO and TotemBall.

Xbox 360 Wireless Headset

The wireless headset uses the console's built-in 2.4 GHz wireless receiver to communicate with the Xbox 360. This allows players to use the headset without an active controller from up to a range of around 30 ft. It runs on a rechargeable battery and has a charger included. The headset is currently available in North America and is priced at $59.99 USD.

LIVE Anywhere

Microsoft's LIVE Anywhere initiative will enable a variety of non-Xbox platforms such as Windows Vista PCs, Windows Mobile phones, and Java-enabled phones to connect to Xbox Live, albeit with lesser functionality. A gamer will be able to keep a Gamertag, purchase and play Xbox Live Arcade games, and connect to other Xbox Live users to play Arcade games and conduct text, and audio chat. The service will be open to any 3rd-party developers, but they must be able to provide key functionalities such as game ratings, achievement points, and the ability to properly connect to Xbox Live.

So far, the only non-Xbox platform supported by Live is Windows Vista, with the new Games for Windows - LIVE service which launched on May 8, 2007.

Game with Fame

The "Game with Fame" initiative has been Microsoft's way to connect their gamers with celebrities. In this program, players can play online with or against famous groups or individuals for a limited period of time. Some of the recent participants have been Velvet Revolver, Megadeth, Quietdrive, Shia LaBeouf, Jack Black and Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Players often have to send a friend request and/or e-mail to a certain gamertag or address in order to allow them to play a certain game with said celebrity. Further information is available on the Game with Fame homepage.

Xbox Rewards

Xbox rewards is a program to give both casual and hardcore players incentives to play on Xbox Live by subsidizing the achievement points gamers accumulate with actual rewards. This works by having gamers register for challenges and the gamers who succeed receive prizes dependant on the bracket they are in.

Security

In order to ensure uniform quality of service and discourage software piracy, 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 ceased permitting consoles with modified firmware from accessing 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." [8].

Recently, individuals have bypassed these firmware security checks using custom firmware (e.g., the iXtreme firmware) which prevents detection of alterations, effectively "stealthing" the modification. It is possible, however, that this is still detectable, and hence leaves open the possibility of future bans. [9]

Getting online

Since the Xbox and Xbox 360 both include a built-in ethernet port, individuals can access Xbox Live simply by connecting a cable directly to their high-speed Internet device. However, many users have a more elaborate local area network configuration. Such configurations often take advantage of wireless access, or allow multiple machines to share a single Internet connection (via Network address translation). While Universal Plug and Play attempts to address the needs of advanced users, not all devices support this (or support it properly). As such, manual system configuration and trouble-shooting is sometimes required.

The official Microsoft site offers solutions to common errors such as "IP Failed", or "MTU Failed". Another website that offers a free support service is The Unofficial Guide To Live, which also covers a number of common issues. Additionally, users can often seek help from each other in online internet forums. Common topics include how to assign a static IP address, as well as how to make of use of router DMZs, port forwarding, or port triggering.

One common solution to the "IP address failed" error is to request a separate IP address from one's ISP. For service providers which provide more than one IP address per broadband connection, this then makes many of the issues of Network address translation (NAT) moot. In many cases, this can be done with a phone call to technical support and finished in just a few minutes.

Fraud

It has been discovered that pretexting has been used to impersonate a Xbox Live user for the purposes of malfeasance. Microsoft has implemented greater security levels to make defense against social engineering more robust.[10]

References

See also

External links

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