Despite lagging sales since it was released in the video-game war against Sony's PlayStation 2 and Nintendo's GameCube, Microsoft will boost its Xbox system with an online gaming service and a $2 billion investment during the next 5 years, signaling that the company is committed to succeeding in this competitive market. Microsoft executives said this week that the company will spend most of the investment building Internet data centers to support the online gaming service, dubbed Xbox Live, and invest the rest of the money in future hardware development.
"Online technology is the next revolution in video games, and it will fundamentally transform gaming into a new form of social entertainment," said Xbox General Manager J Allard. "Together with our partners we will combine exceptional gaming experiences, a world-class service, and a viable business model so all parts of the online ecosystem thrive."
Several Xbox-exclusive titles, including Unreal Championship, MechAssault, Whacked, NFL Fever 2003, and Midtown Madness 3, will take advantage of the new online service. More than 60 companies have committed to creating games for Xbox Live, Microsoft says, and at least 50 Xbox Live-capable titles will be available by the end of the year.
The Xbox Live infrastructure is impressive. Microsoft is building four Internet data centers: two in Washington state, one in Tokyo, and one in London. Gamers will be able to purchase a $50 starter kit that includes a unique online ID or Gamertag, a Friends list to manage online gaming friends, voice-communication hardware called Xbox Communicator, and other exclusive features. "Within 5 years every important game will be online," Allard says. "There will be new categories of collaborative and competitive console games that are possible only online. The ability to download new worlds, levels, characters, weapons, vehicles, teams, statistics, and missions will change the way developers think about creating games, and will change the way gamers play them."