11 years after it launched for the original Xbox, Microsoft's Xbox Live now has over 48 million members in 41 countries. Where the Sega Dreamcast and the Sony PlayStation 2 tried (and failed) to fully embrace internet connectivity, the chunky Xbox, Ethernet-equipped as standard, soon set the pace for online play.
Here are just some of the ways that Xbox Live altered the course of console design and changed the face of gaming forever. We start with...
1. Friends Lists and voice chat
Although the Xbox launched in November 2001, it wasn't until November 2002 that Microsoft rolled out Xbox Live with support for games including Unreal Championship and MechAssault. Microsoft was initially lambasted over restricting online connectivity to fledgling broadband services. But it was a gamble that paid off. The core features back then - the Friends List and in-game voice chat - are at the heart of the service that has evolved to become an integral part of the Xbox 360 (2005) and the new Xbox One (2013).
On the original Xbox console, Xbox Live used the Optimatch system to help you manually locate multiplayer matches or to host games. While it was far easier and more user-friendly than identifying games by their IP addresses, it was imbalanced and slow - the host player controlled the game, games quickly filled up and connection speeds were often unpredictable. Halo 2 changed all that. Bungie evolved the matchmaking process over Live with pre-game lobbies, evaluating available games, determining the best connections and automatically joining games that fitted your criteria.
3. A single ID
The Xbox introduced the Gamertag - a user ID for any games played on Xbox Live. Microsoft's insistence that Xbox games should be playable using this single ID avoided a scenario where every software publisher ran their own gaming servers, each with its own UI and matchmaking systems, each requiring its own ID.
4. Gamerscore competition
The launch of the Xbox 360 brought with it enhancements to the Gamertag, specifically the new Gamerscore. While this wasn't an Xbox Live innovation, per se, the combination of Gamerscore, Achievements and Microsoft's online platform suddenly gave game-playing an extra competitive edge. How were your friends doing? How much of Mass Effect had they completed? How high were their Gamerscores and could you beat them? Show us an Xbox 360 owner who claims not to have been sucked into Achievement obsession at some point, and we'll show you a big, fat liar.
5. Firmware updates
Xbox Live gave Microsoft an easy way to reinvent and augment the Xbox 360, deploying firmware updates that added new features to the core Dashboard software. The May 2007 update, for example, added a dedicated Marketplace blade and background downloads; the November 2008 update saw the debut of the Media Center-esque 'New Xbox Experience' UI and the option to install games to the hard drive; while the 2011 download introduced the Windows Phone-inspired Metro interface. Thanks to Xbox Live, today's Xbox 360 is a very different console to the one that launched back in 2005, and we expect the same to happen with Xbox One.
6. Downloadable content (DLC)
While the Sega Dreamcast was arguably the first console to offer downloadable content (DLC), Xbox Live made accessing extra maps, levels, units and game modes for existing games easy and convenient. With the Xbox 360 the idea of DLC has evolved, and Xbox Live now offers demos, videos, music, movies, TV shows, dashboard themes, data updates, software patches, Avatars, Gamertag graphics, Xbox Live Arcade titles and full, on-demand game downloads. Looking to the future, Microsoft even plans to develop its own live-action Halo TV series, produced by Steven Spielberg. It's been a rocky ride to this golden age of DLC, however. Some downloads (Fallout 3: Broken Steel) were great, some (remember Oblivion's Horse Armour?) weren't.
7. Pay to play
Not only did Microsoft manage to get Xbox owners to pay for a yearly Xbox Live subscription, but it also introduced its own currency - Microsoft Points. While the latter has since been jettisoned in favour of real-world cash, Microsoft's triumph is getting console owners to pay for play. While Sony proclaimed that its competing PlayStation Network would be free to use, the introduction of the premium PlayStation Plus subscription acknowledged that Xbox Live had set another standard for online services.
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