Xbox Live is an online multiplayer gaming and digital media delivery service created and operated by Microsoft. It was first made available to the Xbox in November 2002. An updated version of the service became available for the Xbox 360 at the system's launch in November 2005, and a further enhanced version was released in 2013 with the Xbox One.
The service was extended in 2007 on the Windows platform, 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. With Microsoft's mobile operating system, Windows Phone, full Xbox Live functionality is integrated into new Windows Phones that launched since late 2010. The service shut down for the original Xbox on April 15, 2010, and original Xbox Games are now only playable online through local area network (LAN) tunneling applications such as XLink Ka.
The Xbox Live service is available as both a free and subscription-based service, known as Xbox Live Free and Xbox Live Gold, respectively, with most features such as online gaming restricted to the Gold service.
As Microsoft developed the original Xbox , 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 in 1999, including online support as standard, called SegaNet and Dreamarena. 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 neither widely supported nor 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 initially ship with built-in networking capabilities.
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 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 Ballmer and Bill Gates both had a vision of making premium download content and add-ons that would attract many new customers. 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 it, 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 with a headset 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 testing concluded, Microsoft sent these beta testers a translucent orange memory card, a headset carrying case, and a beta tester T-shirt 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. It 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". In July 2004, Xbox Live had reached 1 million online users and only a year later that figure had doubled to 2 million online users.
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, in an open letter to all Xbox Live members from Mark Whitten, Xbox LIVE General Manager. 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 to both Gold and Free members for the week starting January 23 through January 27 as compensation.
On November 12, 2009, Dennis Durkin, COO of Microsoft's interactive entertainment business, announced that November 10, 2009, the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 marked the busiest day ever on Xbox Live, with over two million active users simultaneously.
On February 5, 2010, Marc Whitten announced that Xbox Live had reached 23 million members. On the same day, Larry Hyrb, Xbox Live's Major Nelson, announced on his blog that Xbox Live support for the original Xbox would be discontinued on April 15, 2010, including online play through backwards compatibility on the Xbox 360 and all downloadable content for original Xbox games.
In August 2010, Microsoft announced an increase to the cost of Xbox Live Gold in several countries by 20%, for the first time since its inception. The basic service was also renamed. Prior to October 2010, the free service was known as Xbox Live Silver.
It was announced on June 10, 2011 that the service was going to be fully integrated into Microsoft's Windows 8.
In October 2011, Microsoft announced live streaming cable television with various providers.
In February 2013, Yusuf Mehdi, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business, shared that Xbox LIVE members now number 46 million, up 15 percent from a year ago, during the Dive into Media conference in Southern California.
In June 2014, Microsoft retracted the Xbox Live Gold requirements to download streaming media apps (including Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Internet Explorer, Skype, and others), though various rental or subscription fees may still apply.
On December 25, 2014, both PlayStation Network and Xbox Live suffered network disruption after a denial-of-service attack. Functionality was restored on December 28, with some users experiencing difficulties in the days that followed. A group called, "The Phantom Squad" has threatened to disrupt the Xbox Live network through a Denial-of-service attack on December 25, 2015
Xbox Live is available as both a free and subscription-based service, known as Xbox Live Gold. Here is a comparison of the free and premium services:
|Feature||Live Free||Live Gold||Additional requirements||Xbox 360||Xbox One|
|Cloud game saves||Yes/No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Games with Gold||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Clubs, Looking for Group
|Video Kinect||No||Yes||Headset (wired or wireless) or Kinect||Yes||No|
|Xbox Live Arcade point results||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|First-party apps and entertainment services|
|Groove Music (Various rental/subscription fees apply)||Yes||Yes||Xbox Music Pass||Yes||Yes|
|Kinect Fun Labs||Yes||Yes||Kinect||Yes||No|
|Microsoft Movies & TV (Various rental/subscription fees apply)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Skype||Yes||Yes||Skype account and Kinect||No||Yes|
|A selection of third-party apps and entertainment services|
|4oD (Available in UK and Ireland only)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|ABC iView (Available in Australia only)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Amazon.com Instant Video Available in U.S. and Canada only) (Various rental/subscription fees apply)||Yes||Yes||Amazon account(s)||Yes||Yes|
|BBC iPlayer (Available in UK and Ireland only)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Crackle (Over 18's only/parental permission required) (Various rental/subscription fees apply)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Canal+ (Available in France only) (Various rental/subscription fees apply)||Yes||Yes||Canal+ subscription||Yes||Yes|
|Crunchyroll (Discontinued from Xbox Live Marketplace) (Various rental/subscription fees apply)||Yes||Yes||Crunchyroll premium membership||Yes||Yes|
|Demand 5 (Available in UK and Ireland only)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|ESPN (Available in U.S. and Canada only) (Various rental/subscription fees apply)||Yes||Yes||WatchESPN affiliated ISP||No||Yes|
|Foxtel Play (Available in Australia only) (Various rental/subscription fees apply)||Yes||Yes||Foxtel On Xbox One subscription||No||Yes|
|Halo Waypoint (Over 18's only/parental permission required)||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Hulu Plus (Available in U.S. and Canada only) (Various rental/subscription fees apply)||Yes||Yes||Hulu Plus subscription||Yes||Yes|
|iHeartRadio (Available in U.S. only)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Live events||Yes||Yes||Requirements vary by event||Yes||Yes|
|Live TV||Yes||Yes||Cable provider subscription and set-top box (Xbox One)||Yes||Yes|
|Miss Teen USA (Available in selected markets)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|MLB.tv (Various rental/subscription fees apply)||Yes||Yes||MLB.tv subscription||Yes||Yes|
|Movistar TV (Available in Spain only) (Various rental/subscription fees apply)||Yes||Yes||Movistar TV subscription||Yes||Yes|
|NFL on Xbox (Available in U.S. only) (Various rental/subscription fees apply)||No||Yes||NFL account and cable provider subscription (Xbox One)||Yes||Yes|
|Netflix (Available in U.S, Canada UK and Ireland only) (Various rental/subscription fees apply)||Yes||Yes||Netflix subscription||Yes||Yes|
|SBS on Demand (Various rental/subscription fees apply) (Available in Australia only)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Sky Go (Available in UK and Ireland only) (Various rental/subscription fees apply)||Yes||Yes||Sky TV and/or pay-per-view subscription||Yes||Yes|
|TELUS Optik TV (Various rental/subscription fees apply) (Available in Canada only)||No||Yes||Optik TV subscription & kit||Yes||No|
|TENplay (Available in Australia only)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Twitch.tv (Over 18's only/parental permission required)||Yes||Yes||Twitch.tv account||Yes||Yes|
|AT&T U-Verse TV (Various rental/subscription fees apply) ( Available in U.S. only)||Yes||Yes||AT&T U-Verse Subscription & Kit||Yes||No|
|Vodafone Casa TV (Various rental/subscription fees apply) (Available in Portugal only)||Yes||Yes||Vodafone Casa TV subscription||Yes||No|
|Xfinity (Various rental/subscription fees apply) (Available in U.S. only)||Yes||Yes||Xfinity Digital Preferred and Xfinity Internet accounts||Yes||No|
|Ultimate Fighting Championship (Various rental/subscription fees apply)||Yes[l]||Yes||Credit card (to purchase fights)||Yes||Yes|
|YouTube (Over 18's only/parental permission required)||Yes||Yes||YouTube account||Yes||Yes|
|WWE Network (Various rental/subscription fees apply)||Yes||Yes||WWE Network subscription||Yes||Yes|
|ZDF (Available in Germany only)||Yes||Yes|
Xbox 360 features
- Virtual avatars representing the user's likeness
- Achievements earned during gameplay
- Gamerscores amounting to the total of a user's Achievement points
- Rep voted by other users preferring or avoiding the user. Rep defaults to five stars over time after the user has been preferred by at least one other user
- Friends list displaying the user's chosen friends of up to 100
- Recent players list displaying the last 50 players the user has met
- Xbox Live Marketplace offering downloadable content for games, music and movies
- Voice and Video chat
- Multiplayer gameplay for up to four players via system link or Xbox Live
- Cross-platform multiplayer with Windows gamers on select games via Games for Windows - Live
- Matchmaking depending on the user's cumulative gamerscore, rep, location, language and gamer zone
- Party system for up to eight users for playing games and watching movies
- Family settings controlling younger users' exposure to other users
- Inside Xbox video newsletter detailing Xbox 360 news, events, products, interviews and games. Content is streamed directly from the Xbox 360 Dashboard
- Netflix video service offering unlimited streaming for thousands of television shows and movies. (requires Netflix Unlimited account)
- Xbox Video marketplace offering streaming of video content instantly in 1080p HD with 5.1 surround sound. (requires Gold membership)
- Halo Waypoint multimedia hub for all Halo-related content
- Game Room virtual arcade space offering a library of classic retro games
- MSN entertainment portal providing the latest news and gossip in the world of celebrities, music and movies
- AT&T U-Verse and Telus Optik TV set-top box functionality
- Windows Phone compatibility allowing users to manage their Xbox Live profiles, send and receive messages, play video games, as well as earn achievements exclusive to Windows Phone titles
- Xbox Music marketplace offering unlimited streaming of music and music videos. (requires Gold membership)
- Avatar Kinect social media service allowing users to interact with one another and create media using their Avatars
- Hulu Plus video streaming service offering commercially supported television and movie content from networks such as NBC, Fox and ABC (US). (Requires Hulu Plus account)
- Kinect Fun Labs development hub allowing users to play, create and share their own Kinect experiences
- Bing search engine allowing users to search for any piece of content on their console
- Internet Explorer allows users to browse the internet using their console on Xbox 360; Microsoft Edge on Xbox One
- Cloud storage allowing users to access their profiles and save data from any console
- iHeartRadio streaming service, which streams over 800 US-based radio stations (requires Gold membership and iHeartRadio account)
- YouTube application allowing for unlimited access to shared video content (requires YouTube account)
- IPTV service offering region-specific television content. (requires Gold membership)
- Epix offering movies-on-television content. (requires Gold membership)
- Dailymotion allowing users to access television and movie content (requires Gold membership and Dailymotion account)
- UFC on Xbox Live allows users to view pay-per-view events in 1080p HD, access a library of live and on-demand video content, connect with friends to predict fight results and have the ability to compare fighter statistics and records
- MLB.tv offering out-of-market Major League Baseball games (requires Gold membership and MLB.tv subscription)
- Live event streaming, including video game announcements, award shows, concerts, sports, beauty pageants and news events (most events require Gold membership and fees)
- Sports Picks allowing users to predict the outcome of sporting events, including UFC, NBA and NHL games, with future support for MLB games and Miss Universe Organization pageants (requires Gold membership)
- Various TV on-demand services which are available to all users (no Gold subscription required), albeit restricted by region. Such services include:
- Australia: ABC iView
- Germany: ZDF Mediathek
- UK: BBC iPlayer
- Various TV on-demand services which require a Gold subscription. Access to these services varies by region and some require a separate subscription to the provider. Such services include:
- Australia: SBS on Demand
- France: Canal+
- UK: Demand 5, 4oD and SkyDrive
- U.S.: Xfinity On Demand
- Canada: Tou.TV
Xbox One Exclusive features
- Ability to record gameplay using the Upload app and Game DVR (requires Gold membership)
- Access to "OneGuide", a customizable electronic program guide that integrates TV content and internet content – such as Hulu Plus – into one screen
- Skype support allows users to video chat and voice chat with each other while playing games and using apps (requires Skype account and Kinect)
- Ability to edit saved gameplay clips in the Upload Studio and upload to OneDrive (requires Gold membership)
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."
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.
In early November 2009 Microsoft banned approximately 1 million consoles with modified firmware from Xbox Live.
In October 2011, users of Xbox Live reported having unauthorized access to their Xbox Live accounts, with Microsoft points subsequently being used and/or bought to purchase various in-game items for FIFA 12. Microsoft responded to such incidents by restricting access to the account for 25 days whilst the fraud team investigates. Both EA and Microsoft have denied that there is a problem with security.
On December 25, 2014, both PlayStation Network and Xbox Live suffered network disruption after a denial-of-service attack. Functionality was restored on December 28, with some users experiencing difficulties in the days that followed.