"Part sci-fi, part nostalgia, this box would unite people from around the world and provide a platform for entertainment that would drive the future. In young computer scientist J Allard's dream, this box would change the world."
Xbox LIVE is the online service for Xbox 360. With a paid gold membership, people can play games and chat with other players, download games to their console, control avatars in a virtual world, search for entertainment, and watch movies and TV. At signup, users choose a gamertag by which they'll be known on Xbox live and an avatar, a computer animated figure to be their virtual self. The birth of Xbox Live was a near perfect intersection of technology, opportunity and passion. These men and women brought to life a vision from science fiction. They did it against difficult odds and the objections of their contemporaries. They did it by striving to do something that hadn't been done — and that many believed couldn't be done. And many of them are still at Microsoft to this day, working on whatever wonder will come next.
By November of 2004, Halo 2 was as ready as it was going to be. The game was printed and shipped, and everyone at the Millennium Campus held their breath to see what would happen. The Xbox team knew it would be the first major test of the stability of Xbox Live. No other game on the console had the buzz of Halo 2.
Manning and Hasselbeck, separated by a continent and each surrounded by film crews, are playing Microsoft's NFL Fever 2002. They are online, playing against each other on a game console over broadband internet. And they are trash talking. By the spring of 2002 Live was ready to road test. The box had shipped the previous holiday season, and the Xbox team had begun sending out Live beta kits, at first to Microsoft employees, then wider. Around a thousand of the kits went out in the first batch, some to far corners of the globe. Everywhere daylight shone on the Microsoft flag. Each kit came with a headset and a game.
The meetings wound on for months, well past the Xbox Live launch. Finally, over the winter of 2002-03, the ice began to break. Xbox Live was growing and thriving. The Wall St. Journal wrote about it. It was working. But it didn't have EA. Meanwhile, EA was struggling to find traction with its own online service on the PlayStation 2, which didn't have the seamless architecture of Xbox Live. And didn't have broadband internet, which, bolstered by Xbox Live, had grown. Just as Allard predictedIn July of 2004, EA released the first title enabled for Xbox Live, NCAA Football 2005. Madden and other titles would soon follow. EA was officially on Live. J Allard would ultimately call this chapter in Xbox Live's history "a speed bump."
By the time Halo 2 finally completed in 2004, Bungie had worked on the game for at least three years and worked overtime, or "crunched" for a third of that. Demand was outrageous. They planned for an exponential increase in users the very second the game became available. Once the game was available and players started streaming on, there were no emergencies. The system worked perfectly. And so everyone turned their attention to numbers. How many players were online? How big was Halo 2 going to be? The previous record for concurrent players on Xbox Live was just over 40,000. In less than 24 hours, Halo 2 had quadrupled it. After years of struggle, jealousy and curses, Live's numbers had reached the tipping point. With so many active subscribers, it was inevitable the service would grow. Xbox Live had reached critical mass.
From the launch of Halo 2, the history of Xbox Live is written in the present. In November of 2013, Microsoft will begin selling its third Xbox console. Live is so much a part of the device that it's hardly ever mentioned. It's merely assumed to be there. Xbox Live itself has been revamped and improved over the years. New features have rolled out alongside new games that demanded them. Much of the original hardware and software architecture has been replaced times over. What started under a handful of desks managed by a half a dozen engineers has expanded over the years to become one of the preeminent online services in the world. In 2000, Xbox Live launched with 300 servers. In November of 2013, the modern version of Live will support Xbox One consoles with more than 300,000 servers.