As broadband grows in popularity, CE resellers such as Harvey Norman, JB Hi Fi or Retrovision face the risk that Microsoft and Sony will start selling games software over the Internet.
In a presentation at E3, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates talked up the Xbox 360’s success while unveiling an extension of the company’s increasingly popular Xbox Live service. “Live Anywhere” will allow gamers to take their tags, stats, and online profiles with them wherever they go online, whether it’s on the Xbox, a PC, or even a Pocket PC or mobile phone. Microsoft is expecting to have over 6 million gamers signed on to Xbox Live by this time next year. When combined with the 25 million “casual gamers” on MSN Messenger and MSN Games, Microsoft believes this represents a huge opportunity.
Gamers will be able to log onto Live Anywhere from their PCs and go head-to-head with Xbox 360 gamers on cross-platform titles. Want some multiplayer Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter action from your PC against an Xbox-owning friend? You’ve got it.
Microsoft is also extending the service to mobile devices. While you won’t be able to play a Halo 3 deathmatch on your mobile phone while riding the bus home from work, you will be able to access your Live Anywhere user data, send messages to friends on your Live friends list, and download “exclusive” mobile gaming content along with favorites such as Bejeweled. The mobile version of Live Anywhere will run on any Java-based, BREW-based, or Windows Mobile phones and Pocket PCs.
In order to get in on all the Live Anywhere action from your PC, you’ll need to be running Vista. That puts the full Live Anywhere experience around eight months out, as Microsoft’s next operating system is on target for a January 2007 release to consumers, despite claims to the contrary. During his presentation, Gates touted Vista as an outstanding gaming platform, talking up the introduction of the DirectX 10 API, the new look of the OS, and what he described as better hardware integration.
All in all, Live Anywhere looks promising. Microsoft was the first of the big three console makers to wholeheartedly embrace online gaming, and it shows. Xbox Live was a rock solid service on the original Xbox, and the experience has only gotten better on the Xbox 360. If Live Anywhere is truly able to bridge the world of online PC, console, and mobile gaming, the service could be a strong selling point for the Xbox 360 even as the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii are launched in the last months of the year.
The reach of Live will continue to grow, as the service will launch in Chile, the Czech Republic, Hungary, India, Poland, Slovakia, and South Africa by year end, with Microsoft expecting to launch Australia by