Microsoft Outlines Xbox Live Changes

With the forthcoming launch of the Xbox 360, Microsoft's online gaming service Xbox Live is taking center stage. The next-gen console will come with a free basic, or Silver, subscription to Microsoft's online community, but the company has also announced offerings for those who want multiplayer features.

Silver Xbox Live users can create their own gamertag and personalized profile, along with sending text and voice messages to other players. In addition, Silver members receive access to the Marketplace where they can purchase game add-ons such as weapons, new levels, and additional characters.

But the free Silver subscription does not include Xbox Live's primary functionality: multiplayer online gaming. To take advantage of such functionality Xbox 360 users must purchase an Xbox Live Gold membership, which will be available at retail outlets and via the Xbox Dashboard.

Xbox Live Gold users also receive enhanced matchmaking, feedback tools and what Microsoft calls "exclusive privileges." A Premium Gold Pack, complete with Xbox 360 headset, will be sold in 3-month and 12-month options.

Three months of Xbox Live Gold runs $39.99 USD and includes 100 points for buying goods in the Xbox Marketplace. An annual subscription is priced at $69.99 USD and includes 200 Marketplace points. These prices are the same as the current Xbox Live offering.

"With a choice of service level and multiple offerings, gamers everywhere will get the most out of their games by experiencing breakthrough features on the most innovative video-game and entertainment system to date," said Peter Moore, corporate vice president of Worldwide Marketing and Publishing for the Home Entertainment Division at Microsoft.

The Xbox 360 is expected to debut toward the end of November, with the day after Thanksgiving -- known as Black Friday among avid shoppers -- a likely launch date. The console will run $299.99 USD without hard drive and peripherals, with a premium model priced at $399.99 USD.

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