U.S. airmen to get Xbox Live in Europe

U.S. airmen across the continent can now spend their down-time fragging online enemies.

Microsoft's Xbox Live online gaming service has just acquired a customer that knows something about strategy and tactics--the U.S. Department of Defense.

The U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) have paid US$200,000 to outfit 14 bases around the continent with 17 Xbox Live gaming centers, as a way of giving young airmen in the region something to do in their downtime, according to the official U.S. military publication Stars and Stripes. When off duty, they will be able to hone their military skills with such multiplayer games as Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell.

The airmen will be able to play against those in other European bases or other Xbox Live subscribers around the globe. Commanders are also getting involved in the project, and are considering staging a command-wide death match, according to Stars and Stripes.

The idea for the gaming centers emerged from focus groups conducted by the branch of the USAFE concerned with community activities. Bases received between US$7,500 and US$20,000 for the centers' furniture, equipment and networking costs. Germany's Spangdahlem Air Base hosted the pilot programme, and got its center in April. The Air Force said it chose the Xbox for its superior online gaming capabilities. While Sony has introduced an Internet adapter for its PlayStation2 console and Nintendo launched online capabilities for its GameCube, Microsoft is putting its faith in a far more ambitious plan. Instead of leaving it to game publishers to provide online options, Microsoft is handling all infrastructure needs for Xbox Live. The company has assembled four massive server farms to handle Xbox Live traffic, including a main data centre near company headquarters in Redmond, Washington that employs military-grade security measures. Xbox owners pay US$50 a year or US$6 per month for the online service, which requires a high-speed DSL (digital subscriber line) or cable connection to the Internet. Xbox Live serves as a common portal for online games offered by publishers such as Sega and THQ Interactive.

The service launched last November.

CNET News.com's David Becker contributed to this report.

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