US airmen get Xbox Live in Europe

Airmen across the continent can now spend their down-time fragging online enemies
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

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

The US Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) have paid $200,000 (£126,000) to outfit 14 bases around the continent with 17 Xbox Live gaming centres, as a way of giving young airmen in the region something to do in their downtime, according to the official US 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 centres emerged from focus groups conducted by the branch of the USAFE concerned with community activities. Bases received between $7,500 and $20,000 for the centres' furniture, equipment and networking costs. Germany's Spangdahlem Air Base hosted the pilot programme, and got its centre 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 $50 a year or $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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