XBox Live set for Asian debut

Microsoft has chosen Australia to be the regional launchpad for its XBox Live gaming service in October, but plans for other parts of Asia remain uncertain.

Microsoft has chosen Australia to be the regional launchpad for its XBox Live gaming service in October, but plans for other parts of Asia remain uncertain.

Australian Internet Service Providers have started testing to see if their services can interoperate with XBox Live servers located in the U.S., said Alan Bowman, XBox Australia's regional director.

In addition, the software giant is hoping to lure hundreds of users to test the service a month before the October retail launch.

The Redmond, Wash.-based company is currently trying to grow a loyal subscriber base for its online gaming offering. Microsoft has priced its XBox Live starter kit at just under AU$100 (US$59) and each kit will include 12 months of free access.

The XBox Live service is targeted at all DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) users, said Bowman, adding that no one service provider will receive "preferred" status.

"XBox Live will be a core driver of broadband take-up in Australia--it's a machine that's been built from the ground up with broadband in mind," he said.

However, questions remain as to whether the online gaming service will indeed help drive sales of Microsoft's XBox game console. The company claims it has signed up 350,000 U.S. subscribers for XBox Live since its launch in November last year.

While the firm is still lagging behind Sony in the console market, analysts say Microsoft is taking a long-term view with its online gaming gamble.

"I don't think it's going to be one of those features that get people to run out and buy the Xbox. Microsoft sees it as an investment. They really feel that if they build the infrastructure now, it's going to serve them well in the future," said Schelley Olhava, IDC's analyst for the gaming market.

Microsoft has lost already US$350 million globally in trying to crack Sony Playstation's domination of the gaming market and Bowman conceded today the company still has some catching up to do.

"Clearly we're number two and that's a great position to be in today in a market where the incumbent is firmly entrenched," he said.

Microsoft could not be reached for comments on plans for other countries in Asia-Pacific.