Xbox 360 owners in Europe will pay 59.99 Euro (GBP 39.99) per year for a Gold Xbox Live membership, Microsoft has announced, and the company has also done away with the need to input credit card details to access the service - a move that's likely to meet with a positive response.
UK subscriptions to the actual online gaming part of Xbox 360's online service, Xbox Live Gold, will be available to buy from retailers for cash. As well as online multiplayer gaming, matchmaking and feedback tools, the Gold sub opens up "exclusive privileges and rewards on Xbox Live Marketplace" - possibly an allusion to Marketplace points, the anticipated currency for premium content.
Concerns about the safety of credit-card-free online subscriptions are likely to be nullified by the presence of parental controls, which can be used to prevent youngsters from engaging in certain activities both online and off. In other words if parents choose not to allow it, their children won't be able to go online - even if they buy the Live pack behind their backs.
Those happy to pay by credit card will be able to do as they used to do and subscribe via the Xbox 360 dashboard for periods of one month (6.99 Euro, GBP 4.99), three months (19.99 Euro, GBP 14.99) or 12 months (59.99 Euro, GBP 39.99). Anybody with an existing Xbox Live subscription from the first-generation Xbox will be able to migrate it to the new system as a Gold membership when they first start it up for no extra cost.
As promised, no payment will be necessary to access Xbox Live Silver, whether you own the high-end or low-end Xbox 360 hardware package - players will just need a broadband connection and a memory unit or hard disk. With Silver, it's possible to create a gamertag and personalised profile, send and receive voice and text messages using the Xbox Live headset - sold separately - download trailers, demos, new levels and other extra game content from Xbox Live Marketplace, and purchase games through the retro/indie-oriented Xbox Live Arcade area.
Overall, the European pricing structure for Live on the Xbox 360 is largely as expected - more expensive than comparable services in North America, confirmed last week, but on a similar scale. That said, Microsoft hasn't announced any premium packs as it did in the USA - those packs included all the Gold features as well as a headset and a free Xbox Live Arcade game - and says that at present, no such packs are planned.
Xbox 360 will launch worldwide in late 2005 - with most observers pointing to a late November launch, likely to be confirmed in the next few weeks. It will be available in two packages. The lower-priced, GBP 209.99 version, will offer access to Xbox Live Silver, but players will have to purchase an Xbox Live headset separately to engage in voice chat. The GBP 279.99 version will include a hard disk, headset, and a month's free access to Xbox Live Gold.
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