Xbox Live is an online multiplayer gaming service owned and operated by Microsoft. It first came out on Microsoft's Xbox in 2002. Since then it has become available on the Xbox 360 (since its launch in 2005). A variant of the service is available on Windows computers, only it is entitled Games for Windows - Live. Currently the service is available in 26 different countries around the world. It is also the only gaming service on consoles that is pay to play. While there is a free Silver membership, it has limited features. The premium gold membership retails for $50 for a one year subscription.
Multiplayer gameplay is the main feature of Xbox Live. This is where a user can link up 4 Xbox's to play together (known as system link), or connect online (Online requires Xbox Live Gold). What makes Xbox Live so interesting is Microsoft's enhanced matchmaking system. This system connects players using cumulative gamerscore, reputation, location/language profile, and gamer zone. One of the best ways of matching players is use of the TrueSkill ranking system, which was created to fix some of the problems in the Elo ranking system.
Xbox Live also doubles as a digital media delivering service, allowing users to download videos, demos, extra video game content and more. The Xbox Live Arcade system allows users to download video games, generally 2-D puzzle, or casual games. These games are priced using the Xbox Live currency Marketplace Points. Each game costs ranges in cost from 400 to 1600 Marketplace Points, or $5 to $20.
The Video Marketplace allows users to download t.v. shows as well as rent movies, all for a certain number of marketplace points. Since November 2008, members that have an Xbox Live Gold membership are able to stream movies and t.v. shows live form Netflix, given that they also have a Netflix membership.
Through the use of Windows Live Messenger, Xbox Live, PCs and Windows Mobile devices are able to connect and directly message each other. In September 2007 Microsoft launched its Xbox 360 Messenger Kit which was a small QWERTY keypad that connects directly into the Xbox 360 controller.
Voice chat is available to up to 6 users if they are in a party. This means that one party member can be listening to music while another three are in separate games and another can be watching a movie, but all of them can be talking to each other. There is also a video chat system if users have an Xbox Live Vision Cam.
Mottos, a 21 character phrase, are displayed on gamer profiles. A bio section is also included, in which one can list personal interests, URLs, etc.
Game achievements, which are earned by doing various objectives in games. Also each gamercards display Gamerscores, which are a total of a player's achievement points.
A Reputation rating which is voted on by other players who decide to either prefer or avoid another player. The reputation defaults to 100% (Five stars) over time after one player has preferred you.
A friends list which can hold up to 100 friends. As well as a recent player list, which lists the last 50 players a user has played with