Microsoft will launch Xbox Live, its Xbox-based online gaming service, on November 15, the company says. The late 2002 release date corresponds with plans announced last year when Microsoft launched its Xbox, a powerful video-game console whose sales have lagged behind competition from Sony and Nintendo. Xbox Live will use broadband Internet connections to let gamers join other players on the Internet and match their skills. Unlike other video-game systems, the Xbox includes the hardware required to make an Internet connection. However, Microsoft will require customers to purchase a $50 starter kit, which includes the necessary connection software, a 12-month subscription to the service, and a headset microphone for voice discussions with other players.

To support the service, Microsoft has built an underlying network of game servers and supporting infrastructure, which the company will begin testing externally later this month. Microsoft says that 10,000 Xbox gamers will participate in the Xbox Live beta program, although the service can support many more users.

Microsoft's biggest challenge with the new service is getting the Xbox's most popular games on board. For example, Electronic Arts (EA), makers of popular sports-games titles, has yet to commit to the service, and Microsoft says that only six games will be available for Xbox Live on November 15, including NFL Fever 2003 and Unreal Championship. The company says that up to 10 more Xbox Live-compatible titles will ship by the end of the year, with about 50 more arriving in 2003.

In related news, in late August Sony will begin selling some new multiplayer games and a $40 adapter for the market-leading PlayStation 2 console. The adapter will let players use modem or broadband connections to interact with other players. And later this year, Nintendo is releasing a similar $35 adapter for its GameCube device.