No matter what side you pledge your allegiance to in the never ending console war there is no denying how drastically Xbox Live changed things when it launched all the way back in 2002. While connecting online with consoles had been done plenty of times before with the Genesis, Super Nintendo, and Dreamcast they all failed to launch into the popularity that online gaming has become today. The fact that Microsoft's first console, the Xbox, which had still yet to prove itself in an age where Sony's PlayStation 2 seemed untouchable, had such a revolutionary feature, played a big part in making the Xbox brand what it is today.
Now to really understand how amazing it is that Xbox Live became a success you need to remember that this is late 2002 and broadband internet was 10 times more of a luxury than it is today. Xbox Live had a bit of a slow start with very few games supporting it, but the main selling point was that multiplayer no longer meant having to invite friends over to play with them. Live was not something Microsoft was just going to give over for free and as a result, required users to pay if they wanted to use all of the online features the Xbox offered.
Even though the PS2 also had online just before the release of Xbox Live in North America, one major factor set it above Sony's console and that was the fact that Xbox had a unified account for all games. All you needed to do was sign into Xbox Live and you could play any game that supported online, but Sony let developers on the PS2 set up their own account settings and this lead to needing to remember tons of different user information for all these games. 2005 was the major turning point for Xbox Live as it finally reached the mass appeal Microsoft had always wanted and that was obtained with the release of Halo 2.
The original Halo released in 2002 with no online multiplayer and after quickly becoming THE Xbox game to play on the system, it was obvious the second game would need to have Xbox Live support and boy did it. Halo 2 was reason enough for having an Xbox Live account thanks to how well Bungie supported the game online and its millions of players. Halo 2 was the spark that lit the Xbox community into action and that hasn't slowed down to this day. The next big step with this was with Xbox 360 and the major updates to Xbox Live on the next generation of consoles.
A big part of being the first console out in the next generation for the Xbox 360 was showing that Xbox Live was going to become a much larger and ever evolving service than it was originally introduced as. Introducing the Xbox Live Arcade was were downloadable games on consoles really got their start and the 360 set the bar high by coming out with Geometry Wars which not only still holds up, but is many people's top 360 games after all these years. The 360 would continue to evolve over the years thanks to Xbox Live and that is very clear to see looking at the 2005 Blades menu compared to the Windows styled look it has become recently.
Xbox Live has also had a very heavy focus on being an all in one service provider with more than just games. Xbox Live was the first place consoles could stream Netflix, HBO Go, and offering tons of other services for people to use all over the world in one connected system. Now not every service that has come to Live has been a hit and some have eventually faded into obscurity. The two big ones people always seem to forget was Xbox Live having its own version of 1 Vs 100 and Game Room. 1 Vs 100 was a great idea to have a gameshow played by real players on a scheduled time like a real show with real prizes to be won, but it failed to lasted more than a few seasons. Game Room was Xbox's attempt at tapping into the classic games market similar to PS One classics or the Virtual Console. Games from the early Atari 2600 and Intellivision era were available to play, but the updates were infrequent from the get go and saw the service shut down after less than a whole 12 months of support.
Now moving into the new generation of gaming, Xbox Live wants to become even more of a content provider than ever before on the Xbox One. Microsoft is taking a be gamble on Live TV being integrated into Xbox Live finally, making the Xbox One the only thing you will need to turn on when you get on. We will just have to wait and see if there really that many people who want to hook up their TV through Xbox Live and it is hard to deny people wanting this on demand as opposed to live TV. Still with such programs like news and sports, especially with their exclusive NFL deal for Xbox Live, will appeal to some. Now while you can watch TV at a moment's notice and check your local listings, it is important to note that it will not be able to watch recorded shows at launch.
Along with TV, Xbox Live is following in the footsteps of Sony with a focus on sharing gameplay footage using SkyDrive and promises to let players live stream directly from their consoles on twitch, but not right at launch. The current focus is on SkyDrive which will have you sending clips of you playing games and or using Kinect to also record yourself to your PC. There will even be different types of editing tools to use in the Xbox One if you don't have to tools online, think Windows Movie Maker on Xbox Live. Also for good measure Microsoft is finally integrating Skype with full Kinect voice support along with the rest of the rest of the features on the system.
It is clear to see that Microsoft has defined what an online service should look like and that is very apparent when you see how Sony has followed in their footsteps since the PSN was introduced. Now the direction Xbox Live has gone in over the past few years focusing on media and not just game's may have divided the people who use the service, but Microsoft seems to want to straddle the line and cater to both markets this new generation of consoles.