Microsoft hopes to achieve one million paid Xbox Live subscribers by June 2004, having seen more than a million game sessions per day for a whole week over the Christmas period.
Speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Chief Xbox Officer Robbie Bach underlined the achievement. "We have built the largest paid content service in the world. We have as of last June over 500,000 subscribers. We think we'll have a million paid subs by next June," he told attendees.
But while Microsoft's service continues to win plaudits amongst broadband-enabled gamers here in Europe, and boasts an enormous installed base in the USA, PS2 Online continues to do well despite a line-up of relatively poor titles.
In 2004, Xbox Live will have to continue on the path laid down by the likes of Project Gotham Racing 2, Top Spin and Links 2004, and turn their Live successors into major retail prospects rather than cult attractions, all the while fending off a PS2 Online effort from the likes of This Is Football 2004 and SOCOM II. However, from what Bach said at CES, it seems that MS is well on the case, and hopes to do far more than merely bolster subscription figures.
"The essence of what's happening here is that we are finding a new way for people to have social experiences," he commented. "We're blazing new trails. The business model is new. The concept model is new. The genres of content are new. This is all green field."
To a certain extent he's right. Live's attraction for many people is being able to play less traditional online games with virtually no lag and with flawless headset communications - and games like PGR2 have already proved that quality stands to win out over the sheer novelty of it.
But Microsoft's goal is not simply to find new Gothams. It wants to attract gamers from all walks of life - and aims to draw on its experience with Zone.com. "On our PC online site the Zone.com, which is a free site, 65 per cent of people playing games are women," Bach told his CES audience. "That's not true with Xbox Live today. But five years from now, I hope the audience on Xbox Live has that kind of breadth and that we can reach out to a very broad audience: Cater to the core gamers, but bring new genres and new capabilities to Live that builds the kind of community we think represents a broader population."