Microsoft Lights `Xbox Live' Service

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As promised, Microsoft Corp. put its "Xbox Live" online gaming service in play Friday, offering the service exclusively to users with broadband connections.

In contrast to gaming rival Sony Corp.'s "PlayStation 2," which offers a broadband or narrowband connection and lets the user find and play games, Microsoft is creating and managing the distribution network for its broadband-only games, powered by Microsoft servers.

Xbox players must buy a $49.99 starter kit at retail outlets to link into the service. The kit includes a one-year subscription to Xbox Live, a "Communicator" headset allowing users to talk to each other in multiplayer contests and online trial versions of THQ Inc.'s "MotoGP" and Microsoft Game Studios' "Whacked."

All Xbox units come with a built-in hard drive and Ethernet port to link to a digital subscriber line or cable modem.

So far, there are nine Xbox Live-enabled games available, with plans to raise the count to 14 by the end of the year.

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