Game Over for Original Xbox Online

Microsoft is finally withdrawing the Xbox LIVE online gaming service for owners of the original Xbox (ie, not the 360). The move will also mean the withdrawal of online play for Xbox titles played through the Xbox 360.

The firm isn’t giving too much detail about the reasons for the change, but says it’s related to forthcoming improvements to the Xbox 360 service which will be incompatible with the way original Xbox games are handled online.

The best guess would be that Xbox LIVE is being redesigned to add support to the motion control features of Project Natal. It’s also possible that some of the structures put in place at the initial launch of the service are simply inadequate in the 360 era: for example, the limit of 100 people on the online friends list may now be raised.

The service will be withdrawn from April 15. However, customers who only use the original Xbox will have their auto-renewals switched off immediately. Those affected by the changes should be getting messages through their LIVE account or e-mail in the next few weeks.

The strongest reaction to the news appears to be from dedicated fans of Halo 2, the best selling game on the original console and at one point the most popular online Xbox game for nearly two years. Speculation at the moment points to it being added to the Arcade section of Xbox Live or even being re-released for the Xbox360.

The news won’t be particularly welcome for people who’ve recently downloaded original Xbox games to their 360 with the intention of playing them online.

Whether the change is fair or reasonable is certainly open to argument. Owners of the original console may feel aggrieved at the move, particularly given that rival Sony still supports the 10-year-old PS2. Defenders of Microsoft would note that ditching some form of support for older products to concentrate on the latest systems is a well-established part of its business strategy.

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