Publishers discontent with Xbox Live

Most retailers appear to still have stock of the Live kit, although major online e-tailer Amazon is thought to have sold out and is awaiting a restock, but the universal consensus is that the first weekend on sale has been a success for Xbox Live.

However, Electronic Arts and Eidos have rained on the bonfire by choosing this opportune moment to point out their continuing stance of not developing titles for Xbox Live due to their inability to reach mutually acceptable terms with Microsoft over the conditions of the service.

The loss of Electronic Arts is a major blow to Xbox Live, and has prompted unwanted comparisons with the ill-fated Dreamcast – a system whose miserable commercial failure is often attributed to EA’s decision not to support it. Eidos’ dissention is a rather less painful strike for Microsoft, but it does prove that this isn’t just a solitary decision by EA, and hints that other publishers may also follow suit.

The reasons behind EA’s decision not to support Live haven’t been elaborated upon publicly by the publisher, but it’s safe to say that it all boils down to a matter of control. Microsoft wants to keep as much of the marketing, branding, billing and hosting of Xbox Live under its control as possible; EA, however, wants to be able to change all of these aspects around in order to suit itself.

Microsoft’s argument would be that this would potentially be detrimental to the quality of the Xbox Live service to end users. They’re not wrong, either; sources have indicated to that one of EA’s demands is that they should be allowed to turn off servers for old versions of games as soon as they release new versions. So, for example, your copy of FIFA 2003 would stop working on Xbox Live as soon as FIFA 2004 showed up – a handy way to force punters to upgrade for EA, but not a great reflection on the Xbox Live service as a whole.

None of this is particularly new, however. The fact that EA isn’t going to develop for Live has been known for some time, although the reasons behind it are only gradually coming to light. Why has this story suddenly resurfaced at the crucial point when Microsoft launches Xbox Live into Europe?

Step forward Sony, architects of this little launch spoiler campaign. The Sony PR machine has had little to do over the last year or so other than watch Nintendo and Microsoft savage each other, and they’ve descended on this current battle over online services like a pack of hungry wolves. Quoted in an official Sony release a couple of days ago, EA’s John Riccitiello is effusive in his praise for the PS2 online plans; the same release reaffirmed, in case we’d all forgotten, that PS2 online is by far the biggest console online service in the world.

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