How Xbox Live Works

Live Technology

"Sea of Thieves"
"Sea of Thieves" is another Xbox game. Microsoft

An Xbox connects to the Xbox Live network over an established connection to the internet. All Xbox models have a built-in ethernet port for a wired network connection. For a wireless alternative, early Xbox 360 models required the addition of a wireless network adapter. Newer Xbox consoles have built-in Wi-Fi adapters with no need to purchase extra equipment. Before you try connecting to Xbox Live, check its settings to make sure your Xbox is connected to the internet.

Most Xbox Live content is routed through Microsoft's Xbox Live servers. For the Xbox Live launch in 2002, Microsoft installed massive arrays of servers in four locations in the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom. At that time, analysts estimated that the network costs alone would be $500 million, a quarter of the investment Microsoft reportedly spent to launch its first Xbox console [source: Becker].


The Xbox Live servers boast multiple levels of security. Microsoft controls the entire system from Xbox Live headquarters in Redmond, Washington. Following the 2011 security breach of Sony's PlayStation Network (PSN), including reports that users' personal information had been compromised, Xbox Live also came under the microscope. In late 2014, Xbox Live was the subject of a denial-of-service attack that tied up service for about a day. Microsoft launched a "bug bounty" program for Xbox Live in January 2020 that pays rewards for hackers who discover previously unknown vulnerabilities within the network [source: Murdock].

There are a few exceptions to exclusive content hosting on Xbox Live. Longtime gaming industry leader Electronic Arts (EA) originally wouldn't produce Live Enabled games for Xbox because Microsoft wouldn't allow them to use their own servers. In 2004, Microsoft struck a deal with EA, and now EA produces Live Enabled games for the Xbox. Some of those games make use of EA's own system of user accounts, such as those available for EA Sports Active players. Each Xbox Live Gamertag can be associated with an account, and linking the two is irreversible [source: Electronic Arts].

With the increasing number of online games has come an increasing interest in user-generated content. Microsoft opened the Xbox to the independent game developer community in 2008. In addition, it opened the Xbox Live Marketplace so those developers could make their games, add-ons and other software available for download across the entire Xbox Live network. Microsoft screens each Marketplace contribution in advance to be sure it is secure and meets community standards.

Now that we've looked at the tech behind the Live show, let's examine some of the challenges for Xbox and its users.