The online multiplayer service officially launched on November 15, 2002, meaning Tuesday marked 20 years since its inception.
Xbox Live was first introduced on the original Xbox, exactly one year after it launched.
It was the main reason why the original Xbox included a broadband port, a decision that was derided by critics at the time due to relatively low broadband adoption at that time.
However, the decision to make Xbox Live a broadband service – rather than the dial-up service previously seen on the Sega Dreamcast – was an attempt to not only make online play more stable and less prone to lag, but also to enable larger downloads.
This would allow players to more easily obtain DLC in their games, something that was possible on Dreamcast but limited to small file sizes given its slow 56k modem speeds.
The reliance on broadband and the Xbox’s position as a market newcomer meant Xbox Live started off fairly slowly. The service would reach 1 million online users in July 2004, roughly a year and a half after it launched, though this would reach 2 million just one year later.
The service grew rapidly in November 2005, when the Xbox 360 launched. This included Xbox Live integration built in, with players able to register for a free Xbox Live Silver account (which gave access to the on-console store) or pay for an Xbox Live Gold account (which enabled online play).
By the time Xbox Live reached its 5th anniversary it had reached over 8 million subscribers, and in an earnings call in January 2021 Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella revealed that Xbox Live had reached over 100 million monthly active users.
These days, Xbox Live Gold is still available as a separate subsription, or as part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which combines Xbox Live Gold, Xbox Game Pass for console and PC, EA Play and cloud streaming.