Despite the fact that Xbox Live has yet to officially arrive in mainland China, Microsoft has set up a stripped-down promotional page for the service to tease the upcoming launch of Windows 8, as noted by Joystiq.
China is not currently listed as an available country for Xbox Live. Microsoft does operate the service in Taiwan and Hong Kong, but their respective sites use traditional Chinese characters instead of the simplified style used in mainland China.
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Update: A Microsoft spokesperson has responded with the following statement: “The Xbox LIVE community is growing and becoming more diverse every day, with nearly 40 million active members worldwide. That said, we have made no announcements about launching either the Xbox LIVE service or the sale of Xbox 360 consoles in any new countries. Beyond that we have no further comment.”
Microsoft does advertise on the Chinese Xbox Live promo site that users can join the service for free, but clicking through the links takes one to a US sign-up page, though it’s possible to switch back to a Chinese login process by manually adjusting the URL.
The usefulness of Xbox Live in China is complicated by the fact that the Xbox, as well as any other dedicated gaming console, is not officially legal in the country. Considering that Microsoft is building out its Xbox Live service to also work with its Windows Phone and Windows 8 devices, it will eventually need to launch the service in China if it wants to put its best foot forward in the market.
The timing of an Xbox Live entry into China remains uncertain, but this fall will bring big bets from Microsoft in both software and hardware, and integration of its gaming and media service could help sway Chinese consumers. Close partner Nokia has stored up plenty of brand cachet in the country that could help spur Windows Phone 8 device sales there, while the upcoming Surface is a bold new product that could appeal to China’s growing middle class. Finally, rising legitimate software sales in the country could help line Microsoft’s wallet.
Admittedly, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer did tell Chinese students in May that intellectual property protection in their home country is “still weak”, but he also said he’s “super excited” about the potential. Weak intellectual property or not, it would be foolish for a company the size of Microsoft to ignore the country with both the largest PC and phone market, especially when it is attempting to stage a smartphone comeback against Apple and Google.
Xbox Live has increasingly become the central hub for Microsoft’s media, and even social, efforts. Last week, the company rolled out an election center for Xbox Live that combines content from YouGov, NBC, Rock the Vote and others. Just yesterday, Google updated its YouTube Xbox Live app to optimize its speed and add official music videos. Xbox owners in the UK can also now access BSkyB’s Now TV pay-per-view service.
For Windows 8, Microsoft has baked into the operating system cross-device gaming that will let players pause and resume games when switching from PCs, tablets, or Windows Phones. Presumably, that feature will require an Xbox Live login for syncing.
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