Microsoft Xbox Live aims to double user base

By Scott Hillis

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp  is looking at ways to overhaul the online gaming and content service for its Xbox 360 console and hopes to double the number of users on the service, an executive said on Wednesday.

Microsoft's Xbox Live service has more than 10 million users, the majority of whom pay $50 a year for the ability to play games against others online.

In addition, users have spent another $250 million to download extra game content, movies and television shows.

Xbox Live has been a key selling point for Microsoft as it battles Sony Corp's PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Co Ltd's Wii consoles for dominance in the fast-growing industry.

But with 5,000 hours of video and more than 100 arcade games available for download, finding better ways to organize and display that content is a priority for Microsoft as it contemplates the future of Xbox Live.

"Once you amass that much content ... navigation and how you interact with that is a challenge. We're certainly looking at that," John Schappert, vice president of Xbox Live, said in an interview.

One example is the "Rock Band" game from Viacom's MTV. The musical game went on sale last November and already has dozens of additional songs available for download. To find a song to buy, a user has to manually scroll through the list.

"We want to take the system to the next level. We want to get to 20 million (users) quicker than we got to 10 million," Schappert said on the sidelines of the Game Developers Conference.

Microsoft launched the Xbox 360 in November 2005, although the Live service dates back to the original Xbox and still retains some of those customers.

Earlier on Wednesday, Schappert used his conference keynote to unveil a new Xbox Live service that will feature independent games, part of a push by Microsoft to broaden the appeal of the system.

"The Community Arcade helps us, and we have some other little tricks up our sleeve that can't just share just yet. We are making big, big investments in Xbox Live," Schappert added.