Anyone receiving Xbox Live for Christmas could have an unhappy new year if the Australian experience is anything to go by.
Xbox Live, launched in time for the pre-Christmas shopping rush, allows users of Microsoft's Xbox gaming console to play against other users online.
However the Australian experience is that broadband traffic charges will limit demand for the service.
Xbox Live requires at least a 256Kbit/s service - Telecom's new JetStream Home service is aimed at just such a user, however Telecom's billing regime charges users for both upload and download traffic.
In Australia gamers have discovered this can be a costly business. According to posters to Telstra's BigPond gamer forum, traffic downloaded during games range from 7MB per hour for the simplest games, such as MotoGP, while the more popular first person shooters (FPS) like Return to Castle Wolfenstein (RTCW) have been clocked at up to 21MB per hour.
One Sydney user, who has been playing for up to six months, says uploading to multiple users can churn through traffic at a great rate of knots.
"When I host 16 player RTCW on my Telstra uncapped cable I consume about 90MB download and 210MB upload per hour (thats 300MB/hour in total)."
On Telecom's basic JetStream Home package, with a traffic cap of 500MB, the user would end up paying excess charges before the second hour was over. From there on, Telecom charges 20 cents per megabyte even for domestic traffic.
However, that's only the download side of the game - uploading uses traffic as well. Xbox Live in New Zealand is run as a peer-to-peer (P2P) network. That means one player will host a game, and others will log on to play. The host player will be uploading traffic to the other players during the course of the game.
If a game has 10 players that means the upload traffic is increased tenfold, for example. A game with 10 players, each using 10MB an hour of uploaded traffic will cost the host player 100MB an hour, plus their own traffic usage. This would reduce their playing time from 23 hours a month to less than five hours a month.
Xbox Live also includes a headset so players can talk to each other during the game. This voice service will also use traffic, although players are less sure how much this will cost.
Telstra has recently dropped its traffic caps in Australia, relying instead on a soft cap at 10GB of traffic a month, followed by a reduction in the speed of the user's connection. In response, Optus, the number two telco in Australia, has introduced new caps for its cable service ahead of a complete revamp of the service next year. The new plans include an increase in traffic levels from 550MB per month to 3GB per month.
PC gamers can play without incurring traffic charges at all. Telecom introduced its JetStream Games realm several years ago and players who log on to servers within the realm aren't charged for traffic. No such facility is available for Xbox players.
Microsoft did not return Computerworld Online calls.