Earlier this month, the ten year anniversary of the day that the original Xbox Live went dark came and went. The service that enabled online multiplayer on Microsoft's first console hasn't been usable since, but it seems 2020 could see its resuscitation. Insignia, a recently revealed fan project, hopes to restore online multiplayer service for original Xbox consoles later this year.
Speaking with Kotaku, Luke Usher—Insignia's creator and lead developer on a separate PC emulator for the original Xbox—says the goal is to have the service in private beta testing soon with a wider release coming this fall. The idea is to have Xbox Live more-or-less as you remember it, minus DLC distribution and any games that also relied on third-party servers, like Phantasy Star Online (at least until those can be reverse-engineered separately). Apart from that, you'd have online multiplayer, chat, and friends lists all running on Xbox consoles without needing to permanently modify the hardware.
Insignia is being shown now, Usher says, in part because its developers had heard rumors of an Xbox source code leak. Yesterday, only one day after Insignia's reveal, The Verge reported that genuine leaks of Xbox and Windows NT 3.5 source code did in fact surface online. Microsoft says it has been made aware and is investigating the leaks.
Both for Insignia and Usher's CXBX Reloaded emulator, the official source code is off-limits, and Usher tells Kotaku that he has not used any leaked material—showing the months of work now, he hopes, will help protect the project from legal trouble were Microsoft to think it relied on official code if revealed later. Short of obtaining an actual license from Microsoft, a "clean room" reverse engineering approach is the only way a project like this can go forward while protected from serious risk of a copyright lawsuit.
Having a functional, above-board way to play original Xbox multiplayer online, on authentic unmodded hardware, would be a huge win for preservationists and regular old fans of classic Xbox titles. When Microsoft shut down Xbox Live back in 2010, the last official day of service was on April 15. The service actually wasn't done until May 10, when the last of a dedicated group of Halo 2 players finally disconnected. With that kind of dedication fueling the original Live's farewell, surely a revival would get plenty of people to dig out those boxes and dust off their Dukes.
For more information on the project, head over to Usher's announcement on Reddit, where you can also find a link to the new Insignia Discord server.