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Microsoft hands out free consoles to its most dedicated users

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10th anniversary Xbox 360 (Credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft is sending out some early holiday gifts to long-time Xbox Live users.

With the 10th anniversary of the online service upon us, the console maker has been sending some of its oldest subscribers a special present: A brand new, limited-edition Xbox 360.

Xbox Live programming director Larry "Major Nelson" Hryb broke the news Tuesday, announcing on Twitter, "I can confirm we're surprising some of the #Xbox LIVE members that have been with us the longest with one of these."

The system, which isn't sold in stores, features an Xbox Live logo, accompanied by the phrase "a decade of entertainment." It also comes with a custom controller. Exactly how many people will be getting the systems is something of a mystery — though it seems unlikely Microsoft will send units to everyone who was a member that first year.

The systems started to roll out two days ago, with a Kotaku reader sending in early pictures of his haul.

Xbox Live was officially launched on Nov. 15, 2002, with the release of Unreal Championship, though beta testers for the service started playing a few months before that.

People who were part of that trial received a few special treats at the time, too, including a copy of the game Revolt (which was never commercially released) and NFL Fever, Microsoft's short-lived in-house NFL game. They also received a personalized headset and a beta-tester T-shirt reading "I've got good hands."

These days, Xbox Live is an integral part of the Xbox 360 experience. Blockbusters like Halo and Call of Duty owe a good deal of their success to the service, with its matchmaking and online gaming capabilities. It's also been a boon for smaller developers courtesy the popular Xbox Live Arcade section.

As of last year, the total number of subscribers had hit 35 million, but it's likely increased since then. They're an active bunch, too. As of 8pm ET last night, some 800,000 of them were playing the online segments of Call of Duty: Black Ops II.

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