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Next week is the big E3 video-game convention, and Microsoft’s Xbox team this morning kicked off the competitive jockeying by releasing a new slate of statistics to demonstrate the momentum behind its Xbox 360 console and Xbox Live online service. Xbox Live now has nearly 35 million active members, the company says, and the Xbox 360 has reached cumulative sales of 55 million units.

It’s a matter of pride for Microsoft, and not just about video games.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt made headlines earlier this week by dismissing Microsoft’s role as a provider of consumer technology platforms, saying that the Xbox business doesn’t count because it’s not a platform at the “computational level,” as he put it. But Microsoft sees the Xbox business as proof that it can stay relevant in the consumer world, particularly as the Xbox continues to expand into new areas of digital entertainment.

The nearly 35 million Xbox Live members cited by the company today represent an increase of 40 percent from the approximately 25 million members reported by the company a year ago.

Microsoft didn’t break the figure down into Silver (free memberships) and Gold (paid subscriptions). The company also didn’t say if it has seen a boost in Xbox Live members as a result of the extended outage of the PlayStation Network following the high-profile online attack against the Sony property.

In console hardware sales, Microsoft said it believes the Xbox 360 has “changed the tail” of the typical hardware lifecycle with big gains in sales in the fifth and sixth years of its life.

The company released the chart below to illustrate its point, showing how the Xbox 360 is rising at a time when consoles typically start to decline. A big part of the new momentum can be traced to the release of the Kinect motion controller for Xbox 360 last fall.

Keep in mind that the numbers above are U.S.-only. And with more than 85 million Wiis sold worldwide, Nintendo is still the king of the current console generation on a cumulative basis.

That said, Microsoft’s Xbox 360  has been fending off the PlayStation 3 and gaining on the Wii on the worldwide level — posting sales of 2.7 million units in the most recent quarter, for example, compared with Sony’s sales of 2.1 million PS3s, and Nintendo’s sales of 1.4 million Wiis (PDF).

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