On this day, ten years ago, Microsoft launched its first foray into the home console market with the original Xbox. It was an announcement full of bravado and frat-house bullishness that many saw as ridiculous. What did Microsoft know about consoles? They made Windows, which was always crashing, and Office, which was boring business software. Games consoles should be left to the Japanese companies.[drop2]But Microsoft has changed the world of home consoles. The launch line up included Dead or Alive 3, Tony Hawks Pro Skater 2X, Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee and, of course, Halo: Combat Evolved. That franchise, also celebrating its tenth year today, epitomises the Xbox brand.
After an inconclusive first year (The EU and Japanese launches came later, in 2002), with a substantial early price drop, the Xbox’s killer app launched in the shape of Live. The system-wide online gaming capability changed the shape of home consoles forever and still serves as the industry’s leading online service for consoles, at least in terms of functionality.
Although it had a relatively short life, being discontinued in 2008 (earlier in the EU and Japan), 24 million sales worldwide was enough to make the decision makers at Microsoft take notice. The Xbox 360 got a green light and is now the big buzz product at Microsoft, leading the way for company-wide development with projects like Natal (later Kinect).
Love them or loathe them, there’s no doubt that Microsoft has had a massive impact on the world of home consoles. The continued gradual “westernisation” of gaming and the popularity of online play can be largely propped at their door. The notion that gaming was now for the jocks as well as the nerds, however erroneous, can be traced back to the original Xbox and its high fiving press conferences. The Xbox took a big leap forwards in making consoles cool for the mainstream.
Perhaps the biggest indication of the Xbox’s impact is that only ten years since its US release, it’s impossible to imagine what the console scene would be like without it. Certainly a less vibrant, less interesting, probably less popular pastime.
Happy birthday Xbox.