Xbox at Ten

The Xbox is ten years old. I have no history or sentimental attachment to this particular collection of wires and plastic, but you don’t have to have been an Xbox gamer to appreciate its profound influence on the industry and how we play games today.

Back in 2001/2, I was quite content with my PlayStation 2 and paid little attention to the competition. As far as I was concerned, the Xbox was an unsightly block of black and neon that only Americans were interested in. Microsoft was the name I saw each time my outdated PC wheezed into action and was certainly not a company I equated with fun. Halo was a silly game about a man in a motorcycle helmet lollygagging in space, and why on earth would I need online multiplayer when I already had a multi-tap and more controllers than I had use for. The Xbox was entirely superfluous and I had no intention of making space for it under my TV.

The Xbox didn't hang around for too long, as by 2005 Microsoft were eager to get a head-start on the seventh generation and build upon the valuable lessons of their debut console. Although it failed to challenge the PS2's dominance - it was originally developed in reaction to the PlayStation's ability to lure developers away from Windows - it established the Xbox brand and a slew of exclusive franchises that have been transferred to the 360. The highest profile of these is of course Halo, which was adopted as the Xbox poster child and would later become the harbinger of the online, multiplayer generation. To have Halo: Combat Evolved as the marquee launch title was a risky move, as at that time the FPS was still seen as a strictly PC genre, with GoldenEye (N64) being the lone, high profile exception. That didn't stop Halo from shifting millions of Xboxes and the sequel from becoming the console best seller.

The Xbox first popularised many features that have since become industry staples. In late 2002, Microsoft launched Xbox Live: a subscription based platform for online activity and gaming that has gone from strength to strength. Although the Dreamcast had pre-empted it, the Xbox made online the future of multiplayer gaming and forced Sony to rethink their stance. The Japanese giant had initially be indifferent to online connectivity, but was soon offering a network adapter add-on and would go on to include an Ethernet connection in the PS2 slim, as well as moving forward with a growing roster of online compatible games. Sony had been caught on the back foot, as Microsoft was already dictating the direction in which the next generation of consoles would be headed.

The Xbox also introduced installed hard drives, which removed the need for memory cards and opened the door for DLC and downloadable games; elements that have since become a major part of the gaming landscape. All these extra features came at the cost of streamlined design as consoles became much bulkier, something which was evident in the earlier 360 and PS3 models. However, you can't lay all the blame on the Xbox for the move towards heftier hardware, as Panasonic's failed 3DO was causing shoulders to pop out well before 2001.

Kotaku recently ran a short but interesting article about the similarities between Sega's Dreamcast and the Xbox, and how Microsoft's debut is as close to a DC2 as we were ever likely to get. The obvious comparison lies in the DC games that were ported to the Xbox, such as Shenmue 2 and Jet Set Radio, but there are other, more intriguing ties that bind. Apparently, Sega approached Microsoft in the hope that their console would be backward compatible with DC games, having already worked together implementing Windows CE on the doomed console. It didn't quite work out, but Microsoft did end up learning a great deal from the DC's online capabilities and appropriated many of the features of its controller for their own beastly pad.

I have never owned an original Xbox, nor will I. I am happy to have admired this most successful debut from afar, having saved myself the task of allocating premium living room space to its ample frame. It was a watershed moment for an ever-developing industry, and the beginning of a brand that shows every sign of lasting at least another decade yet.

Comments

  1. I prefer the Playstation consoles but I love that Microsoft entered the market and gave them even more competition. Without Microsoft I don't believe PSN would be where it is today. Does seem like they rushed the 360 out a bit which I did not like but like you said the introduction of the Live service is something that had changed the industry forever.

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  2. Microsoft definitely forced Sony's hand, for the better. I certainly can't imagine my PS3 without PSN and I hope Sony continue to reject the "pay for play" model that has been so successful for Live. Not sure what will happen come the PS4.

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  3. I didn't have an original Xbox, but I caught up with some of its games on the 360. Some good ones in there, but I am ultimately not all that impressed with the original's library. They definitely set some trends though and it was a solid start for a company's first console. As absurd as it is to launch a console four years after its predecessor, it made such a huge difference for MS. I think the 360's success has a lot to do with launching first. This is by far the best write-up I've read about the Xbox from someone who never owned one :)

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  4. I had a look through a list of Xbox stand-out titles before writing this and I struggled to find more than a couple that I would be interested in trying. The hardware was the real achievement, not so much the games.

    Thanks! Along the same lines, I'm thinking of starting a regular feature where I review games that I have never played. Should be informative :)

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  5. I was a PS2 gamer myself last generation, but I did manage to snag an XBOX on the cheap. It was a pretty good system, with a couple of gems. Jet Set Radio Future, Otogi 1 and 2, Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Ninja Gaiden, and Dead or Alive Ultimate are a few that come to mind.

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  6. Hadn't heard of Otohi until now. Looks like an interesting games - definitely the kind of thing I would have bought had I been an Xbox owner. Cheers.

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