Microsoft is still one of the youngest console competitors, with the only real competition now coming from Sony, Nintendo, and Valve. The first Microsoft console was announced in the sixth console generation, back when the Sega Dreamcast was still holding water and the PlayStation 2 was a year away from complete dominance.
Since then we have had the rise of Xbox Live, the online service for Xbox gamers and the Xbox 360, one of the most successful gaming consoles of all time, with almost 80 million sales worldwide currently.
We take a look back at the Xbox and look at how it has evolved and how the teams at Microsoft have evolved, from the small PC-like Xbox box to the complex Xbox 360 and now back to the high-tier Xbox One with PC components.
The evolution of the Xbox over the years
Microsoft has been an odd company in the way it accepts some products that turn out bad then rejects others that look good on paper.
A little before the millennium, four Microsoft engineers pitched the idea of the Xbox to Bill Gates, who at first rejected it due to a questionable position in the gaming market, but then accepted the idea and pushed the gaming console to market.
Unlike other gaming platforms, the Xbox would have a lot of PC specs and come with a platform gaming developers knew and loved. This made porting and developing for the original Xbox easier than on the Dreamcast or any other game console and drew lots of PC game studios to the Xbox.
The Xbox was released on November 15, 2001, in North America and the following year in Japan, Australia and Europe. It came with a 733MHz Pentium III CPU, 64MB of DDR RAM, Nvidia NV2A ASIC 64MB GPU, 8GB or 10GB of HDD and a 130w power supply.
This, at the time, was a very high tech gaming platform. It beat the PlayStation 2 with double the speed and the Dreamcast was starting to die out, giving Xbox the leverage of a year to really sink into the gaming industry.
Microsoft works with developers
Microsoft has always been, in our view, the best gaming console company when listening to developers. With the original Xbox, they took the problems with native platforming and low specs and made the Xbox a powerhouse.
They have also had ties with developers, they bought Bungie for $30 million before the original Xbox was released and have carved one of the biggest console franchises out of the Halo game.
This has been one of Microsoft’s biggest strengths, while the Japanese companies have trouble working with Western game developers, for Microsoft it is easy and this is probably why sales of the original Xbox are almost all in the West.
The original Xbox: Failure, but the start of something
The original Xbox sold 24 million units, compared to the PS2 that sold 106 million. Xbox Live was born on the Xbox console and gamers got their first taste of online play and DLC, something that kept the Halo series going on the Xbox for a long time.
In many ways the Xbox was the start of something incredible for Microsoft, they had learned from their mistakes and had already started building the Xbox 360. The new Xbox 360 would be far superior to the past console, with a big focus on the gameplay redesign and allow gamers a really exciting multiplayer experience.
Xbox 360: Microsoft’s first big success
The Xbox 360 came with a whole new range of specs and many found Microsoft had move away from the PC console, to a custom console. It looks different and unique and Microsoft launched the console in a huge hanger bay.
The console had the IBM Xenon processor, a three-core processor clocked at 3.2GHz, they also got ATI to develop a GPU to fit into the Xenon chip. The Xbox 360 came with 512MB of GGDR3 RAM, for better graphic fidelity.
The tools for developers to use on the Xbox 360 were more proprietary than the previous Xbox, but they did not flummox developers the way some jargon consoles did and Microsoft managed to get a great lineup of startup games on the platform, including Call of Duty 2, Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, Saints Row and Gears of War.
Microsoft scaled up their publishing studio to make sure great games would always be developed exclusively for the console. This competed directly with Nintendo, who also made sure games were more suited to their consoles and normally only on their consoles.
Xbox 360: Success and slimmer console
The Xbox 360 was a hit and made Microsoft a lot of money, between the huge licensing agreements, chip in the sales, Xbox Arcade section and the console sale itself, Microsoft was winning and PS3 was sinking.
Then Microsoft decided to slim the console down and bring the new accessory to the mix, to combat the burst in sales for the Wii console by Nintendo.
The Kinect was born, a motion and voice sensor allowing users to talk in game, send commands and play with motion control. The Kinect sold huge amounts of units, but many questioned the point of the accessory and game developers have not put any real effort to make games with Kinect in mind.
Microsoft also redeveloped the dashboard to work better with content management and offer entertainment and applications, instead of just games.
This was a big move by Microsoft, it moved the Xbox from a gaming console to an all in one entertainment console. Microsoft moved businesses into Xbox simply because they believed this would be their content center.
They were right, content on the Xbox 360 has been pretty well received, Netflix announced almost 1/5 of all their viewers watch from an Xbox 360 console, and Last.fm says Xbox 360 users make a bulk of their listeners.
Xbox One: The new strategy
It seems Microsoft will just continue the strategy with the Xbox 360, but with more entertainment functionality. It feels like the team developing the Xbox One already believe they have a good foothold in games and want to move into entertainment and other medias.
The ‘All In One’ console, as Microsoft has started calling it, will offer cable TV through HDMI, multiple media streaming apps and real integration between the Xbox and the TV.
We believe instead of expanding their game studio, they will expand their entertainment studio and offer more original programming on the Xbox One. Microsoft is also trying to incorporate the Windows 8 feel to the console, with a similar dashboard design.
This is a big turn for Microsoft and one that has been hit with a lot of negativity, with many gamers feeling like Microsoft has trashed the games and is sticking to TV.
However, if they can pull some brilliant release titles on the Xbox One, they may not need to win back all the lost support.