On this day in 2001, Microsoft took a big risk and made their debut in the home-console market with what was known only as the Xbox. A four-person team that consisted of Kevin Bachus, Seamus Blackley, Ted Hase, and DirectX team leader Otto Berkes built the prototype which was codenamed the “DirectX Box,” aptly named after the graphics technology the console was built around. It was not an easy task, but Microsoft had their eyes set on giving Sony’s PlayStation 2 a run for their money.
Apple had invested in a little company you may know as Bungie Studios, who were developing a game called Halo for the Mac, and Take Two Interactive were working on a PlayStation 2 port. Microsoft saw great potential in the studio and negotiated a deal to purchase Take Two’s 20% share in Bungie Studios and making the game a PC and Xbox exclusive (though a Mac port did get released later on). Microsoft used Halo as a promotional tool for the Xbox and the game was dubbed the Xbox’s “killer app.” Microsoft then set their sites on the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in 2000 to show off the console and it’s power to the public for the first time.
The stage was set and Microsoft had created a buzz for the launch of the Xbox. On November 15, 2001, the Xbox went on sale along with seven titles:
- 4×4 EVO 2
- AirForce Delta Storm
- Arctic Thunder
- Cel Damage
- Dead or Alive 3
- Fuzion Frenzy
- Halo: Combat Evolved
- Mad Dash Racing
- NFL Fever 2002
- Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee
- Project Gotham Racing
- Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2X
Microsoft had made their mark with impressive technology and wanted to take the next step in gaming, and they unleashed what would become the centerpiece of modern gaming, an online gaming network which they simply called Xbox LIVE. While Microsoft was not the first console to have internet connectivity (the Sega Dreamcast was notable for this), Xbox LIVE took online gaming to the next level. The very first GamerTag that was created was simply “E” and 250,000 users subscribed within the first two months. The number continued to climb rapidly, reaching 1 Million users by June 2004.
Bungie was set to unleash a sequel to Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2 was released on November 9, 2004. The game took everything that made the original Halo successful and built upon it, as well as adding muliplayer via Xbox LIVE. The multiplayer featured in Halo 2 paved the way for online gaming and became the cornerstone of online gaming for years to come, remaining as the top most played Xbox LIVE title for over 200 consecutive weeks. Time went on, high-definition technology began to sweep the market and the Xbox was beginning to show it’s age. Microsoft put on their game faces and began working on the next Xenon (the codename for the next Xbox), in an attempt to get a head start on the next generation of gaming consoles.
On May 12, 2005, the Xbox 360 was revealed to the world for the first time and shown off in detail later that month at E3. Featuring a concave design, as apposed to the convex design of the original Xbox, the Xbox 360 took a lot of breathes away not only with it’s presence, but it’s capabilities. While many higher-end PC games had been able to run games at a higher spec than those on the Xbox 360, this was the first time these sort of graphics had been seen in video games for a lot of people.
The console launched on November 22, 2005, and became an overnight sensation, though many fans were slightly disappointed that Halo 3 was not part of the launch. Microsoft began running into problems though, as many Xbox 360 consoles were giving red light errors, which would become known as the “Red Ring of Death.” Thousands of consoles were being sent to Microsoft every month for free repairs. Console owners often refered to the boxes that they were sent as “coffins” for their Xbox 360. The problem was often attributed to overheating of the console, as the Xbox 360 ran hotter than the fan and heatsinks could handle which lead to various malfunctions. Microsoft repeatedly tried to correct these errors, releasing revised hardware at different points (ala “Falcon” and “Jasper”). Many consumer experts said that these errors would slow down the sales of the Xbox 360, but sales never slowed down.
On the contrary, sales really picked up when Bungie released the epic conclusion to the trilogy, Halo 3, on September 27, 2007. Halo 3 still remains as the highest-selling game on the console. The promotional campaign was one of the biggest Microsoft has ever done, which seen a series of live-action shorts, focusing around veteran Spartan soldiers who served next to Master Chief and told stories of his bravery. The Halo series made the Xbox 360, much like the original Xbox, a success.
Microsoft had invest a lot of money in the Xbox brand though and they announced on January 24, 2008, that the Xbox was finally profitable after 6 years, which was attributed to increased sales of consoles and accessories thanks to Halo 3. With this news, Microsoft began looking ahead to the future.
Once again looking to be ahead of the curve, Microsoft revealed “Project Natal” on June 1, 2009. The demonstration showed an on-screen character known as “Milo” interacting with people through a motion sensor bar. This garnered much new interest in the Xbox brand as it seemed they had one-upped the Nintendo Wii’s motion controller. The name for the sensor would later be revealed as Kinect. After a year and a half of development and demonstrations, Microsoft released the Kinect on November 4, 2010, to surprisingly high sales.
While the Xbox 360 continues to deliver over 2.1 Billion hours of entertainment per month to it’s 35 Million members, Microsoft has already begun gearing up for the release of their next console, which is rumored to be shown at either CES or E3 in the coming year. Microsoft continues to do big things with their consoles, and are growing beyond just a gaming platform. Microsoft has turned the Xbox 360 into the center of home media and entertainment for gaming, TV, movies, and even music. We can only expect Microsoft to build upon this with the next console. We can only imagine what kind of innovating and crazy things Microsoft can come up with next to taking the gaming experience to another level.