Microsoft was started in April of 1975 by William Henry “Bill” Gates III and Paul Allen. The company, which is still the largest software producer in the world, started its domination of the PC operating system market with MS DOS in the early 1980s. However, Microsoft actually started out developing BASIC interpreters for the Altair 8800.
Before Microsoft got into the console market, they were well known for games. Some of the more memorable ones include Solitaire, which we have all played on PC at some point, and was originally included to teach people how to use a mouse (double clicking, moving and dragging). Microsoft Flight Simulator was, and still is, a very popular program with aviation aficionados. Bill Gates himself even programmed a game for early PC DOS called ‘Donkey’. It was a vertical driving game where you avoided donkeys. It . . . wasn’t very good.
It wasn’t until the 21st Century that Microsoft wanted to develop its very own console.
The Xbox was launched it the US on November 15th 2001, then Japan, Europe and Australia in early 2002. Originally titled the ‘DirectX Box’, it was the first American-made console since the Atari Jaguar in the mid-90s. It was also the first console to have a built-in hard drive. It was primarily designed to compete with the Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, and GameCube.
The console came about after collaborating with Sega to try and port Windows CE to the Dreamcast. As a start, four DirectX engineers took apart a few laptops to construct a prototype using a Windows operating system. The system was vaguely announced as early as 1999, but was delayed several times. It turned out the Microsoft marketing department hated the name ‘Xbox’, but it had proven popular during focus groups. (Putting an ‘X’ in a product name always seemed very 90s to me, though.)
The controllers were also an issue for some people as they were big, bulky, and difficult to use. A smaller controller (originally designed for Japan) was later released, but not before it was dubbed the second worst controller in history (the worst being the Atari Jaguar controller, of course).
Xbox Live went online in November 2002; it was different from the Dreamcast and PlayStation 2 services in that it required a subscription fee and broadband connection (this was before broadband had fully taken off). The service ended up being quite successful because Microsoft had better servers, easy to work online menus, and great multiplayer games such as the Halo series.
The last game released for the original Xbox was Madden NFL ’09 (released in 2008) and the best-selling game was, of course, Halo 2.
The Xbox 360 was released in November 2005. During its development it had many alternate names including NextBox, Xbox 2, even Xenon (that would’ve been a cool name!). The new console only went into production 69 days before launch, thus Microsoft didn’t have enough to fill demand in Europe and North America. Interestingly, around 10% of total units sold ended up on eBay during the first week of release. Once again Japanese sales were very disappointing for Microsoft, having failed again to make any serious inroads due to the culture favouring Nintendo and Sony.
The Xbox 360′s most memorable accessory is Kinect (originally codenamed Project Natal), the first completely controller-free movement device for a home console; it used motion sensors and a microphone to allow the player to interact with the games without a traditional controller. The peripheral holds the Guinness world recording of being the “fastest selling consumer electronics device” selling eight million units in the first two months, and over 24 million in total since its launch.
Despite this, the critical reception has been somewhat mixed. The need for a big space in front the TV has already excluded some people with small apartments (such as the entire Japanese market) from being able to use the Kinect at all. The device also has a very mixed bag of games; dancing games such as the Dance Central series has been incredibly popular, but action games have been very lacklustre for the most part (Kinect Star Wars anyone?).
The Xbox 360 was, and still is, a very popular console; however there were a worryingly large number of hardware problems, including the dreaded ‘Red Ring of Death’.
The 360 is still an ongoing console, but the bestselling game so far is Call of Duty: Black Ops (it’s possible that GTA V will out sell it at some stage). The bestselling Kinect only game is Kinect Adventures (which was bundled).
The next console to be released will be the Xbox One (dubbed the Xbone, by many) and will be released on 22nd of November 2013. Microsoft is envisaging it as an all-in-one entertainment device, able to play all types of media including TV, movies, and of course games.
The newest member of the Xbox family got off to a very bumpy start, even before its release date had come out. Rumours circulated before the E3 conference that the Xbox would always be online, the Kinect would always be on, and it would be impossible to resell a disc based game. It turned out a lot these rumours were true, and Sony pounced on the negative press stating their upcoming console would have none of the aforementioned features during their E3 conference.
After a few weeks of negative feedback, Microsoft reneged on many of these features, stating that gamers would indeed be allowed to sell their second hand discs and wouldn’t have to be online all the time to operate their console. Of course, has the console hasn’t been released yet it’s very hard to comment on what the console will actually be like, because in the end, it will come down to the quality of games on the console.
Some of the exclusive launch titles include Ryse: Son of Rome, Project Spark and Killer Instinct. Whether any of these will be the ‘killer app’ they’re hoping for remains to be seen. As much as I want to play Killer Instinct (I really do!), I doubt I’ll be an early adopter. But then again, I haven’t been an early adopter for any console, ever.
Microsoft has become a major player in the gaming industry since its first console in 2001, and while there is controversy with new Xbox One now, that might very well subside after the console is released. The Xbox and Xbox 360 have left a lasting mark in gaming culture and I hope they will continue to be an influence in the future. After all, it’s great to have competition in the industry!
Here are my favourite games for all the Microsoft consoles:
- Xbox: Jet Set Radio Future
- Xbox 360: Rock Band 2
- Kinect: Kinect Adventures (to play) and Dance Central (to watch someone else play. I can’t dance. And I hurt my knee…)
What are yours?
This will be the last “A Brief History of…” article (although I know I could go on and on with these, I wanted to cover the big 5 console makers). I hope you enjoyed them as much as I did researching and writing them!
Thanks for reading!
- Andrew “ProdTally” Yoshimura