Xbox is 10 today - we celebrate its history
The Xbox celebrates its 10th birthday today and with it a decade of some of the best gaming that consoles have ever seen.
What a journey it has been. Some classic franchises and pieces of tech have made their names under the Xbox moniker and we've enjoyed every minute of it; from hours spent building up levels on the original Modern Warfare to the last time Master Chief took on the Covenant. But these are recent memories. There was a lot more gaming to get stuck into over the past 10 years than you would think. So, like an episode of This is Your Life, we open up the Xbox's big red book and take a peek at some of its historic highlights.
Original Xbox launches
Back in 2001 the gaming landscape was pretty much dominated by PlayStation 2 and the Nintendo 64. There were however a few new kids on the block hanging tough on the horizon, namely the Xbox. It was miles ahead of the competition in power terms, looked different and was the first proper foray into consoles from Microsoft.
So where did it all start? Well here is a piece of trivia you might not have known - the X in Xbox, it originally stood for DirectX. The console started life as a mish mash of parts gleaned from Dell computers by Microsoft employees. Known as the DirectX box, it was designed to claw gamers back to the big M and away from the Sony. After repeated delays and then an eventual unveil at GDC in 2000, this new device left a lot of critics impressed but cautious to jump on board the console's technology.
The first generation Xbox featured a hard drive which, until then, hadn't been seen in other home consoles. It meant two major differences to gaming - first that saves were kept on the console and memory cards were no longer required and, second, that you could rip data to the Xbox. The knock on effect of this was that CDs could be played back in certain games allowing you to create your own soundtrack.
What really made the Xbox exciting at launch was one thing alone though. It wasn't the odd looking controller, the big black X sitting on top of the console, or even the idea of a hard drive. It was Halo.
Halo became a supremely successful launch title for Microsoft, spurred on by Bungie, it was to be the killer app that has remained throughout the whole Xbox lifespan. Microsoft pounced just at the right moment using what ground the N64 had laid in the FPS department to capitalise on an eager gaming audience. It had cutting edge graphics, a story that would create fans and a split screen co-op which just about everyone remembers fondly.
What followed was a rapid rise to fame for the Xbox. It still remained, however, a console not quite capable of playing with the gaming big boys. That was until Microsoft capitalised on that little Ethernet port sat on the back.
Xbox Live arrives
The next major step in the history of the Xbox was its online counterpart, Xbox Live. Arriving on this day back in 2002, it almost single-handedly created the idea of gaming online using a home console. By the end of its first month, the service already had a quarter of a million subscribers. Year on year Xbox Live grew until by 2007 it hit 3 million subscribers. The service now boasts over 20 million users.
Where did all the excitement over Xbox Live come from - that old Microsoft faithful, the Halo franchise. Halo 2 became a multiplayer sensation and remained up until recently, a gaming favourite for many. The original Xbox Live servers only shut down back in 2010, a testament to what Halo and the first console achieved.
Crucially, Microsoft kept XBL fresh by adding new services which were unlike anything the competition offered. One of the first of these was the video marketplace in 2006 and the Xbox Live Arcade titles. This continued with a downloadable Zune Player app in 2009 and now things like Last.fm and Skype. Even Sky got involved with Sky Player, allowing subscribers to watch TV services through their consoles without the need for a set top box.
No one knows exactly what Microsoft has planned for Xbox Live in the future. A recent announcement revealed a hugh number of entertainment partners including 4OD, LoveFilm, iPlayer and much more. Watch that space.
The Xbox 360 launches
When it came to the Xbox 360's release, things were different. The first gen console had become an entertainment phenomenon. Microsoft knew that in order to drum up excitement over its new hardware, fans were going to be expecting something big, and big is what they got.
They chose MTV, Elijah Wood and The Killers to spearhead a worldwide televised launch of the new console. It caused an immediate stir, thanks, in part, to Microsoft showing just enough to get fans excited but keeping the real details for E3 later that year.
When it did eventually hit shop shelves, it was a sell out almost around the entire globe. Quite simply Microsoft just couldn't ship out enough units to meet demand. Launch went smoothly enough but Christmas 2005 saw many kids who had asked for it left disappointed.
One thing worth mentioning with the 360's launch was Microsoft's clever viral marketing campaigns. Websites like OrigenXbox360.com (no longer alive) would organise competitions that gradually reveal more and more details about the console and new software.
The difference with this launch was that no Halo was to arrive with the new console. In fact, the launch title lineup was relatively weak compared to what was to come. But it was first to market and it beat the PlayStation 3, its only main competitor, to launch. This meant Microsoft grabbed the first wave of those desperate for next generation graphics and games.
The Xbox 360 still had a long way to go before it reached its now stratospheric levels of sales. It took something like Halo 3 - up until recently the biggest entertainment launch in history - to do that.
Halo 3 appears
Halo 3 represented the conclusion to a story that many Xbox fans had followed from the beginning. It was Master Chief's final battle and an epic one at that.
Microsoft poured no less than $40 million into the marketing for the game's launch. This, in turn, led to some of the most significant figures in video gaming history and enough to convince most that games could compete with cinema. At launch over 1 million people played Halo 3 online in just the first 24 hours. It grossed a whopping $300 million for Microsoft in the first week and spearheaded the start of some incredible video gaming launches. Titles like Call of Duty have a lot to thank from Halo 3 and its launch.
At the same time, Gears of War was also showing off what the hardware found in the console was capable of doing. Practically built to run the Unreal III engine, the Xbox managed to pull some unbelievable graphics out of the first GoW and continues to do so to this day.
The real trick though was how Microsoft released it on the same weekend that Nintendo and Sony released their consoles. It drew a lot of the attention away from the supposed graphical prowess of the PlayStation 3 and back towards the Xbox 360.
The Xbox 360 already had the core gaming audience covered. Microsoft had a huge audience under its belt thanks to things like Call of Duty. But Nintendo had come out of nowhere with the Wii and grabbed the family audience like no other console had ever managed.
The real trick to achieving huge levels of success with a console is in captivating the family audience. This transforms it into a media hub that everyone can enjoy, young or old. Nintendo saw this with motion control. Microsoft, not to be left out, came up with the Kinect.
Yet another first to market for Xbox, it was a unique product which, unlike Sony and Nintendo's offerings, required nothing but your hands to play with. No controller was involved, instead it was a true hands-free motion sensing experience, making for a much more malleable and exciting gameplay experience should the titles get clever enough to use it.
The rest is history. Kinect became the fastest selling consumer electronics device and managed 8 million in sales within the first 60 days.
What next for the Xbox brand? Well, we suspect plenty of developers will already have their hands on whatever Microsoft has planned. The rest of us, however, will never truly know until it makes an appearance at some event or show.
Rumours are beginning to circulate pointing to next year's CES for some sort of unveil. It is however impossible to know. All sorts are being thrown in about possible specs, including a specially developed dual-GPU from AMD and a six core processor. Some are even saying it will be capable of managing Avatar grade graphics.
The Xbox 720 moniker has already started making appearances out in public, namely in the film Real Steel, where it was advertised on billboards set in the future. Not much to go on, we know, but it does show that Microsoft clearly has the console on its mind.
If we had to bet our money on something, we expect future-proof hardware that will be able to compete with the rise in power found in smartphones and tablets. Microsoft will want to be making sure that the graphics argument is there once apps start to truly rival consoles.
We also imagine previous generation Kinects will be compatible, although a new and improved peripheral or in-built motion sensor will likely be used as a deal sweetener. On top of this, expect to see some serious graphical hikes in Xbox favourites as well as a few new franchises for the system.
Until then, we can sit back and chew through some of the best titles released in recent memory for the home console - Halo Anniversary, Gears of War 3 and indeed the new Modern Warfare, Battlefield and Skyrim. These are all reasons we're all happy to see the Xbox enjoy its 10th birthday. Enough celebrating. Back to the gaming.
What is your favourite moment in Xbox history? Let us know in the comments below ...