Two decades ago, Xbox joined the console market to compete alongside Sony and Nintendo and has since become a household name.
Over the past twenty years, Xbox has had moments that made them shine brighter than competitors and occasions where they weren’t seen in a positive light. Whether the moments include the several studio acquisitions made by the console giant or a disastrous launch of a brand new console, Xbox has seen it all.
Original Xbox Introduced
Before becoming the console, gaming, and software success it is today, Xbox had humble beginnings.
While the Xbox was first shown off during GDC in 2000, the first major showcase of the console was at CES the following year.
To launch a new console, you have to bring something unique and eye-catching to the table. Microsoft did just that. Accompanying Bill Gates on the CES stage was Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Having Johnson there helped define what the Xbox console would be. It would take charge and not be afraid to go up against the consoles that had previous iterations already released.
Following the formal announcement at CES, Microsoft continued to define the Xbox by announcing Halo: Combat Evolved and Dead or Alive 3 at their E3 showing.
Xbox was going to come into the console space swinging, and it did just that during the first half of 2001.
Backwards Compatibility on Xbox One
During the Xbox One generation, there weren’t many moments to be celebrated or be hyped about.
One of those few moments came during E3 2015 when Phil Spencer came onto the stage to announce that certain Xbox 360 games would be playable on the Xbox One through Backwards Compatibility.
Up until that point, the Xbox One, and the PlayStation 4, didn’t allow players to insert disks from the previous consoles. With Backwards Compatibility, gamers could continue to enjoy their favorite games, no matter how long ago it was released.
When the Backwards Compatibility Program was announced, the crowd at the conference went wild as this was something fans had been wanting to see since the Xbox One was released in 2013. By the end of 2015, over 100 games were made available to play through the program.
Two years after the announcement of Xbox 360 games being playable, Phil Spencer once again took the E3 stage in 2017 to announce that original Xbox games would also be playable on the Xbox One.
The Backwards Compatibility Program continued to grow and become a core part of their strategy as we saw the continuation of the program to their next console, the Xbox Series X.
Xbox Acquires Everyone
Xbox had a hard time producing the bigger AAA titles that PlayStation was producing, so they sought out to expand their development studios.
Instead of starting studios from the ground up, Microsoft decided to open their wallet and allow Phil Spencer to have a field day, buying studios to have them become a part of the Xbox family.
While Microsoft did acquire studios like Rare, Lionhead Studios, Twisted Pixel, and more during the first decade of Xbox’s history, the big-spending spree didn’t begin until 2014. Microsoft purchased Minecraft studio Mojang. That move put the rights of one of the most successful games of all time in their hands.
In the years following that major acquisition, Xbox slowed down their spending until 2018 when they acquired 6 more studios: Ninja Theory, Undead Labs, Compulsion Games, Playground Games, inXile Entertainment, and Obsidian Entertainment.
Xbox increased its arsenal of studios to help produce more polished and exclusive titles to bring new players into the Xbox ecosystem.
Since then, Xbox went on to acquire Double Fine Productions, and more recently ZeniMax Media who is the parent company for Bethesda Softworks.
Although we have not seen the results of these studios’ projects just yet, it is very likely we will begin to see the pay-off of all these acquisitions happen during the Xbox Series X generation.
Netflix of Video Games
Xbox knew that they were in trouble early on in the Xbox One era, so they began to shift their focus a little bit.
Alongside their plan of making incredible games, they wanted those games to be played on PC and for them to be more accessible for players who can’t afford to spend $60 every time a new game arrives.
To allow more people to play their favorite games, Xbox announced Xbox Game Pass in 2017. Game Pass would be an on-demand subscription service that gives players access to titles from Xbox Game Studios, as well as third-party studios.
In 2019, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate was announced which brought Game Pass to PC and eventually to mobile devices through their xCloud program.
Game Pass would continue to grow and become an essential service that anyone who owns an Xbox needs.
Anyone Can Play
To allow Xbox to be played by as many people as possible, Xbox created an extraordinary product to ensure that anyone can play games, no matter what.
In 2018, Xbox announced the Adaptive Controller, a controller designed to help people with disabilities make playing games more accessible.
The controller took more than three years to develop. It features two large buttons, an enlarged D-pad, the standard menu, view, and Xbox buttons that are featured on all Xbox controllers. The buttons on the controller can be modified to better assist the user.
The controller is compatible with several platforms to support gamers no matter what platform they use.
The controller was praised by the gaming community and was featured in Time Magazine as one of the Best Inventions of 2018.
Big Games Cancelled
To start off a brand new generation, Xbox planned on bringing the best games to the platform. Unfortunately, some of them never saw the light of day.
One of the bigger games that never made it to our consoles was Scalebound.
Developed by PlatinumGames, Scalebound was going to be an action RPG in a brand new open-world adventure. This game would have been a big release for Xbox and would most likely have brought new people to the platform.
After the games cancellation in 2017, the studio head of PlatinumGames, Atsushi Inaba, mentioned that “both sides failed” in making Scalebound what they originally envisioned.
Another major title that would end up getting axed by Microsoft was Fable Legends.
Being produced by Lionhead Studios, Fable Legends was promised to be a co-op RPG based in the Fable universe.
The game would’ve been released on Xbox One and PC and would be free-to-play. Fable Legends never received a formal release date but did have a closed multiplayer beta in October 2014.
In March 2016, Microsoft canceled the development of Fable Legends and, much worse, shut down Lionhead Studios.
Price is Key
Coming off of a successful console generation with the Xbox 360, Microsoft hoped to continue that momentum leading into their next console.
That momentum quickly subsided as Phil Spencer announced a $500 price-tag for the newest console to a crowd that was quickly silenced. The price turned out to be more expensive than what was rumored, but due to the Kinect being bundled with each console, the Xbox One had to resort to a higher price point.
Later on in the day, PlayStation announced their newest console would start at $400. The PlayStation 4 would end up being more powerful and have a library of more exciting games while compared to the Xbox One.
Once Phil Spencer took over Xbox a year later, he removed the Kinect from the console bundle and began to sell the console by itself, but by then it was too late. PlayStation quickly became the preferred console for the generation and Xbox never caught up.
In addition to a higher price point for the console, everything else about the Xbox One was heavily critiqued.
Xbox figured that it was the best place to play games during the 360 era, so for the next generation, they decided that the Xbox should be the center of the entertainment center in your home.
Featuring a pass-through option for your cable box, the Xbox One initial reveal was all about entertainment, and very little about games. Whether it was being able to use the Kinect to change channels or to promote the newest Star Trek film, the Xbox wasn’t being marketed as a game console anymore.
Another aspect of the initial Xbox One reveal that was quickly retracted was the mandatory feature of having the console being connected to the internet at all times. Players didn’t want to be tied to the internet at all times and wanted to enjoy their story campaigns without having to rely on an internet connection.
One big issue for the console was Microsoft’s idea for game sharing.
If you were to buy a physical copy of Sunset Overdrive, you would be the sole owner of it. You would not be able to sell it, or trade it in at a game retailer. When it came to your digital library, you would be able to share your games with up to 10 friends, but it wouldn’t be possible for two friends to play the same game at the same time.
Microsoft went on to reverse their stance on the always-online requirement as well as their take on game sharing before the console released.
Red Ring of Death
The Xbox 360 was a shining achievement in online gaming during its run, but the console had one major flaw that far too many gamers experienced.
The Red Ring of Death was the coined term used when the console would overheat and become unusable.
The thought of the console receiving this error haunted Xbox players, prompting them to wrap their consoles in cold towels to help keep the console cool during long and intense gaming sessions.
The problem was never fully resolved for the original iterations of the console. The problem was slightly fixed with the release of the Xbox 360 S and E models. These models had a software feature that would automatically power off the console to protect itself from overheating.
Not-So Masterchief Collection
Halo is the most iconic Xbox franchise and Xbox decided to remaster the main Halo games for the Xbox One.
The Master Chief Collection would feature the campaigns for Halo 1, 2 and 3, and would also feature the multiplayer options for Halo 2 and Halo 3. Unfortunately, players didn’t have the best time when the game was released in November 2014.
At launch, players experienced long match-making times and many games that would end in a server disconnection. To make up for the numerous bugs and frustrating experiences, Microsoft announced that the collection would expand in the future and include Halo 3: ODST.
The updates from 343 Industries weren’t enough to fully polish the Halo collection of games. The game was playable after several updates, but players would still experience issues during gameplay.
In 2018, the MCC Insider Program was created to have players playtest future updates to the collection. Some of these updates were focused on the interface and its multiplayer modes.
In the past three years, Halo: MCC continued to be polished and eventually made its way to PC in 2019.
Instead of a one-time release of the collection, the PC version featured a staggered release of the titles over a few years, starting with another new addition to the collection, Halo: Reach. The collection finished in 2020 when Halo 4 joined its predecessors.