In the dying days of Sega’s Dreamcast a new console was taking shape that would change the gaming landscape in fundamental ways, both introducing new concepts and a new competitor to the scene. An industry long ruled from Japan, Microsoft’s Xbox console was not only a shot across the bow from America but also represented the first genuine merging of the PC gaming world and home console gaming markets.
Of course, the Xbox wasn’t Microsoft’s first foray into the world of video games, nor was it the last, but it was the first major home console from an American manufacturer since Atari. Armed with Microsoft’s technical knowhow, connections, and war chest of funds, the Xbox was slated to make a huge impact when it released to markets in November 2001 and make an impact it did.
It was an impressive piece of kit for the time – easily the most powerful home console on the market – and its competition, in the form of the PlayStation 2, was not only popular but history making, going on to become the best-selling home console of all time.
That didn’t stop Microsoft’s experiment and the original was successful enough to warrant a follow up in the Xbox 360, a machine that gave the PlayStation 3 a run for its money and which cemented Microsoft’s position in the home console market for years to come.
The origins of the Xbox start all the way back in the 1980s if you’re really looking into Microsoft’s history with the gaming world. Back then, in Japan, the company released a console called the MSX, a proposed standardized format for computer gaming backed by Microsoft and manufactured by other companies, Sony among them.
Similar to the later failed 3DO system business plan in terms of market execution, the MSX enjoyed relative success in Japan and is known for introducing the world to games like Contra and Snatcher, among others. Its only flaw was in convincing other manufacturers to make the machine.
Though Microsoft didn’t directly manufacture the MSX, it did provide the technical design and knowledge. Sadly, coming out around the same time as the legendary Nintendo Famicom, the MSX never really caught on outside of its home market and drifted away into the seas of memory.
Microsoft didn’t return to the home console market until 2001 when the company released their DirectX based system the Xbox.
DirectX is a gaming format developed and maintained by Microsoft that lies at the core of Windows PC gaming and the Xbox experience. Like Microsoft’s earlier attempt with the MSX, DirectX provides a standard way for multiple publishers to make their software work on Windows-compatible devices. The main difference between the Xbox and MSX being that Microsoft controls the manufacture and distribution of the machines, giving it a worldwide reach and massive marketing muscle.
Gamers who purchased the first Xbox remember it most for its titles like Halo, originally an Apple product, and The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind, two games that before the Xbox’s release could only be done on a PC. Another major innovation that Xbox didn’t pioneer but helped popularize is online play for home consoles with its Xbox Live online service.
The tendency in modern press is to view Microsoft as a relative newcomer in the space when, in truth, the company is a pillar of the industry and has remained such for some time. Though the original Xbox is beloved for its library of games and almost endless customization options in terms of aftermarket uses, the machine also marks the return of American manufacturers to the home console market after more than a decade of Japanese dominance.