The Xbox's 5 Biggest Triumphs and Failures
As 2011 gets rolling, it’s only natural to look back on 2010 and, since we’ve just made it through the first 10 years of the 2000s, the past decade as well. From 2000-2010, the game industry has seen plenty of ups and downs, and no company better exemplifies that than Microsoft. From the unassuming release of the Xbox in 2001 to the ambitious Kinect this past November, the company has had its share of hits and misses.
While the popularity of the Xbox has never been higher (Microsoft’s CES press conference numbers of 8 million Kinects sold, 50 million 360s, and 30 million Xbox LIVE members bare this out) it took almost the entire decade for the Xbox to get where it is now.
The Xbox’s journey has been a fascinating one, and their biggest triumphs and failures helped shape where it is today and where it’s heading in the future.
Triumphs 1. Halo – The original Xbox had some hits (Fuzion Frenzy, Project Gotham Racing, etc.) but the success of Microsoft’s first console lay solely in the hands of Halo: Combat Evolved. We all know that Halo is Bungie’s baby, but Microsoft had the foresight to realize the game’s potential. The Xbox system wouldn't be anywhere without Halo.
2. Kinect – It’s only been available for a few months, but signs point to MS changing the gaming landscape with Kinect like Nintendo did with the Wiimote. It’s unique, it has a wow factor, and it works. With Kinect, Microsoft has distinguished itself from Sony's Move (making it look like a Wii clone) and Nintendo’s now seemingly antiquated Wiimote. Best of all, the Xbox finally has something to appeal to the casual and kid gamer.
3. Xbox Live – Microsoft set the bar for online gaming and purchasing. In fact, that bar is so high that Sony and Nintendo don’t even seem interested in competing. From Achievements to video and voice chatting to keeping track of friends - no console is better to own if you want to stay connected and play games online. And with a continuously increasing number of features (ESPN, Twitter, Facebook, Lastfm in 2010; Hulu Plus, Windows 7 Phone integration in 2011) you just can’t find a better online service.
4. Indie Games – If you’re an aspiring game designer, Xbox Live Indie Games is a great way to create a game, receive feedback from peers, and get gamers to actually play what you’ve designed. Only Apple is as supportive of indie game creators.
5. A Progressive Attitude - Of the Big 3 console makers, Microsoft does the best job of continuing to push boundaries The Xbox has proven over the years to be a machine that will continue to evolve and grow over time. Meanwhile, Nintendo has grown stagnant and Sony has turned copycat (see the aforementioned Move), and is counting on a technology (3D) that has yet to be proven affordable for gamers.
1. The Red Ring of Death - In their rush to be first, Microsoft let quality slide. This not only pissed off gamers but also seriously affected the MS image and cost the company a ton of money. If the Xbox 360 didn’t have a 1-year head start and had launched in the same window as the PS3 and Wii, chances are it wouldn’t be nearly as successful as it is now. Naturally, this probably also gave some gamers a wait-and-see attitude about Kinect.
2. Failure to Follow Through – The Xbox team has come up with plenty of good ideas, but sadly many of them didn’t receive the proper follow through. Faceplates, the Xbox Live Vision Camera, the Game Room, 1vs100, and Avatars are just a few concepts that many gamers feel ended too soon or weren’t given the time and support they needed to develop into successful programs. 3. Microsoft Points – Unless you’re an accountant or Dustin Hoffman's character in Rain Man, MS Points are still confusing to calculate and until recently only purchasable in ridiculous quantities. Because the point system is deceptive and not a 1-1 comparison of points to dollars, Microsoft takes advantage of the consumer and disguises the true cost of the content gamers purchase.
4. All About the Benjamins – Microsoft is a corporation, which means (if you’ve watched any movie) they’re all about the bottom line, so some of their money grubbing tactics are to be expected. But, you could make a case that MS, not EA or Activision, is to blame for gamers being nickeled and dimed to death. Avatar clothes, gamer pics, themes, temporarily exclusive DLC, the RROD, and making gamers put up with ads on Marketplace as well as in-game are just a few ways that Microsoft comes across as being more about the money than the product.
5. Xbox Live Yearly Fee – Xbox owners do get a superior product of online offerings when compared to Nintendo and Sony's free services (okay, forget Nintendo, they’re just flat out doing their fans a disservice), but how much of that content do gamers really use? While Xbox Live has no equal it comes at a high price, and that price went up 20% in November 2010 (from $50 to $60). In these difficult financial times, when prices for many retail items are dropping, Microsoft looks like a price gouger.
The Xbox has had a life span full of more twists and turns than an episode of the Jersey Shore. But after an inauspicious start and some serious miscalculations (Remember the HD DVD?) Microsoft seems to have learned from its mistakes and has righted the ship. Where the Xbox goes from here is anyone's guess, but after everything the console has gone through and where it is now, I wouldn't bet against it.