When sitting down and having a long gaming session, mashing the buttons and navigating whatever virtual world you fancy, most people probably don’t stop to consider how far gaming has come to get to this point. Microsoft, developers of Xbox, are one of the behemoths of gaming and have a steady market share fighting one half of the console war against Sony’s PlayStation. But how did the Xbox get where it is today?
Video games as they are considered today were first developed in the 1940s, with pioneers in the field harnessing the ability to pit human versus machine in a battle of strategy. According to the history of games, the first electronic game ever was called Nimatron and was unveiled by Edward Condon at the World’s Fair in 1940, set the stage for Tennis for Two and OXO, games developed afterwards based on a simple tennis match against the CPU and a game of noughts and crosses against the CPU. This format would then be adapted to allow players to fight against the CPU and other players in order to achieve supremacy – a concept already in place when Microsoft decided to join the market alone after the success of their Sega joint venture, the Dreamcast.
To combat the fascination of game developers with the PlayStation 2, Sony’s coup in 2000, Microsoft began their own console development. The DirectX team lent their name to the DirectXbox, which was only included in consumer research anticipating that consumers would dislike the ‘Xbox’ shortening. In fact, consumers loved it, and the name stuck. Bill Gates himself worked to promote the console, explaining that developers wanted the best console to be made when criticised with late releases.
In 2001, the Xbox was unveiled (with help from wrestling actor The Rock), and the first console became available for purchase in 2002. The European release was delayed to focus on the Japanese market, which Microsoft anticipated would prove more lucrative. It wasn’t, and the European and American markets outsold Japan, leaving the Xbox as the second best-selling console in North America in 2002. Halo and Dead or Alive proved to be hot ticket items and allowed Microsoft to move onto the stage. Coupled with some disruptive marketing (an ad that featured a man ageing rapidly and inspired viewers to game more as life was short), the campaign showed that Microsoft had a unique offering.
Arguably biggest success for Microsoft was the Xbox Live platform, which promoted the multiplayer modes of various games and created a greater social conversation. Long before social media dominated lives, Xbox Live allowed people to communicate while playing the games they bragged about being so skilled at. Both a lucrative commercial venture and a way to bring the offering of the Xbox in line with competitors, the multiplayer modes were often cited as the winning battle in the console war.
Microsoft has an interesting position now though, with the advent of social games on mobiles and the prevalence of apps and gaming on the move. The Xbox will need to harness the heights of new technology in order to stay in the running in the great console battle.