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As many of you will know, November 15th, 2021 will mark the 20th anniversary of Xbox! In this article, we will explore the past 20 years of Xbox starting from day 1, including iconic games, iconic moments, and more!
Despite being launched in late 2001, Xbox was a concept as far back as 1998 when it was intended to be called the DirectX box; the console was the first console to be built like a PC and paved the way for consoles to come. The console would run on the Windows 2000 platform so it was easy to work on for software developers and would harvest more than twice the processing power than the then industry leader – the Sony PlayStation 2. Although it was feared by the marketing team that the abbreviated name Xbox wouldn’t work as well as the original name, focus groups loved it, giving the console the catchy name that would come to dominate the console market for decades to come.
After two years of working hard to develop the console, Microsoft was ready to unveil the device to the public, choosing to do this at the Game Developers Conference in 2000 where founder Bill Gates raised the curtains on what would become one of the most popular consoles of all time! Featuring specifications that were market-leading at the time such as internal storage and the potential for online play, paired with the systems vastly better specifications compared to the competition the Xbox drew in the world’s attention, however some remained skeptical, labeling it as a fancy PC pretending to be a console!
After continuing to back the Xbox with more advertising budget, Gates appeared again to show off more impressive demonstrations at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, with Microsoft meeting developer Bungie here who were already working on a game that you may have heard of – Halo! A short time later it was announced that Microsoft had purchased developer Bungie for $30 million, and after a further 12 months of tweaks to both the console itself and its flagship title Halo to take full advantage of the console’s specifications, it was time to reveal the final design, as well as the release date of the console at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2001, with a presentation hosted by Bill Gates starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
November 14th, 2001 saw the long-anticipated release of the new console, and Bill Gates himself attended the Times Square branch of Toys ‘R’ US in New York to kick off what would become Microsoft’s first step to conquering the console gaming market. Over 1 million consoles were sold in the three weeks following the console’s launch, which at the time were unheard of numbers and smashed any remaining doubts over the console’s “bulky” design and $299 price tag. One of the key factors that helped the console sell so many units was its flagship title Halo, which was by itself long anticipated and was hyped to be one of the most significant first-person shooter releases in years, with the market in that genre being labeled as “stale” around that time! Sales of Halo shattered all sorts of records as gamers snapped up over 1 million copies of the shooter within a few short weeks of launch.
It wasn’t long before the Xbox had made its way over into Japan and Europe, with Japan getting a February 2002 launch date while Europe still had to wait until March 2002 to get their hands on an Xbox console they could call their very own. Fears held by Microsoft at the time were soon validated as the console failed to do as well as it was hoped overseas, with the sales in Japan being a measly 123,000 units. After what was overall a somewhat unsuccessful launch for their first console when all markets were considered and compared to expectations that were exceedingly high for any console, let alone a new machine entirely!
A few short months later came the birth of Xbox Live, with this arguably being the biggest event ever in the console’s history and is undeniably a key factor in the growth Microsoft was able to achieve in the console industry. The BETA for Xbox Live was launched in August of 2002 however it wasn’t until November that year users were able to take advantage of the entire network. In what was a first for the console industry, players from all over the world were able to compete with each other, laying the foundation for decades to come! As well as being able to compete with players from all over the globe, users were able to download new content for games! The service gained over 150,000 users in its first week meaning the service was a huge success for Microsoft, and the number of users continued to sky-rocket for years to come.
The next year the codename “Xeon” had started bouncing around the Xbox department at Microsoft and rumors were beginning to rumble that a new generation of Xbox consoles was in the works. Sure enough, the Xbox 360 Arcade launched the following year in November 2004, although it wasn’t until later versions of the Xbox 360 where Microsoft developed the Xbox brand into the one we know today! Whilst the Xbox console itself was dwindling in both profits and popularity, Halo 2 came along to save the day, with sales of the title sky-rocketing despite console sales continuing to fall.
Fast forward yet another year and we get the full-spec Xbox 360, which with being scheduled to launch a whole year behind the upcoming PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii consoles, was at an advantage to take the console market by storm and truly dominate! Later on, in 2005 production of the original Xbox console ended with a final count of around 24 million units sold, meanwhile, the Playstation 2 would end on a whopping 153 million units sold when its production ended. Don’t be fooled however, the original Xbox was not a total fail, as well as gaining valuable experience in console development and marketing, the original Xbox did outsell infamous consoles such as the Sega Dreamcast which sold around 10.6million units, and the GameCube which sold around 22 million units. The final straw for the original Xbox was 5 years later in 2010 when the remaining Xbox Live servers for the original Xbox were shut down for the very last time.
Upon launching there were worldwide sellouts as gamers across the globe waited and waited to get their hands on this new must-have console, the previously mentioned, full-spec Xbox 360. More than 1.5 million Xbox 360 consoles had been shipped worldwide by the end of 2005, sending the Xbox 360 on its way to becoming the ‘King of Consoles’, however, whilst rushing to fulfill orders and get the console into gamers rooms and setups, some major flaws were overlooked. Enter ‘Red Ring of Death’. Just the mention of this phrase was enough to send shivers down the spine of any Xbox 360 owner, amongst other software and hardware issues surrounding the console, the ‘Red Ring of Death’ was the most feared amongst 360 owners and is one of the most notorious issues with any console to date! As a result of the issues, Microsoft had to repair or replace a seemingly endless amount of consoles as well as extend the warranty of all existing consoles, putting a massive dent in profits yet again. Despite all of its issues, the Xbox 360 sold outstandingly, selling almost 40 million units by January 2010.
In the middle of 2010, strange rumblings started happening across the gaming world as rumors of a new Xbox were doing the rounds yet again, with the fans giving the rumor the codename: Xbox 720. It wouldn’t be until 2013 when Microsoft unveiled what would be next for Xbox, leaving many fans at best disappointed with the proposed latest offering from the tech giants! Even before its launch, the Xbox One was facing struggles as rumors of limiting pre-owned games access and requiring an online connection began to circulate. With a huge price tag of $500, and an announcement from Sony later that evening that their upcoming entry to the console war would be a whole $100 lower at $400 things we’re looking at best gloomy for the upcoming addition to the Xbox family. Despite a mid-life facelift for the console and removal of consumer-unfriendly features boosting sales a little the Xbox One struggled to keep up with the PS4 in terms of units sold and popularity due to lacking titles exclusive to the Xbox One platform.
With some harsh results in the sales figures and the popularity of the competition, Microsoft was forced to show some innovation and that they did with the launch of services such as Crossplay, which allowed players on both Xbox consoles and PC to play together for the first time and Gamepass which boast a massive library of previous Xbox titles, as well as day one access to Microsoft Studio exclusives, it’s safe to say there are still plenty of perks to being an Xbox player as they lead the way with innovative services such as mentioned here.
Although supply issues have hampered the launch of the most recent offering from Xbox, called the Xbox Series X, it’s safe to say the unit boasts impressive specifications and huge demand has led to constant sell-outs over the past year since it was launched! Only time will tell how well this latest offering will fare in the ever ongoing console wars, however, one thing is for certain, with the innovation displayed with the services offered by Microsoft, and the constant battle with rivals Sony, the future remains as exciting as ever no matter where you play!
If you would like to see the latest hardware from Xbox, be sure to see our article on the 20th anniversary of Xbox here: