Microsoft’s entry into the console business at the turn of the 21st century caught the industry off guard. Even though Microsoft was one of the most successful technology companies in the world, the thought of an American company competing directly in an industry dominated by Japanese titans like Sony and Nintendo seemed like a significant gamble to some. With a strategy focused on powerful hardware, mature software, and online gaming, the first Xbox console established Microsoft as a major player in the space, even if they fell well short of the success of Sony’s PlayStation 2.
It wouldn’t be until the release of Microsoft’s sophomore console, the Xbox 360, that things really started to turn around. Gamers flocked to the 360 thanks to its smooth performance, strong stable of first and third-party software, and intuitive online features. Though Nintendo’s Wii would end up besting it in terms of sales, the 360 is looked at by many as the real winner of its console generation, primarily because it was able to take significant market share away from Sony thanks to the early struggles of the PlayStation 3. Microsoft’s third and current console, the Xbox One, has had a much tougher time due to increased competition from the Sony PS4, Nintendo Switch, and PC gaming. That being said, Microsoft has taken steps to course-correct from the Xbox One’s early struggles and the console is much better than it was at launch in 2013.
The Xbox brand has endured its share of ups and downs, and there is a fascinating history behind many of the decisions Microsoft has made with its console business. With that in mind, here are a few interesting bits of Xbox trivia that you may not have been aware of previously.
15. Epic Games Convinced Microsoft To Increase The Xbox 360’s Power
Released a year into the Xbox 360’s lifecycle, Gears of War is often touted as the first true “next-gen” release (by 2006 standards anyway), as Epic Games’ third-person shooter was a visual powerhouse designed to show off the capabilities of Microsoft’s hardware. That being said, there was a very real possibility of Gears of War not being as impressive as it was if Epic had not been able to force Microsoft’s hand on one important hardware decision.
The Xbox 360 was originally meant to ship with around 256 MB of RAM but Epic convinced them to increase it to 512 MB after showing off how much better Gears would look with double the RAM. In order to help make up the cost, Microsoft decided not to make the 360’s hard drive standard, which is how we ended up with two different SKUs on launch day in November 2005. Still, considering you could always buy a 360 hard drive later on if you bought the cheaper Arcade Edition, it’s safe to say Microsoft made the right decision in the end.
14. The Rock Helped Reveal The Original Xbox
Long before he became one of the world’s most bankable blockbuster stars, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was leveraging his status as the WWE’s (which was still called the WWF in those days) “People’s Champ” to help Microsoft sell their brand new gaming console to the American public. At CES 2001, The Rock appeared onstage alongside Bill Gates for the Xbox’s official unveiling. According to the wrestler, Microsoft had “left no rock un-turned (pun intended)” with their new console, which was “powerful, exhilarating, and cutting-edge – everything The Rock is,” (his words, not ours). Of course, it didn’t hurt that The Rock was also appearing in an upcoming Xbox game called WWF Raw, which was released the following year just a few months after the Xbox’s North American launch.
13. The Last Original Xbox Game
Microsoft abandoned the original Xbox pretty quickly after the release of its successor, the Xbox 360, in 2005 but the console was still supported with new software from third-party publishers for a number of years after. It wasn’t until nearly three years later on August 12, 2008 that the Xbox saw its final game shipped. Sports games are generally the last genre to go when consoles are on the way out, so it’s unsurprising that the Xbox’s final title was Madden NFL 09. Microsoft stopped supporting the console altogether the next year on April 15, 2010 when Xbox Live support was shut down.
12. All The Cancelled Rare Games
Microsoft shocked the gaming world when it purchased Rare from Nintendo in 2002 for the tidy sum of $375 million. At the time, Rare was one of the most talented and successful game studios in the world, having produced a wide array of successful games for Nintendo consoles such as Donkey Kong Country, GoldenEye 007, and Perfect Dark. Many assumed Rare’s hot streak would only continue (if not get even hotter) on Xbox thanks to the increased resources provided by Microsoft, but this never really came to fruition.
While Rare released some decent games for the Xbox console, such as Grabbed by the Ghoulies and a Conker’s Bad Fur Day remake, the studio’s Xbox output was not up to their usual standard. Part of the reason may be that Rare has had trouble finishing games ever since coming under Microsoft’s control, with nearly 20 games having been scrapped. Some of these canned projects include a sequel to the Xbox 360 launch title Kameo: Elements of Power and a survival horror game called Ordinary Joe.
11. The Gamerscore Leader Has a Lifetime Xbox Live Subscription
The Xbox 360’s Achievements system introduced a new way to interact with games, providing a variety of meta-objectives to strive for. While most Xbox users only casually pay attention to their Achievements and accompanying Gamerscore, some have remained obsessively dedicated since day one. The world’s Gamerscore leader is Stallion83 (real name Ray Cox) and as of this writing, his score stands at an astonishing 1,734,120. Microsoft took notice of Stallion83’s dedication and presented him with a literal gold Xbox Live subscription, which grants him free service for the rest of his life. Maybe he’ll get a lifetime supply of games too when he hits the two million mark …
10. Sonic was Almost an Xbox Launch Title
The early 2000s was a wild time for the console industry, as we saw the fall of one titan (Sega) and the rise of another in the form of Microsoft’s Xbox. Microsoft’s forary into the console space came about just as Sega was making the transition from hardware manufacturer to software-only publisher in the wake of the Dreamcast’s failure. As such, Sega was (at least potentially) in the market to sell off some of its brands and Microsoft was front of the line to buy. It turns out that Microsoft actually had its sights set on Sonic the Hedgehog, which was still one of the most popular franchises in gaming at the time and having a new Sonic game launched alongside the Xbox would have made for a huge power play.
Ultimately, Bill Gates himself put the kibosh on any potential deal when he reasoned that Sega simply wasn’t big enough to compete with Sony and decided that Microsoft would just do things their way. Sonic would end up finding a temporary home on the Nintendo GameCube before Sega decided to go multi-platform but for a brief moment in time, the blue speedster was nearly an Xbox mascot. Fortunately, Microsoft had a little game called Halo to fall back on …
9. The Most “American” Xbox Game Was A Japanese Exclusive
If we told you there’s a video game that lets you play as the President of the United States piloting a mech in order to defend the nation against a military coup staged by the Vice President, you’d probably say that sounds like the most patriotic game in existence. Well, that game exists and it’s called Metal Wolf Chaos but rather shockingly, it was never released stateside. Developed by From Software — the same studio responsible for the Dark Souls series — Metal Wolf Chaos was a Microsoft-published release for the original Xbox in 2004, but the game only came out in Japan. It’s unclear why the game was never released in the US but the game has since achieved a cult status thanks to its over-the-top (and hilarious) uber-patriotic tone.
8. The Duke’s Replacement
Everything about the original Xbox’s design was big and bulky, but while this didn’t really matter all that much when it came to the console itself (unless those particular design aesthetics were a dealbreaker, of course), it was a different matter when it came to the Xbox controller. Now rather affectionately known as “the Duke,” the first iteration of the Xbox pad was seemingly designed exclusively for basketball players, as the controller’s massive form factor made it uncomfortable for most people to play.
At the same time, Microsoft was having trouble marketing its new console to Japanese audiences (a trend that would plague each successive Xbox console as well), but one thing the company got right was its Japanese controller design, which was significantly smaller than the Duke. Microsoft ended up replacing the Duke worldwide with the Japanese design in 2002 and the “Controller S” became the Xbox’s standard controller from that point on.
7. All the Discarded Console Names
Microsoft’s first console went through a number of different name changes before “Xbox” was finally settled on; in fact, there were about 35 that were considered at one point or another. Microsoft’s PR team ended up testing a number of names with various focus groups, including MIND (Microsoft Interactive Network Device), FACE (Full Action Centre), R&R (Reality and Revolution), E2 (Extreme Experience), O2 (Optimal Ozone/Optical Odyssey, MTG (Microsoft Total Gaming), and AIO (All In One).
One of the most popular names that the internal “naming guys” almost went ahead with was 11-X or Eleven-X but thankfully, Seamus Blackley, one of the console’s lead designers, insisted on calling it the “Xbox.” The Xbox name was actually derived from a pretty obvious source — Direct X, the shorthand term for the collection of application programming interfaces (APIs) that handled tasks on Windows-based architecture. Ironically, the final version of the Xbox would ditch Windows altogether, but the name still stuck.
6. The Green Orb’s Meaning
Microsoft touted the Xbox as the world most powerful gaming console (because well, it was) and what better way to convey that power than with a big green, glowing orb. Green has been a prominent Xbox color from the beginning — according to Seamus Blackley, green was the only color the console’s designer, Horace Luke, had on-hand after all of his nice marker pens were stolen so the color stuck — to the point where a giant green orb was placed at the center of the Xbox’s design. The thinking behind this was that it gave the notion that the Xbox was a nuclear-powered machine practically overflowing with energy and potential (the orb can also be seen in the original Xbox-s boot-up animation). And here we thought it had something to do with Mountain Dew …
5. Xbox One Controllers $100 Million Cost
The Xbox 360 is widely considered one of the best gaming controllers ever made, so it’s not surprising that Microsoft changed very little when it came time to design the Xbox One gamepad. Or did they? Believe it or not, Microsoft invested $100 million developing the Xbox One controller, in an effort to make refinements on pretty much every level. Everything from the analogue stick rubber to the sensitivity of the triggers was addressed, though a considerable portion of that $100 million went to wild concepts that ended up on the cutting room floor, such as a cartridge that could emit smells (smell-o-vision?) and a built-in projector. Unfortunately, all that money didn’t stop the first run of Xbox One controllers from being largely inferior to their Xbox 360 counterparts and — at least in our own experience — prone to a whole host of problems.
4. Resident Evil 4 Was Almost An Xb0x Exclusive
The Resident Evil franchise was a Nintendo exclusive for a brief period during the GameCube years, but Capcom’s survival horror series came close to landing on the Xbox instead. In fact, Microsoft held a meeting with Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami in an attempt to secure Resident Evil 4 as an Xbox exclusive. Unfortunately, the meeting proved disastrous for Microsoft after Mikami posed a question to Xbox co-creator Kevin Bachus’ representatives that completely stumped them.
Mikami asked the team what games meant to them in terms of artistic expression, ostensibly as a way to gauge the company’s philosophy compared to their rivals Sony and Nintendo. Microsoft’s reps were not prepared for such a question and due in part to having to speak to Mikami through a translator, the Resident Evil director was dissatisfied with their answer and reportedly stood up, bowed, and exited the room. Ironically, Bachus was a firm believer in games being much more than just entertainment but Mikami still ended up signing a deal with Nintendo instead.
3. Microsoft Tried To Partner With Sony
Prior to entering the console market with its own internally-developed hardware, Microsoft considered partnering with a company that would end up becoming one of its biggest rivals, Sony. Much like how Sony themselves tried to partner with Nintendo to release a split disc/cartridge add-on for the Super Nintendo prior to launching the PlayStation, Bill Gates was in talks with Sony CEO Noboyuki Idei to include Microsoft tech in the PlayStation 2. Idei ended up rejecting the offer and Gates reportedly took it quite personally. Recognizing the PS2 as a major threat to PC gaming, Gates ended up investing heavily in Xbox instead, at least partly as a retaliatory move against Sony.
2. The 360 Red Ring of Death Cost Microsoft Over $1 Billion
Long before it became a legendary gaming meme, the Xbox 360’s infamous “red ring of death” was a very real PR disaster for Microsoft and its sophomore console. During the 360’s first few years on the market, numerous consoles were afflicted with the issue, which left them completely inoperable. Most video game consoles have an expected failure rate well below 5% but according to a 2009 SquareTrade report, the Xbox 360’s was an astounding 23.7% compared with the PlayStation 3’s 10% (also fairly high) and the Nintendo Wii’s 2.7%.
In an effort to keep customers from jumping ship entirely, Microsoft increased the Xbox 360’s manufacturer warranty from one to three years, a move that came attached with a price tag in excess of $1 billion. Fortunately for everyone involved, the Xbox One is generally a considered a far more reliable piece of hardware.
1. Microsoft Lost $4 Billion On The Original Xbox
Most companies would be crazy to jump into a competitive, expensive market dominated by Sony and Nintendo, but Microsoft was better equipped than most to weather some early losses when they introduced their first video game console back in 2001. It’s a good thing Microsoft had deep pockets too as it’s estimated that they ended up losing a whopping $4 billion on the Xbox brand between 2001-2005. Much of this can be attributed to the fact that the PlayStation 2 absolutely dominated the market during this period but also because Microsoft lost $125 on every Xbox sold, as it cost $425 to make but was being sold for $299. In fact, Xbox hardware has continued to prove unprofitable for Microsoft to this day, but these losses have been offset considerably by software profits and subscription services such as Xbox Live.
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