The Xbox is a video game console first released on November 15, 2001 in North America. It was Microsoft's first independent venture into the console arena, after having collaborated with Sega in porting Windows CE to the Sega Dreamcast console. Notable launch titles for the console include Amped, Dead or Alive 3, Halo: Combat Evolved, Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee, Project Gotham Racing.
The Xbox was initially developed within Microsoft by a small crew including Seamus Blackley, a game developer and high energy physicist.
Sales and games
Some critics were initially concerned that the Xbox would allow Microsoft to extend its dominance of the PC software market to consoles. However, as of February 2005, estimates show the Xbox's share of the worldwide console market is only slightly ahead of the Nintendo GameCube and far behind the PlayStation 2. Indeed, Xbox for the most part has a smaller selection of the teen-adult games than the PlayStation 2 has, with Xbox's advantages over the PS2 version being mostly performance, graphics and sound. Some poor first-party games did damage the initial reputation of the Xbox, leading to the impression that the Xbox emphasized hardware graphics over game design. Conversely, some third-party Xbox games were merely ports of the PS2 version that failed to exploit the Xbox's full potential. Also, Xbox did have trouble getting top-notch console-exclusive games, a strategy with the Grand Theft Auto series that made the PlayStation 2 very successful.
In 2002–03, there were several releases that helped the Xbox to better compete against the PS2. Xbox Live online service was successfully launched and several best-selling and critically-acclaimed titles for the Xbox were published, such as Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, putting the Xbox on par with its rivals with quality gaming. Take-Two's (publisher of Grand Theft Auto) exclusivity deal with Sony was amended to include the Xbox after Xbox sales improved, making it too good of a market for GTA's publisher to deny. In addition, many other publishers got into the trend of releasing the Xbox version right alongside the PS2 version instead of delaying it for months.
Some consider the Xbox's freshman foray into the console market particularly successful in spite of the established dominance of PlayStation 2 whose market lead had been due to the original PlayStation base, and compared to the GameCube which has failed to match the sales of its Nintendo 64 predecessor. In fact, the Xbox's success is remarkable despite the excessive criticism directed at it during its first year of launch, which was often expected since Xbox was the newcomer to the video game industry and because of Microsoft's less-than-stellar reputation.
Besides the large original controller, critics of the Xbox often point out the enormous size of the console which has made it the largest in recent history. However, this overlooks the fact that the Xbox takes advantage of this to include more powerful graphics and audio hardware, online capability, and a hard drive (instead of having to separately purchase memory cards as with the PS2 and GameCube).
Because of its close similarities to PC hardware, the Xbox was ridiculed as being expected to have a library of mostly PC ports instead of console specific games. However, this was less of the case as certain games such as Unreal Championship and its sequel were designed specifically for the Xbox. As a corollary, many best selling cross-platform games such as EA Sports are not always designed specifically for consoles. Lastly, the Xbox is well positioned to take advantage of a slowdown in the saturated PC gaming market since in 2001 an Xbox cost as much as a high-end GeForce 3 video card alone, while having comparable graphics processing power (the Xbox's NV2A is a derivative of the GeForce 3). Many gamers welcomed the Xbox port of Doom 3 since that game rendered most existing pre-GeForce 3 PC systems obsolete. Other notable titles in development that could only run on the Xbox and not the GameCube or PlayStation 2 include Half-life 2 and Far Cry.
Much criticism is considered unwarranted bias, such as when the Xbox unfairly receives extra attention for poor titles (often subpar graphics, or graphics over design), more so than the PlayStation 2 which had more low-rated titles overall. One example of anti-Xbox bias was the selection of Halo: Combat Evolved as the Game of the Year in 2001, with many dissenters claiming that Halo was overhyped (often criticized for lacking Xbox Live) and that the true winner should have been Grand Theft Auto III (which lacked a multiplayer feature). Nonetheless, Halo outsold several top PS2 games that season including Final Fantasy X , Gran Turismo 3, and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Some attributed this to the smaller number of launch titles are available for Xbox, as the PS2 had a wider range of notable titles released that competed for consumer's money, whilst Halo - even today - remains the console's standout title. Others saw Halo's success as remarkable in 2001 because the PS2 a head start (being released earlier) and it was expected that PS2 games would top sales charts due to the its larger installed base. Like its predecessor, Halo 2 outsold all PS2 games in the 2004 holiday season except for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
On May 2, 2003 a translucent green limited edition was released with 2 matching controller S pads in Europe, similar to the american Halo Xbox but without the Halo logo on it. It retailed for €229.99/£149.99. They were version 1.2 and had the Philips DVD drive.
On April 16, 2004, Microsoft released a special version of the Xbox in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. This version came with Halo: Combat Evolved packed in and was a translucent green color. The system and its controller featured the Halo logo on it. The version of Halo that came with this bundle was identical to other versions of Halo, with the exception of a "NOT FOR RESALE" notice placed on the front of the game case. Only 200,000 Halo Xboxes were produced.
The Xbox has not sold well in Japan, mainly because Microsoft was unable to enlist enough local developers to cater to Japanese interests. The large size of the hardware itself (in particular the controller was too big for the average Japanese hand) did not endear itself to consumers who also did not see the Xbox's increased processing power as a significant advantage. The fact that the Xbox was foreign-produced and marketed (Japanese tend to buy domestic goods) also did further harm.
In much of Europe, the Xbox's market share is currently slightly ahead of the GameCube, but is still far behind the PlayStation 2. Microsoft predicted that it would not make a profit on the Xbox for at least three years and that turned out to be correct; the division had its first profitable quarter in 2005.
In November 2002, Microsoft released the successful Xbox Live online gaming service, allowing subscribers to play online Xbox games with (or against) other subscribers all around the world and download new content for their games to the hard drive. This online service only works with broadband. The milestone of 1 million subscribers was announced in July 2004, and as of July 2005 the service now has over 2 million subscribers.
Several internal hardware revisions have been made to discourage modding (all of which have been defeated by updated modchip designs or installation procedures), cut manufacturing costs, and to provide a more reliable DVD-ROM drive (the early units' drives were prone to failure).
Hardware - specifications
Microsoft built the Xbox around industry-standard PC hardware, unlike the traditionally proprietary design of nearly all other gaming consoles.
The inclusion of the hard disk not only serves as a disk cache for faster game loading times, it also allows users to download new content for their games from Xbox Live and copy music from standard Audio CDs so players can replace the soundtrack of Xbox games.
Although the Xbox is based on commodity PC hardware and runs a stripped-down version of the Windows 2000 kernel using APIs based largely on DirectX, it incorporates restrictions designed to prevent uses not approved by Microsoft. The Xbox does not use Windows CE due to Microsoft internal politics at the time, as well as limited support in Windows CE for DirectX.
The Xbox itself is much larger and heavier than its contemporaries. Mostly, this is due to a large tray-loading DVD-ROM drive and the standard-size 3.5" hard drive. Despite managing to be smaller and lighter than similar commodity PCs, the Xbox has found itself a target of mild derision, as gamers poke fun at it for things like a warning in the Xbox manual that a falling Xbox "could cause serious injury" to a small child or pet. While some elements of the Xbox's design, like breakaway cables for the controllers to prevent the console from being yanked from the shelf, take the size into account, it has undoubtedly hurt the system's sales to the space-conscious Japanese.
Another common complaint about the system was that the original game controller design was seen as too large for some people. A smaller controller was introduced for the Japanese Xbox launch, and a modified design of that was subsequently released in other markets as the "Controller S" while the original controller was quietly discontinued. Currently, all Xbox consoles come with a "Controller S", and the original version of the controller (also known as "The Duke") is no longer sold.
Official Xbox accessories
Numerous unofficial third-party cables and breakout boxes exist that provide combinations of outputs not found in these official video packages; however, with the exception of a few component-to-VGA transcoders and custom-built VGA boxes, the four official video packages represent all of the Xbox's possible outputs. This output selectivity is made possible by the Xbox's SCART-like AVIP port.
Controllers and removable storage
Xbox and DirectX
Microsoft's set of low-level APIs for game development and multimedia purposes, DirectX, was used as a basis for the Xbox's hardware programming. The Xbox API is similar to DirectX version 8.1, but is non-updateable just like other console technologies.
Modding the Xbox
The recent popularity of the Xbox has inspired efforts to circumvent the built-in hardware and software security mechanisms (sometimes in order to use the Xbox as a low cost web server), as well as to add customized design touches to the console's case (similar to PC case modding). Hardware modding can involve anything from simply replacing the console's green decorative "jewel" with a custom-designed one to opening up the case and installing a modchip.
In July 2005, a 22 year old Cambridge University graduate was convicted under the EU Copyright Directive for modifying an Xbox and selling it with an upgraded hard drive, which was pre-loaded with games. This was the first conviction of its kind in the UK. (The Directive makes it illegal to circumvent copy protection systems on hardware including video game consoles.) It is the first conviction since the Directive was enacted in October 2003 in the UK. He was sentenced to 140 hours community service and ordered to pay £750 costs at a court in Caerphilly, Wales.
Software modding is much less intrusive, and only involves running software exploits to trick the Xbox into running unsigned program code. This allows running an alternate dashboard such as Avalaunch, Evolution-X or UnleashX and in turn makes playing original (free) homebrew games or various older games through arcade and console game emulators possible. This is especially attractive as the Xbox is designed to output to TVs, and high-quality controllers and arcade sticks are available for it.
The original hard drive can be replaced with a larger one. Then Xbox games can be copied from the DVD to the hard disk with programs such as DVD2Xbox and PxHDDLoader, and then played directly from the hard drive. This allows the user to spare game disks from scratching and allows for faster load times. This process does require a modded Xbox using one of the alternative dashboards, and is used by scrupulous users to eliminate load times or leave their games in storage, and by unscrupulous users to play illegally copied games.
Beyond gaming, a modded Xbox can be used as a media center with the Xbox Media Center software (XBMC) allowing the playing of DVDs without the DVD dongle/remote and streaming of music and video files from the hard drive or from another computer over a network. A modded Xbox can even be configured into a computer running Linux, FreeBSD, or Microsoft Windows CE operating systems.
Modding an Xbox may require opening the Xbox case, and would certainly void the Xbox's warranty. Also, most internal hardware modifications will render an Xbox unable to participate in Xbox Live, which has forced many modders to use a switch that turns on and off their modifications. As of November 2004, Microsoft has been taking new actions for banning Xboxs with hard drive modifications from the Xbox Live service. One such successful use of Live to discourage modding was when the hit game Halo 2 was released, and many owners of modded Xboxes found out that they were banned from the Xbox Live service.
Of note is the high European launch price. As with many games consoles (for example, the PlayStation series), the Xbox was launched with a price in GBP equal to its US price in USD (in this case, $/£299), and this price then converted for the rest of Europe. Obviously, ignoring the GBP-USD exchange rate in the way gives the impression of a 100% mark-up for Europe.
With a price-dropped PlayStation 2 and a comparatively inexpensive GameCube as competition, many users were naturally reluctant to invest in the console (interestingly, the PS2 had faced similar attacks during the UK tabloids' preoccupation with "Ripoff Britain"). Microsoft countered with a £100 price drop (and its equivalent in the rest of Europe) some scant months after launch. To avoid frustrating early adopters, they offered a bundle containing two games and one controller for free to any purchaser who could provide a sales receipt showing the original higher price.