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The original Xbox launched on November 15, meaning that Microsoft’s first console is nearing its 20th anniversary.
Our own Dean Takahashi chatted with Xbox co-creator Seamus Blackley during our GamesBeat Summit Next digital event earlier this week. During the discussion, Blackley explained what he learned from the monumental project.
“The biggest lesson is to stick with your convictions,” Blackley said. “And it sounds incredibly stupid and naïve, but it’s so true. I think in retrospect, you look at something like Xbox — or really any successful project — and you think, it was obvious, or it must have been really fun to work on that. And when people ask that, yeah, I want to tell them it was really great. I want to tell them a nice story. The part that is hard to talk about is that at the time nobody knew that it was going to work. In fact internally a lot of people at Microsoft called the project “coffin box.” And all sorts of people who said they would help or support ended up leaving.”
Blackley noted that sometimes the project’s future would seem so uncertain that he’d drive home in tears worried about his career. But he notes that feelings like that are common when you’re working on a hard and consequential project like Xbox. It’s important to stick with your vision or else you’ll certainly fail, and you’ll have failed for nothing. And what was the vision for Xbox?
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“We thought that with this technology — creating a platform where the tool and delivery hardware were the same device — that we would really empower creative people to do more stuff with less friction,” Blackley explained.
X marks the start
We take the Xbox brand for granted today, but in 2001 its success was far from a guarantee. Japanese console makers had dominated the market since the Nintendo Entertainment System. Sure, Microsoft had the money to compete, but so did Google.
Of course, Microsoft had help when it debuted Xbox with Halo, which became a big hit and one of the most consequential launch games of all time. But even then, the original Xbox was only a mild success. Its total sales don’t come close to the era’s top machine, PlayStation 2. But Microsoft has kept investing in the brand, and now Xbox is thriving with the Series X and Series S.
But without the work of Blackley and that original Xbox team, the console market would look dramatically different today. You can see all of Blackley’s talk with Dean in the video above. Happy birthday, Xbox!
The RetroBeat is a weekly column that looks at gaming’s past, diving into classics, new retro titles, or looking at how old favorites — and their design techniques — inspire today’s market and experiences. If you have any retro-themed projects or scoops you’d like to send my way, please contact me.