Microsoft’s celebration of the Xbox Project’s 20th anniversary continued this week with the streaming debut of “Xbox Pioneers: Creativity & Innovation – Past, Present & Future,” a panel discussion between some of Xbox’s early architects, recorded November 9.
Topics covered included anecdotes from the start of the project, insight into what drove some of the first decisions in Xbox history, and predictions of what will come next in the video game industry.
The discussion was moderated by retired Nintendo President Reggie Fils-Aimé, who seemed just as surprised to be there as anyone. He chaired a panel of Bonnie Ross, current Microsoft 343 Industries branch manager, and the only panelist still working at Microsoft; former Microsoft vice president Ed Fries, who was one of the first Microsoft employees to sign the Xbox project; Robbie Bach, who retired from Microsoft in 2010 after leading its entertainment division for 10 years; and Peter Moore, vice president of Microsoft’s interactive entertainment division from 2003 to 2007, where he became famous among fans for his Halo 2 tattoo.
Since joining Microsoft, Bach, Fries, and Moore have all pursued new endeavors. Bach recently wrote a novel, a political thriller called Wilkes’ resurrection; Moore spent three years as CEO of Liverpool Football Club before taking his current role at Unity Technologies; and Fries is co-chair of 1Up Ventures, a gaming-focused venture capital firm.
Read on for highlights from their 45-minute session.
- On the first Xbox game: Ross’s first game for the Xbox was the launch title Fuzion Frenzy, which was also the first Xbox game to pass certification tests, and subsequently the first completed game for the Xbox Library.
- On Xbox Live: Bach highlighted the original version of Xbox Live, which premiered in November 2002, as one of the more creative decisions on the original platform. “When I think back to those early days,” Bach said, “Xbox Live was… super creative from a business point of view. The idea that people would pay $ 49 a year to have a subscription. Think about the number of services. subscription that you had in 2002. Xbox was really trying to innovate in the business model.
- More on Xbox Live: The original details of Xbox Live were difficult at first, such as voice integration. “My memory is how crazy people thought we were,” Bach said. He credited the original Tom Clancy’s phantom recognition as a title that made people aware of the value of the Xbox Live service.
- On the Ethernet port: One of the crucial decisions for the Xbox was whether to put a modem or an Ethernet port on it, according to Fries, because Microsoft couldn’t afford to include both features in the final unit. This decision ultimately fell to Bach, who forgot he was the one who made it, but opted for the Ethernet port because “it made more sense to go with the future than with the past.”
- On a 56k modem: Bill Gates, reportedly, on the decision not to include a 56k modem in the Xbox: “This is the dumbest thing I have ever heard.”
- About the brand image: Moore’s influence is the reason Xbox products do not feature the Microsoft logo prominently, as he chose to build the brand separately.
- On Halo and Xbox Live: Ross Credits Halo 2, and the synergy of its developer Bungie working with the Xbox team, to propel Xbox Live into its leading role on the Xbox platform.
- On Sega and Xbox: In Moore’s previous position at Sega of America, he was the executive who called for the shutdown of Sega’s last console, the Dreamcast, in 2001. Since the Dreamcast’s operating system was running Windows CE , Sega and Microsoft already had a strong working relationship. , and Sega was the first console maker to launch into online gaming. When the time came, Moore was able to make the connection between the Dreamcast and Xbox, especially when the first version of Xbox Live hit the market.
- Learn more about Sega and Xbox: This in turn explained something I had always wondered about the original Xbox software line. Despite his lack of popularity in Japan (he reportedly sold only 450,000 units in the Japanese market), Xbox still ended up somehow as a clearinghouse for original Japanese games, such as Panzer, Panzer Dragoon Orta, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, and Phantom dust. Between Ed Fries’ attempts to raise awareness and Moore’s ties to Sega and Japan, the Xbox ended up hosting several niche titles of the genre that had already found a place on the Dreamcast. “As the Dreamcast faded into the sunset,” Moore said, “the baton was passed to Xbox.”
- On diversity: “When you think of Halo and the other games in our portfolio, ”said Ross,“ it’s about making sure you have a diverse world and a diverse set of characters. It’s no longer so much about the Xbox itself, to paraphrase it, as “meeting the players where they are at” and using the recent acquisitions of Microsoft studios as a way to have something. for everyone.
- Learn more about diversity: “The gaming industry is arguably, or soon will be, the largest media company in the world,” said Fries. “That kind of means that term ‘gamer’ is going away. We’re all gamers in a sense. Look at mobile games right now, over half of mobile gamers are female. But who’s making the content? Unfortunately, that’s only a small percentage of game makers, and that has to change. To create authentic content, it has to come from people who are like the audience, as Bonnie puts it. “
- On user-generated content: Development technology has advanced to the point where, at least in theory, everyone in the gaming space could create their own content, if not their own games. Ross pointed out HaloForge mode, Forzathe liveries created by the players and the entire Minecraft like spaces where personalized user content is a big part of the overall experience.
- Learn more about the creators: Moore, in his current role as senior vice president at Unity Technologies, was speaking on the same day as Acquired unit the Lord of the Rings Weta Digital, the special effects company of director Peter Jackson. “We think there are already 2 billion creators,” he said. “We also believe that the world will break into real-time 3D,” citing sports broadcasts as an example.
- On the future of content: Bach predicted that in the future the dividing lines between the various entertainment industries – music, movies, games, television – would crumble. “Real-time streaming of music, video and television all come together. I just think there are some really cool opportunities for different types of content that we won’t even know how to categorize.
- In augmented reality and virtual reality: “I think AR will be more practical [than VR] because it’s a mixture of worlds and a mixture of entertainment, ”said Ross, when Fils-Aimé broached the subject of the metaverse. “It brings everything together.”
- Learn more about augmented reality and virtual reality: Bach sees the VR / AR space dividing, between attempts to transition awkward VR headsets to ‘glass’ and improvements in productivity (ie.
- On PC games: “I’ve heard for 30 years that PC gaming is dying,” Fries said. “No, it’s not dying. He grows up. There is room in the market for VR and AR.
- On future entertainment experiences: Moore and Unity are working on ways to disrupt the world of live entertainment (“the democratization of the entertainment experience”), using virtual and mixed reality to open events to remote attendees. “It almost seems archaic to have the chance to win the lottery, buy a ticket, travel somewhere…”
- On the metaverse: Bach asked Fils-Aimé about the social implications of the Metaverse, where someone could have an entirely different life in virtual reality. “This is where an AR-type experience is socially better,” Fils-Aimé said, “because you are not completely outside the real world experience. I am concerned about an experience that takes you away from you. about your family, the environment, all of those things. My parenting instincts also come into play, in terms of what I would rather see my kids do. “
- Learn more about the metaverse: Fries had just visited Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park in Washington DC and recalled one of Roosevelt’s quotes: “Order without freedom and freedom without order are also destructive. He noted that if the metaverse is created, this should be kept in mind. “They’re always about people, and when you get people you have to have a balance between those two things.”
- On ethics: “As technology owners, we have a responsibility,” said Ross, to think about ethics and social concerns when building the VR / AR space. “I think we see it unfolding in front of us – what happens when we don’t. And I think this is our second chance at this.
- On Gates’ interrupted game of bridge: Asked about his memories of his time with Xbox, Moore recounted how at one point he approved downtime for several NT servers that run Microsoft’s casual games. Unfortunately for him, this included the app that Gates regularly used to play bridge online with Warren Buffett, which resulted in an annoying phone call from Gates to Moore.