Microsoft’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Xbox project continued this week with the streaming debut of “Xbox Pioneers: Creativity & Innovation – Past, Present & Future,” a panel discussion between some of the early Xbox architects, recorded on 9 May. November.
Topics covered included anecdotes from the start of the project, information about what prompted some of the first decisions in Xbox history, and predictions about what will come next in the video game industry.
The discussion was hosted by retired Nintendo president Reggie Fils-Aimé, who seemed as surprised as anyone to be there. A panel was chaired by Bonnie Ross, current director of Microsoft subsidiary 343 Industries, and the only panelist still working at Microsoft; former Microsoft vice president Ed Fries, who had been one of the first Microsoft employees to log into the Xbox project; Robbie Bach, who retired from Microsoft in 2010 after leading its entertainment division for 10 years; and Peter Moore, who was corporate vice president of Microsoft’s interactive entertainment division from 2003 to 2007, where he became famous among fans for his Halo 2 tattoo.
Since their time at Microsoft, Bach, Fries, and Moore have pursued new projects. Bach recently wrote a novel, a political thriller titled The resurrection of Wilkes; Moore spent three years as CEO of Liverpool Football Club before assuming his current job at Unity Technologies; and Fries is the co-chair of 1Up Ventures, a gaming-focused venture capital firm.
Read on for the highlights of your 45-minute session.
- In the first Xbox game: Ross’s first Xbox game was the launch title. Fuzion frenzy, which was also the first Xbox game to go through certification testing, and subsequently the first full game for the Xbox library.
- On Xbox Live: Bach singled out the original version of Xbox Live, which debuted in November 2002, as one of the most creative decisions on the original platform. “When I think back to those early days,” Bach said, “Xbox Live was… super creative from a business perspective. The idea that people would pay $ 49 a year to have a subscription. Think about how many subscription services it had in 2002. Xbox was really trying to drive some business model innovation. “
- More on Xbox Live: The original Xbox Live details were difficult at first, such as voice integration. “My memory of that is how crazy people thought we were,” Bach said. He credited the original Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon as a title that made people realize the value of the Xbox Live service.
- On the Ethernet port: One of the crucial decisions for the Xbox was whether to put in a modem or an Ethernet port, according to Fries, because Microsoft couldn’t afford to include both functions in the end unit. That decision ultimately came down to Bach, who had forgotten that he had been the one to make it, but opted for the Ethernet port because “it made more sense to go with the future than the past.”
- On a 56k modem: Bill Gates reportedly on the decision not to include a 56k modem on the Xbox: “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
- About the brand: 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 to its leading role on the Xbox platform.
- On Sega and Xbox: In Moore’s previous job at Sega of America, he was the executive who made the call to discontinue Sega’s last console, Dreamcast, in 2001. Since the Dreamcast operating system ran on Windows CE, Sega and Microsoft already had a solid working relationship. , and Sega was the first console maker to jump into online games. When the time came, Moore was able to perfectly connect the dots between Dreamcast and Xbox, particularly when the first version of Xbox Live hit the market.
- More on Sega and Xbox: That, in turn, explains something I’ve always wondered about the original Xbox line of software. Despite its lack of popularity in Japan (reportedly only sold 450,000 units in the Japanese market), the Xbox still somehow ended up as a clearinghouse for wacky Japanese games, such as Breakdown, Panzer Dragoon Orta, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, other Phantom dust. Between Ed Fries’ broadcast attempts and Moore’s ties to Sega and Japan, the Xbox ended up hosting several niche titles of the kind that had previously found a home on the Dreamcast. “When the Dreamcast faded into the sunset,” Moore said, “the witness went to Xbox.”
- On diversity: “When you think of aura 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 not so much about the Xbox itself anymore, paraphrasing it, as it’s about “meet the players where they are” and use Microsoft’s recent studio acquisitions as a way to have something for everyone.
- More about diversity: “Arguably the games business is now or will soon be the largest media business in the world,” Fries said. “That means the term ‘player’ disappears. We are all players in a sense. Look at mobile games right now, more than half of mobile gamers are women. But who makes the content? Unfortunately, that’s only a small percentage of game creators, and that has to change. To create authentic content, it must come from people who are like the audience, as Bonnie says. “
- About user-generated content: Development technology has advanced to the point where, in theory at least, everyone in the games space could be creating their own content, if not their own games. Ross pointed out auraForge mode, Forzaplayer-created liveries, and the entirety of Minecraft as spaces where users’ personalized content is a big part of the overall experience.
- More about creators: Moore, in his current role as Senior Vice President at Unity Technologies, was speaking on the same day that Acquired unit Lord of the Rings Weta Digital, director Peter Jackson’s special effects company.. “We think there are already 2 billion creators,” he said. “We also believe that the world is going to break into 3D in real time,” 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) will be broken. “Streaming music, video and television in real time, it all comes together. I think there are really interesting opportunities for different types of content that we won’t even know how to categorize. “
- In RA vs. RV: “I think AR will be more practical [than VR] because it’s a mix of worlds and a mix of entertainment, “said Ross, when Fils-Aimé broached the metaverse. “Gather everything.”
- More on AR vs VR: Bach sees the division of the VR / AR space, between attempts to transition from clunky VR helmets to “glass”, and productivity improvements (ie VR training) actually going the extra mile on bulky, specialized rigs where precision is important.
- In PC games: “I’ve heard for 30 years that PC games are dying,” Fries said. “No, he is not dying. Is growing. “There is room in the market for both virtual reality and augmented reality.
- On future entertainment experiences: Moore and Unity are working on ways to alter the world of live entertainment (“the democratization of the entertainment experience”), using virtual and mixed reality to open events to remote attendees. “It feels almost archaic that you have to be lucky enough to win a lottery, buy a ticket, travel somewhere … and then stand in the back and look at a big screen because you can’t get close enough to the stage. “
- In the metaverse: Bach asked Fils-Aimé about the social implications of the metaverse, where someone could have a completely different life in virtual reality. “This is where an AR-type experience is better socially,” said Fils-Aimé, “because you are not completely outside of the real world experience. I’m worried about an experience that takes you away from your family, from the environment, from all those things. My fatherly instincts also come into play, in terms of what I’d rather see my kids do. “
- More about metaverse: Fries had just visited Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park in Washington DC and recalled one of Roosevelt’s quotes: “Order without liberty and liberty without order are equally destructive.” He noted that if the metaverse is created, that needs to be taken into account: “It’s still about people, and when you get people, you have to have a balance between those two things.”
- On ethics: “We as technology holders have a responsibility,” Ross said, to think about ethics and societal concerns as they build the VR / AR space. “I think we are seeing how it unfolds in front of us, what happens when we don’t. And I think this is our second chance. “
- On Gates’ interrupted bridge game: When asked about his memories of his time with Xbox, Moore told a story about how at one point, he had approved downtime for various NT servers running casual Microsoft games. Unfortunately for him, that included the app Gates used to use to play bridge online with Warren Buffett, resulting in an awkward phone call from Gates to Moore.