Mon. Nov 29th, 2021

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 roundtable discussion between some of the early architects behind the Xbox, recorded on the 9th November.

Topics included anecdotes from the start of the project, insights into what motivated some of the earliest decisions in the history of the Xbox, and predictions about what’s coming next in the video game industry.

The discussion hosted retired Nintendo president Reggie Fils-Aimé, who seemed just as surprised to be there as anyone else. He chaired a panel of Bonnie Ross, current head of Microsoft’s subsidiary 343 Industries, and the only panelist still working at Microsoft; ex-Microsoft Vice President Ed Fries, who had been one of the first Microsoft employees to sign on to the Xbox project; Robbie Bach, who retired from Microsoft in 2010 after leading his 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 all pursued new projects. Bach recently wrote a novel, a political thriller called The Wilkes Resurrection; Moore spent three years as CEO of Liverpool Football Club before taking up his current job at Unity Technologies; and Fries co-chairs 1Up Ventures, a game-focused venture capital firm.

Read on for highlights from their 45-minute session.

  • On the first Xbox game: Ross’ first game for Xbox was the launch title Fusion Frenzy, which was also the first Xbox game to undergo certification testing, 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 most creative decisions on the original platform. “When I think back to the 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 you have. had in 2002. Xbox really tried to drive some innovation in the business model. “
  • More about Xbox Live: The original details about Xbox Live were initially a hard pitch, such as voice integration. “My memory of it 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 a modem in it or an Ethernet port, according to Fries, because Microsoft could not afford to include both features in the final device. That decision eventually came down to Bach, who had forgotten that he had been the one doing it, but chose the Ethernet port because “it made more sense to follow 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: “It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”
  • About branding: Moore’s influence is why Xbox products do not have the Microsoft logo prominent when 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 make Xbox Live play a prominent role on the Xbox platform.
  • On Sega and Xbox: In Moore’s previous job at Sega of America, he was the director who had called to discontinue Sega’s last console, Dreamcast, in 2001. Since Dreamcast’s operating system ran on Windows CE, Sega and Microsoft have already had a strong collaboration. , and Sega had been the first console manufacturer to jump on online gaming. When the time came, Moore was able to nicely connect the dots between Dreamcast and Xbox, especially when the first version of Xbox Live came on the market.
  • More about Sega and Xbox: It again explained something I had always wondered about the original Xbox’s software selection. Despite its lack of popularity in Japan (it reportedly sold only 450,000 units in the Japanese market), the Xbox still somehow ended up as a clearing house for quirky Japanese games, such as Breakdown, Panzer Dragoon Orta, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, and Phantom dust. Between Ed Fries’ attempt at outreach 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 Dreamcast. “When Dreamcast disappeared at sunset,” Moore said, “the baton was passed to the Xbox.”
  • On diversity: “When you think about glory and the other games in our portfolio, “Ross said,” 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, to paraphrase her, as it is “meeting players where they are,” and using Microsoft’s latest studio acquisitions as a way to have something for everyone.

“The gaming industry is without a doubt now or will soon become the largest media company in the world.”

  • More about diversity: “The gaming industry is without a doubt now or will soon become the largest media company in the world,” Fries said. “That kind of means that this term ‘gamer’ disappears. We are all gamers in a way. Look at mobile games right now, more than half of mobile players are women. But who makes the content? Unfortunately, it’s only a small percentage of “The game producers, and it just needs to change. To create authentic content, it has to come from people who are like audiences, as Bonnie says.”
  • On user-generated content: Development technology has moved forward to the point where, at least in theory, everyone in the gaming field could create their own content, if not their own games. Ross pointed glory‘s Forge mode, Power‘s player-created liveries, and the whole Minecraft as spaces where users’ customized content is a big part of the overall experience.
  • More about creators: Moore, in his current position as senior VP at Unity Technologies, happened to be speaking the same day that Unity bought Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson’s special effects company Weta Digital. “We think there are already 2 billion creators,” he said. “We also believe the world will break into 3D in real time,” citing sports broadcasts as an example.
  • About the content of the future: Bach predicted that the dividing lines between separate entertainment industries – music, movies, games, television – would collapse in the future. “Music and video and TV in real time, it’s connected. I just think there’s really cool options for different types of content that we do not even know how to categorize.”
  • On AR vs. VR: “I think AR will be more practical [than VR] because it’s a mix of worlds and a mix of entertainment, ”Ross said as Fils-Aimé tackled the subject of the meta-verse. “It brings everything.”
  • More about AR vs. VR: Bach sees the VR / AR space split between attempts to switch away from clumsy VR helmets and into “glass”, and productivity improvements (ie training in VR) that actually go on to bulky, specialized rigs where precision is important.
  • On PC games: “I’ve heard for 30 years that PC gaming is dying,” Fries said. “No, it does not die. It grows.” There is room in the market for both VR and AR.
  • About future entertainment experiences: Moore and Unity work on ways to disrupt the world of live entertainment (“the democratization of the entertainment experience”) by using virtual and mixed reality to open up events to remote participants. “It feels almost archaic that you have to be lucky to win a lottery, buy a ticket, travel somewhere… and then stand in the back and watch a big screen because you can not get close enough to the stage. ”
  • On the meta verse: Bach asked Fils-Aimé about the social implications of the meta-verse, where someone could have a completely different life in virtual reality. “This is where an AR experience is better socially,” said Fils-Aimé, “because you are not completely out of the real experience. I’m concerned about an experience that takes you away from your family, the environment, all the “My parenting instincts also affect what I want my children to see.”
  • More about metaverse: Fries had just visited Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park in Washington DC and remembered one of Roosevelt’s quotes: “Order without freedom and freedom without order is just as destructive.” He noted that if the meta-verse is created, it must be remembered. “They’re still about people, and when you get people, you have to have a balance between the two things.”
  • About ethics: “As technology owners, we have a responsibility,” Ross said, to think about ethics and social concerns as they expand the VR / AR space. “I think we’re watching it unfold before us – what happens when we do not. And I think it’s our second chance at it.”
  • About Gates’ interrupted bridge game: When asked about his memories of his time with the Xbox, Moore told a story about how at one point he had approved downtime for several NT servers running Microsoft’s casual games. Unfortunately for him, that included the app that Gates routinely used to play online bridge with Warren Buffett, resulting in an awkward phone call from Gates to Moore.

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