Not often can you call Microsoft an underdog, but 15 years ago when the original Xbox was released, they had an upward battle to fight. The Xbox’s competitors were Sony’s PlayStation 2, which remains the best selling video game console ever, and Nintendo’s GameCube.
The Xbox was an American console, inside and out. The processor in the machine was created by Intel, and it had an Intel graphics chip. The console itself was big and heavy, and the controller was huge - eclipsing the relatively tiny PlayStation and GameCube controllers.
When it came to games, on the surface, there wasn’t much different about the Xbox. Most of the games on the system were the same as games released on the PlayStation 2, with similar graphics, but there were a few Xbox exclusives that made the console worth owning. The first to come to mind are the first two games in the Halo series - with Halo 2 being the reason I bought one.
Microsoft’s biggest innovation with the Xbox, and the way it differentiated itself from the competition, was its online service, Xbox Live. Before this service, games that could be played online all had their own individual services - different ways to connect with friends, different logins, and no guarantee anything would work for long after the game was released. With Xbox Live, for a small fee, Microsoft completely managed the online experience. Your friends list was shared between games, and there was a consistency that made playing games online effortless. The console came out right as high-speed internet in homes was starting to become prevalent, making high-quality online gaming possible.
The original Xbox console had a relatively short life, only about 5 years, but its successor, the Xbox 360, was on sale for over 10 years before being discontinued last year. Before the Xbox, the last American company to release a game console was Atari. Now, the Xbox One keeps up with the PlayStation 4, and the upcoming Xbox One X will push the brand, and console gaming, even further.