20 years of Xbox: let's retrace the moments that defined its history

Today, 15 November 2021, Microsoft celebrates a historic milestone . The 15 November 2001 is in fact the date on which the Redmond giant made its descent into the field of the gaming world, bringing the his first Xbox. This was a historic event for the industry, as for the first time since Atari, a US company was preparing to invade a market exclusively controlled by Japanese houses.

Sony and Nintendo were the two companies by now established in the panorama, while SEGA was by now on the way to decline, given that at that time it was having to manage the after-effects of the withdrawal from the market of Dreamcast (which took place in March of the same year). And SEGA is precisely one of the reasons why Microsoft has decided to take this path, given that – perhaps not everyone will know – Dreamcast was born thanks to the collaboration between the two companies.

The console was in fact based on a fully customized version of Windows CE and integrated support for DirectX libraries, a real revolution for the time. The collaboration between the two companies is therefore historic and should not be surprising if today it continues in different forms. This allowed Microsoft to develop the necessary know-how to take the next step: stop being a simple partner and enter the world of gaming with its own platform.

Xbox, the first console modern to make a real bridge between the PC world and that of home systems, after that for all the years’ 90 Nintendo, Sony and Sega had demonstrated the superiority of the console model compared to that of the home computer which had reigned mainly in the years’ 80.

The common thread of these years is represented from two recurring themes they defined every incarnation of the platform: power and functionality online. The choices made by Microsoft, in fact, have (almost) always aimed at bringing the most performing console to the market, enriching the experience with an online sector that is always one step ahead of the competition and which in various respects has contributed to define the very concept of online game on console .

On the occasion of the 20 years of Xbox, so we want to retrace those milestones that have defined its history and are shaping its future .


The first Xbox represents an important turning point for the entire gaming industry . As already anticipated, Microsoft had begun to make its first experiences in the gaming world thanks to the collaboration with SEGA and its desire to enter the sector in the first person was becoming more and more pressing; suffice it to recall the miserably failed attempt to initiate the possible acquisition of Nintendo as early as 733.

The realization of that desire came with the first Xbox, a revolutionary console for the times, as went to fish its hardware directly from that of the best PCs of the time – the CPU was a Intel Pentium III a 733 MHz and the GPU was an Nvidia NV2A at 233 MHz based on GeForce 3 – and it was the first to be equipped with a real Hard Disk and an Ethernet port. Obviously, even in this case, the operating system was always based on a version of Windows (Windows 2000, to be precise) deeply modified in the interface.

In these aspects Xbox was able to anticipate the times and also its future incarnations have always followed the path traced by the first model, offering hardware based on the best solutions dedicated to the PC world of the time ( of course not always in an absolute sense, but in relation to that fundamental performance / cost ratio to consider when talking about the console world ) and an operating system based on the latest versions of Windows.

Xbox has also seriously kicked off the online gaming phenomenon , thanks to the development of the Xbox infrastructure Live (came the following year, exactly the November 2002) that since from its inception it included all the basic functionality of a modern service, including voice chat and friends list. In the first years 2000 the first ADSL connections began to emerge that allowed users to access the high-speed network for a fixed monthly cost, without blocking the telephone line, and this made it possible to clear the online multi player through customs with relative ease.

The vision of Xbox Live that Microsoft had at the time was particularly modern, as from the beginning it had thought about the support dedicated to additional downloadable contents and to propose a service that required network performance high – therefore only broadband -, which is why equipped his console with an Ethernet port and not of a more traditional modem, as SEGA did with Dreamcast.

The launch of the Xbox was also accompanied by the debut of the new IP of Bungie destined to become the real essence of Xbox: obviously we are talking about Halo Combat Evolved . Here too there are some interesting curiosities, such as the fact that Halo was originally a title designed for MacOS , since its debut took place right on the Macworld stage of the 1999. The move to Microsoft came after the acquisition of Bungie, a move that led the title to become the first real exclusive for the newborn console.

The twentieth anniversary of Xbox therefore also coincides with that of Halo, a title that has contributed in a very important way to the redefinition of the basic concepts of first-person shooters on consoles. Halo and Halo 2 – among other things the most successful titles on Xbox – have laid the foundations of gameplay that to this day continue to be fundamental within this genre , such as the control system, the alternation between main and secondary weapon, the skilful use of the interface to show relevant details (such as residual ammunition) directly on the weapon itself, the inclusion of vehicles within the same game area, without forgetting the approach to the online multiplayer component.

Halo was able – to first time since GoldenEye on Nintendo 20 – to drastically change the face of FPS on consoles and to show how it was possible to bring this genre to success even at outside the PC world, no small credit for a series in its early days.


The 22 November of 2005 Microsoft kicked off, fairly early, the seventh generation of consoles, bringing Xbox to the market 360; the experience with the first Xbox had galvanized the Redmond house and the transition to high definition was the next step.

With Xbox 360, Microsoft consolidated its presence on the market and even managed to establish itself as the real alternative to PlayStation . If in fact the previous generation had been completely dominated by Sony, the temporal advantage acquired by Microsoft over the Japanese rival allowed it to obscure PlayStation 2 on the technical front and to show the true generational leap, a fact that led many users to evaluate the new one with extreme curiosity. Microsoft’s proposal.

The seventh generation was undoubtedly the most important for Xbox, even if it was the one in which the Redmond house had to seriously face two big problems recurring throughout the gen: piracy and serious hardware problems of the first versions of the console. Xbox 360, in fact, is also famous for the Red Ring of Death , the famous visual indication that the console should be sent for assistance. The problem was so common that Microsoft had to initiate a special repair and replacement campaign which cost about 1, 15 billions of dollars to the company , thus significantly affecting the results of the division.

As far as piracy is concerned, Microsoft found itself having to face an incredibly widespread phenomenon that concerned both the software and hardware components of the console. Among the most ingenious systems developed to evade security there is the famous mod Kamikaze , which required to pierce a part of the MediaTek chip present in the console reader, in order to disable some functions. The term Kamikaze was used to indicate the danger of ‘intervention, as a hole in the wrong place or too deep was enough to totally compromise the reader.

But apart from these problems, Xbox 360 has allowed Microsoft to become a real gaming icon and a social phenomenon . How can we forget, for example, the famous advertising campaign of the first Gears of War on the notes of Mad World by Gary Jules , one of the most beautiful and impactful spots in the gaming world.

Xbox 360 was also the only Xbox to adopt hardware based on IBM solutions, more precisely a 3.2 GHz tri-core PowerPC CPU, an architecture therefore closer to that of a Mac than a traditional PC. The video sector was instead entrusted to an ATI / AMD solution to 500 MHz, marking another breaking point with the previous generation. Among other merits of Xbox 360 we also find that of having affirmed the spread of wireless controllers , as it was the first console to offer one as standard. In short, it was undoubtedly an unforgettable platform.


The Xbox One era is undoubtedly the most controversial one in the entire history of the brand . As we have seen, Microsoft came from a sparkling generation, in which Xbox managed to establish itself as a credible third pole within the videogame scenario, also thanks to a Nintendo that in those years had chosen to implement a strategy that – thanks to the characteristics of Wii – led her to wink at a completely different category of gamers.

The traditional console market was therefore dominated by two realities, Microsoft and Sony, which had essentially closed the generation draw, thanks to a comeback by Sony in recent years that had managed to bring out the potential of its platform only towards the end of the generation.

That something was wrong with Microsoft was clear since the presentation event, completely focused on the multimedia aspects and its skills such as set-top-box , the will to bet hard on Kinect – to the point of making it mandatory for the operation of the console -, the ambiguity on issues such as DRM and the use of second-hand and the absence of backwards compatibility. Famous were the words of Don Mattrick – at the time head of the Xbox division – who stressed that “ we already have a product for those without a connection: Xbox 360 “and” if you are backwards compatible you are backward “.

Xbox paid dearly for the blindness of the leaders of the division of that time and – also thanks to an unfortunate price positioning – never managed to break through the general public, leaving Sony practically free for the entire generation. For the first time, Microsoft was holding a less powerful machine than the competition ( and no, there was no hidden second GPU! ) and with a strong detachment from its own user, which brought it one step away from the bankruptcy of the entire Xbox division.

Even the launch of Xbox One X – which allowed Microsoft to return to the top in terms of pure power – did not help to revive the fortunes of the generation, but something was starting to change in recent years; Phil Spencer had set something unstoppable in motion .


The end of 2020 also brought with it the long-awaited generational leap and the new Xbox Series X and S are representing a real rebirth for the brand , after the gloomy generation of One. The first year of consoles has certainly made it clear that there is a lot of market interest in Microsoft’s gaming proposal, and this is coming thanks to a clear change of direction on the communication front.

Let’s be clear, it’s not all roses, but it is clear that the Xbox division led by Spencer is completely different from that of Don Mattrick and the results are visible. To date, Xbox has recovered some of the appeal it had in the era 360, all thanks to a convincing strategy that did not focus only on the brute power of the machines ( although the theme is recurring ), but ì accompanied everything with targeted investments aimed at expanding the potential of Xbox Game Studios.

This is therefore the fourth turning point; a generational leap that took place not only in the hardware sector, but also thanks to the maturation of the Xbox division itself. Obviously, even in the case of Microsoft we have not witnessed a clear break with the previous generation , which continues to be supported with almost the 100% of new releases, a clear sign of how the debut of these new machines was heavily penalized by the pandemic which drastically slowed down the development of next gen proposals

In any case, Xbox Series X and S are setting the stage for an interesting generation , also in light of the excellent numbers that they are building in markets notoriously hostile to the brand such as Japan. The new gen has just begun and we can’t wait to find out what the result of the efforts of the Redmond house will be.


The fifth and most important piece in the history of Xbox directly concerns its future. Xbox Game Pas s is hardly the latest addition to Microsoft’s offering – it launched in the spring of the 2017 – , but it is only in the last year that it has become the real point of reference for the future plans of the Xbox division .

Microsoft has indeed begun to unlink the name Xbox from physical consoles alone, to transport it into the wider world of services. A fundamental element of this is the streaming component of Game Pass, which represents the springboard to bring the entire Xbox title park on practically every platform equipped with a screen and to every person able to access the internet, regardless of the presence or less than dedicated gaming hardware.

The future of Xbox is therefore clear: less and less tied to hardware and always more geared towards making the world of gaming more and more accessible , both from the point of view of the methods of use and the costs to be incurred. Indeed, it is undeniable that the Game Pass has significantly changed the expectations of players ( or at least a good part ), starting to get them used to the idea of ​​accessing a constantly updated catalog of games against a pre-established monthly fee .

This is changing the perception of many typical elements of the industry , from the players’ relationship with the release of the titles on day one, to the opportunity to immediately purchase a full price title that is not present in the Pass ( with the hope that it can get there in the future ) and is determining habits and expectations from which there is no turning back.

In all this speech the consul is losing the centrality it once had, as it is destined to become one of the many gateways to the Xbox world ; it will probably be the most immediate and recognizable one, but it will certainly no longer be the only one. This is especially true for all those players from emerging markets who will be able to enter the world of gaming without having to overcome further barriers, for which the purchase of gaming hardware has never been a priority or a possibility.

Surely the world of services will represent the future of the brand and Microsoft has already positioned itself in the sector in a convincing way. Waiting to find out what the next ones will be like 20 years of Xbox, for the moment not we can do more than wish a happy birthday to the most famous black box ever!

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