XOXOXOXbox: How The Xbox revolutionized gaming
As the Xbox approaches its tenth anniversary and its successor is firmly entrenched in our minds, we can finally sit back an take a look at what effect the Xbox had on our lives. Some of it many would consider good, some of it many would consider not so good. The competition between Sega and Sony was only a year old when the Xbox arrived, and soon after Sega would, for once in its history, display some common sense and surrender to the vast amounts of money that its opposition were willing to throw around.
It’s easy to forget in this age of online warfare that before the Xbox launched there was very little in the way of online gaming on the consoles. On the PC it was a long established part of the gaming experience, but on the consoles it was considered too expensive and too risky to attempt on any kind of a grand scale. Prior to the Dreamcast, consoles weren’t even built with online adapters, and by that time broadband had grown to such an extent that people felt having a 56k modem was a waste of time, while Sega, when designing the Dreamcast, felt that anything more than that was, again, too big of a risk. How many people are gonna get broadband after all? Not one of their finest decisions.
Sony were content to release the Playstation 2, which could be expanded to include a modem and a hard drive if there was demand for it, but because the system didn’t include these right from the start developers didn’t make games that would take advantage of the option. This meant that when the actual components came out, there wasn’t a terribly large demand for them. Not that it hurt them very much, as the PS2 was the biggest selling platform of its time.
When the Xbox arrived, then, with its built in high speed Ethernet port and standard hard drive, it was something of a revolution all on it’s own. Microsoft stumbled out of the gate a little, with the ability to play online being delayed by a year or so until Xbox Live could be made ready for public consumption, and the hard drive was not exactly utilized to a great extent for much of the system’s lifespan. This, however, wasn’t the point. Xbox Live established online gaming as a real thing on home consoles. The success of Halo 2‘s online gaming component and its downloadable map packs, which some might call the birth of DLC, proved to the industry that there was a market for these features if someone were willing to take the risks and take a run at it.
Take a look at today’s consoles and what do you see? They are all online, to varying degrees of success, from the 360’s continuation of Microsoft’s dominance in the field to Sony’s desperate attempts to match it to Nintendo doing whatever the hell Nintendo thinks it is doing. Netflix and its various contemporaries would never have been possible on today’s consoles if Microsoft hadn’t forged ahead and made the decision to put that LAN adapter on the back of its console and a hard drive inside it.
Of course, there are the negatives too. Thanks to the addition of a hard drive and high speed Internet access, all games can now be shipped with game breaking bugs and patched later. The decision to make Xbox Live a paid service meant that from now on the console makers would be trying to figure out how to charge gamers for what they had been getting for free for years on the PC. And thanks to the possibility of always connected consoles, the time is fast approaching when Digital Rights Management like that seen on the PC might soon make buying used games useless.
The Xbox was a true turning point in the history of console games. Without it who knows what the world of gaming might have looked like?
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