Today marks the 10-year anniversary of that big matte-black box that birthed a million jokes about its Guinness World Record size controllers. Microsoft’s Xbox was the company’s first official step into the realm of video games, right in the challenging market flush already with the success of Sony’s PlayStation 2 and Nintendo’s GameCube. But after the console brought us tremendous, game-changing hits like Splinter Cell, Halo: Combat Evolved, Ninja Gaiden, and Knights of the Old Republic, no one can rightfully mock the big console that could.
Your fanboy allegiances may lie elsewhere, but keep your snarky comments in their holsters. There will be no claims here that the Xbox is the greatest console or won some imaginary battle of generations. Every console has left their mark, be it the Wii’s successful innovation of motion controls or the Virtual Boy’s successful innovation of headaches. This isn’t about the system known as the college bro-dude’s console or the device for 8-year-olds broadcast screams across the internet. This is how the Xbox burned its spot into video game history.
The Xbox wouldn’t enter the online world until 2002, but when it did, it would bring a feature that would shape online gaming for ages to come. Players first signing up for the service were asked to choose a Gamertag, a name for their online exploits. This would be your online identity, which didn’t just represent you for one single game or a company’s library of games. Your Gamertag and all the success or failure associated with it passed through all games, though every hour of online play, and all genres.
Of course, usernames were a concept long established before the Xbox. But this Gamertag was a unifying one, which represented you not as one individual player in a universe, but as a gamer. It was a unique identifier. Today, companies strive to evolve this concept, with stat-tracking systems and social networking sites tied to their games. But, before there were Friend Codes and PSN IDs, there was a middle schooler somewhere gunning down strangers as xGhOsTsNiPex420x.
4. Hard Drive
There are whole generations of players that never learned the horror of a corrupted PS2 memory card. The same players who couldn’t fathom the concept of saving their game to a plastic cartridge. They will never understood the pain of having to make executive decisions about which record of a beloved victorious conquest had to tearfully be deleted to make space for a new one. This was the world before consoles had a hard drive.
The original Xbox shipped with a 10 GB (though, players were left with only 8 after the market dashboard and reserve space) hard drive and was the first console to ever do it. This meant players could safely store their Gamertag information, precious save files, and even rip CD audio tracks to be used in games that allowed it. This was everything, a localized safehaven for all your work that your dog would have a much harder time chewing to pieces and ruining all your precious progress in Final Fantasy X.
3. PC Games in our Living Rooms
Porting our favorite games to new systems is as such a tried and true gaming tradition, that you can thoroughly expect to play the Uncharted Super HD Hologram Remix ten years from now. Even back when the world was all Super Nintendos and Konami codes, we were porting games a year old and our favorite arcade titles to your basements and dens the world over. But amongst all this, the PC gamers were an isolated subculture, privy to their own exclusive world of shooters, RPGs, and simulators. These days, I think many wish it would have stayed this way.
This separation wasn’t without cause, as PCs have always outpaced consoles. Porting was (and still) remains a challenge. But the original Xbox was nothing more than a customized Microsoft PC complete with a Windows-based operation system. This made the port-gap much smaller and allowed developers to somewhat easily bring huge PC hits to the console, even if many were poorly done and ended up being inferior versions of the originals.
That’s not the point, though. Incredible, ground-breaking classics like Half Life 2, Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, and Rainbow Six were now available to the monetarily challenged and those to young to wrap their minds around the world of PCs. You can cast stereotypes on the console audience all day, but the Xbox opened the door to a whole new world of games to an audience that had never or would never have the chance to play them otherwise.
2. Console FPS Returns
At the end of the millennium, when we weren’t terrified by the imminent collapse of all technology, players were shooting each other near-exclusively on their PCs. Consoles had brought us Goldeneye 64 and Medal of Honor, but it had been a few years and there was a void once filled with gruesome headshots and accusations of screen-watching. It was then that Master Chief first appeared on the scene, stomping Grunts into the dirt in 2001, exclusively as a launch title for the Xbox.
Of course, the game isn’t a part of the Xbox, but it was as integral to its success as anything else. In fact, it may be entirely responsible for making the console a success. These days, Halo may have its fair share of gamer opposition, but that is certainly outweighed by its staggering fanbase and immense commercial success. Frankly, the Combat Evolved is a massive landmark in the history of first person shooters and is considered by analysts and experts as the second most important game of the 21st century. Halo, for better or worse, forever altered the course of console shooters by proving that they could be a success again.
1. Xbox Live
We all saw this coming. There’s no doubt that when cataloging the achievements of the Big X, the revolutionary service known as Xbox Live changed the face of how we played our video games. Games had been online before, of course, and consoles like the Dreamcast had tried fervently to take the gaming world online in a big way, but these were bonus features that came with goofy add-on gadgets and complications.
Today, most players are online no matter what they’re doing. My friends lists on all consoles surges with activity at all hours, with players party-chatting while on multiple games, watching movies together, or playing online in massive sessions. This is how consoles are defined in this modern age, but their ability to provide a streamlined, robust system for linking players together. Others tried to put the market here, but Xbox didn’t just bring players online, it moved the industry forward.
I can’t stress how big of an evolution this has been for video games. Do you remember the film The Cable Guy? Jim Carrey plays the titular character, a socially maladjusted cable service technician that worms his way into and subverts the social life of Matthew Broderick’s life. At the end of the film, he engages in a legendary monologue about the Internet, how it will unite the world and “play Mortal Kombat with a friend from Vietnam.” The original Xbox quite literally did that, and modern gaming was moved a step upwards ever since.
In honor of the console with the greenest menu screen, give thanks to your hard drives, shakes hands with your PC brethren, and gather up in a party chat with all your friends, no matter what system you hail from. It’s a time for celebration.