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From X-Box to Xbox
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on November 17, 2003   |   Episode 33 (Show Archive)  

   
As we gear up for what will be the next generation, we are constantly bombarded with predictions and rumors about how much better the PlayStation 3 or Xbox Next will be. One magazine will claim one thing, yet another will completely contradict those statements, leaving the readers caught in a big web of lies. The problem is that these lies quickly spread amongst video game players, infecting whoever hears this misinformation like a computer virus. It's not until the system is released that we can really appreciate how inaccurate some of these predictions are, but yet, four years later we are back to our old game of sifting through rumors and lies. To illustrate this point, we have decided to pull some telling quotes from past issues of Next Generation magazine. Each of these quotes are taken directly from the articles, each with their own dose of reality attached by yours truly. See what kind of lies we were fed about the Xbox, and maybe even what you can do to keep yourself from being a sucker this time around. -Cyril Lachel June 1996 -- "We [Microsoft] don't have a strategy to do a $200 game console that is a direct competitor to what Nintendo, Sega, and Sony are doing, and business model isn't to charge software developers money." -Bill Gates (in an interview about the future of computer gaming) But the Truth Is ... But there in lies the problem, if the Xbox wasn't being developed at the time of this interview, it wasn't long before Microsoft started. Bill Gates did in fact have plans on competing with Sega, Sony, and Nintendo ... he just didn't know it yet. This quote is where our journey begins. Over the next several issues of Next Generation you will notice a surprising trend of disinformation. October 1999 -- "The system will have USB ports for controllers, and an internet hookup is "likely". Like the Dreamcast, the system will have its OS (a WinCE variant) on discs. The system will use DVD discs and you will be able to watch DVD movies using the system. It will certainly use DirectX as its graphic API. Although there may be a 3Dfx option, sources indicate nVidia is the target graphic platform." But the Truth Is ... This would be just the first attempt to guess what parts would be sitting in Microsoft's super system. Like all modern day journalists, when Next Generation couldn't dig up the real information e3 Perhaps the biggest surprise of 2003 was that Sony and Microsoft did not make major price drops. Going into 2003 consumers were paying $200 for their consoles, and by the end of the year, they were paying $180, only a twenty dollar drop, which could equate for the flat year-end sales. So what did Sony do differently? Read these excerpts from an article found in the May 2000 issue of Next Generation. "Assuming the system launches in September for $299, by applying the original PlayStation's schedule of pricing-over-time, you could indeed pick up the system for under $99 - in the fall of 2004." The article continues, "If the PlayStation 2 follows a similar track, the price will most likely not drop to the mass -acceptance price of $149 until March of 2002, and if it continues in the pattern of the PlayStation, PS2 won't reach the impulse purchase price of $129 until September 2003." Sure you're paying more, but the system can do a whole lot more these days. about the system specs, they predicted what it would offer. Sometimes they got it right, as in the case of a no-brainer like "the system will use DVD discs and you will be able to watch DVD movies using the system". But often they would stick their foot in their mouth, which would in turn lead to credibility issues. But it's not all Next Generation's fault, Microsoft hadn't even announced this system in October 1999, so there weren't any "official" specs to be reported on. Though it wouldn't be released in over two years, there was a momentum building over the Xbox, it was something people wanted to know about ... even if it meant acknowledging that the specs could change at any time. Even though Next Generation featured dozens of predictions, they aren't very interesting and tend to read like a grocery list. From now on I will point out only the pertinent quotes and statements. "It's possible that X-Box games will run on PC without modification." But the Truth Is ... Early reports portrayed the Xbox as a hybrid PC/game console, a machine that would be like a set-top box that would act just like a computer, except be geared more for the gaming aficionados. But as the launch grew near, it became clear that Microsoft didn't want anybody to confuse the Xbox as anything other than a video game console. It did not play TV games, nor did Xbox games run on the PC "without modification". This was just a rumor that would be repeated month after month until the actual specs were released, and it was clear that the Xbox games were made specifically for the Xbox. "What about cost? Our sources say "well under $300" is the target mark, with a release date scheduled for sometime in fall 2000. Sources also say the marketing budget is designed to beat the PlayStation's." But the Truth Is ... Not only did the Xbox miss its Fall 2000 launch by a year, but it failed to launch for "well under $300". Well ... I suppose it's WAY under $300 if you consider a penny under $300 a big deal. Once the PlayStation 2 launched for $300, there was very little incentive for Microsoft to go much lower, especially since they were already losing money on the console. Even now the Xbox isn't "well under $300", though, it's more in the ballpark of $180. November 1999 -- "The system will be a non-upgradeable, closed box built using top-of-the-line PC components, including a 4 GB hard drive. Although X-Box is the name of the device, the development program has the slicker code name "Mariner." But the Truth Is ... This is an example of how frequently the hard drive size changed. Here they mention it being a paltry 4 GB, a size that surely seemed more impressive five years ago. However, three months later they are claiming it will be 10 GB, and then even later they acknowledge that it could be as much as 15 or 20 GB. It would eventually come in at a nice 8 GB, but not before a few more numbers were thrown around almost at random. The second part of this quote is especially funny, and could be filed in that cabinet labeled "names that never were". Like Nintendo's Dolphin or Sega's Katana, the Mariner is an especially stupid name for a game system. Even worse than the name "Xbox". Perhaps it was a nod to the Seattle Mariners, the baseball team that plays their home games not too far from Microsoft's home offices. Or perhaps somebody at Next Generation was just having fun with us, and making all the kids that think they were in the know look stupid around the high school. Yeah, that's probably it. e3Though this is slightly off topic, it's worth mentioning that the December 1999 issue of Next Generation was the first time the magazine had featured Halo. At that time it was being developed for the PC, Mac, and PlayStation 2, but would eventually find its way to Bill Gate's camp. Even in its early state, the writers saw the potential of this project, spending three pages gushing over its brilliance. December 1999 -- "There is no current library of specific X-Box titles announced, but soon after the system is announced the first X-Box enabled PC games, which should run on box X-Box and PC, will be released. By the 2000 holiday season, some expect most PC games to be X-Box compliant." But the Truth Is ... Ah yes, another fine example of how the Xbox and the PC were supposed to be the same thing, only to be proven wrong six months later. This quote is much like one we talked about earlier, however, it goes a step further and references "X-Box enabled" games, a tagline I'm sure more than a few people picked out and started using. It's also worth mentioning that there were no "X-Box Enabled" PC games released in the 2000 holiday season ... but I'm guessing you already knew that. February 2000 -- "What's better than a DVD-playing, web-surfing, game-playing super-console? How about a DVD-playing, web-surfing, game-playing super-console that can work wirelessly on any TV in your home? That's apparently the latest feature added to the still-in-development box, and it makes a lot of sense; you want X-Box attached to your main TV for DVD movies, but what do you do when your spouse want to watch Ally McBeal, and you want to play Quake III." But the Truth Is ... At least one thing about this quote is accurate, it would be cool if the Xbox could do all this stuff. The DVD playback is nice, and it's a monster when it comes to games, but there is no web surfing (even with the Xbox Live) and not one thing about the system is wireless. You cannot hook the controls up wirelessly (you can through a third party control, but that's neither here nor there) and you cannot hook up the system to your TV without wires. It was a nice idea, but something that would never happen (not in this generation at least). And besides, by the time the Xbox was released Ally McBeal wasn't long for this world. And to further that point, the Xbox didn't have a port of Quake III, instead it featured a console exclusive of Unreal ... one year after the system launched. The truth here is that this entire quote is misinformed, and created far too many gamers who would just end up being disappointed. March 2000 -- "We've got a really, really miserable PC market, and it's not getting any better. I'm going way out on a limb, but I think the PC is going to cease to be any kind of viable platform within the next 18 to 24 months. It's going to be completely supplanted by Microsoft's X-Box or whatever else. I think Microsoft, if the X-Box is real, is basically raising the flag and saying 'We're seeing a huge problem on the PC side.' There are just so few games that do anything on the PC." But the Truth Is ... Thanks to bigger and better graphic cards, the proliferation of broadband connections, and the overwhelming success of first person shooters, not only did the PCs not die out, but they continue to stay a viable platform. What did die, however, was the success of Lara Croft, Rob's biggest asset in 2000. The most recent game, Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, which released on the PC and not the Xbox, failed to drum up much retail success, and was a critical disappointment. Whether Lara's fall from grace was due to Rob Dyer is still under debate, but the success of the PC cannot be overlooked. The Xbox certainly shook things up in the video game industry, but it was (and is) not a bridge from consoles to computers. This was really a foolish quote, and Rob was clearly wrong. May 2000 -- "Building on our strengths as a software company, X-Box will offer game developers a powerful platform and game enthusiasts an incredible experience. We want X-Box to be the platform of choice for the best and most creative game developers in the world." -Bill Gates (in an interview discussing the Xbox) But the Truth Is ... In just about every way, this contradicts Bill Gates' previous statements, where he claimed that "We [Microsoft] don't have a strategy to do a $200 game console that is a direct competitor to what Nintendo, Sega, and Sony are doing, and business model isn't to charge software developers money." But then, this is hardly the first time a statement has been contradicted only a few years later, just look at all of the promises Nintendo and Sega have made over the years. It would be wrong to dwell on the past, especially since the Xbox is real regardless of what Bill Gates said four years earlier. Instead we should look at the facts and separate them from the fiction. And to do that, we have just one more quote to give. September 2000 -- "And like any good name, it came about by accident. "Xbox" (formerly X-Box and currently - and officially - XBOX) was a code name referring to both the mysterious nature of the letter X and, of course, to Microsoft's own DirectX technology. So like many a code name before it, Xbox stuck." But the Truth Is ... This pretty much brings us full circle, to where we are right now. Sure Microsoft would go on to change some specs, work out a few minor bugs, and get into a heap of trouble with some recording artists, but with this new name came independence, giving the company enough guts to take on Nintendo and Sony for the market share. These days you don't hear DirectX being trumpeted as much, but then, Microsoft seems more content on using their Xbox Live as their number one selling tool, and who, outside of computer geeks, is really going to be impressed by DirectX?
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