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The Four Short Years of the Xbox
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on June 27, 2005   |   Episode 4 (Show Archive)  


After months of rumors there were very few surprises about the Xbox 360!
When Microsoft officially unveiled the Xbox 360 earlier this year it came as no surprise to anybody. Over the last year just about every aspect of Microsoft's next generation console had been leaked or rumored well ahead of the announcement, making for a somewhat anti-climactic debut. The fans already knew what the control was going to look like, they knew what the name was going to be ... and they knew it was going to be released late 2005, only four years after the original Xbox.

Four years may seem like a long time to some people, but in the world of video games four years is an all time low for a successful game platform. With Sony holding off until next year to launch their next generation console, PlayStaiton 2 fans will have managed to get six years worth of life out of that system, and even Nintendo will manage to snag at least five years. But Microsoft seems pleased, almost giddy, about beating everybody to the punch and coming out only four years after the Xbox.

This isn't just limited to recent consoles, either. The Sega Genesis managed to make it six years before the Saturn, the Super NES

God of War proves that when you have enough time to finish a game it can really be something special!
was five, that original NES had at least six years, and even Sony's PlayStation had five quality years to work with. And don't even get me started on that Game Boy. The point is, four years is the shortest amount of time a successful game system has been around without being considered an outright failure.

Now don't get me wrong, in those four years the Xbox has amassed an amazing library of strong original games, their Xbox Live interface is easily the best feature of its kind, and nobody can deny it's the most powerful system your $150 can buy. But no matter how many great games came out for the system, it doesn't change the fact that most systems are coming out with their best software in the fifth and sixth year of their life.

This year alone brought Sony some of its most impressive titles, including God of War, Gran Turismo 4, and Tekken 5. These games pushed the PlayStation's graphics in directions few could have possibly imagined, proving that even though the system is five years old, it can still raise the high water mark. And it's not just this year; both Final Fantasy XII and Kingdom Hearts 2 are set to wow gamers sometime next year, when the system should be having heart problems and in frail condition.

But none of this should come as a shock since many of the most memorable games of all time came late in a console's life cycle. Super

It just feels wrong to put down a system that can still wow us with games like Chaos Theory!
Mario Bros. 3, easily the most beloved 2D sides scrolling game of all time, was released only one year before the Super NES was launched. Metal Gear Solid was also released late in the PlayStation's life, as was Conker's Bad Fur Day on the Nintendo 64. Square's brilliant Super Mario RPG was released only months before the Super NES became old hat and Final Fantasy IX actually came out for the original PlayStation months after the PS2 had launched.

When you play recent Xbox games like Conker, Forza and Jade Empire, you can't help but be reminded of how much power there still is in the current hardware. Conker is one of the best looking games of the year, rivaling anything I've seen for the Xbox 360. Forza is not only the best looking racing game of all time, it also manages to do just about everything right when it comes to the online function. These games seem to suggest that developers can still find new things to do with the four year old technology.

It's understandable why Microsoft would want to get the jump on both Sony and Nintendo by releasing their system this year as opposed to next. After all, in almost every instance the company that

I don't know about anybody else, but I kind of prefered the original, anime-inspired Joanna Dark!
launched first ended up being the company that controlled that generation. But not only would an extra year give developers that much longer to tap out the resources of the Xbox, it would also give Microsoft time to implement a new media format (such as HD-DVD).

Now I'm not going to say that the Xbox 360 is not a huge step forward, judging by the hardware we saw at E3, Microsoft's next generation system is no slouch in when it comes to power. But we couldn't help but notice that the games themselves weren't the major leap forward we had expected ... something that might have something to do with the short time between systems. Mind you it was hard to judge

Definitely better!
these first generation softs, but in a lot of cases we found ourselves wondering if the game was just too early or if it was the system.

What it really comes down to is whether the consumer feels slighted by this shortened life span. In the world of fast moving technology chances are most hard core gamers won't be too upset by only getting four years out of their Xbox, but what about the parents and casual gamers? Will they be more willing to gravitate towards the next generation Sony or Nintendo product simply because those companies have demonstrated a longer life for their past systems? Or will this even be a factor that anybody takes notice of?

These and other questions won't be answered until the next generation battle has been waged and won. No matter the outcome, though, Microsoft's decision to shorten the Xbox's life to a mere four years raises serious questions and concerns. Perhaps the life of a console is just getting shorter and Microsoft knows it, maybe we're at the crossroads where consoles of the future won't have as much life as their older counterparts. I guess we'll see four years from now.


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