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Flashback to 2002: Microsoft reveals Xbox Live ... on VHS

Nu-metal was all the rage, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her 50-year anniversary on the throne, and the original Xbox had recently burst onto the scene, in late 2001.

The console itself wasn't a revolution, but the service it gave rise to changed the face of gaming forever. How did Microsoft explain this unique concept to the industry? Using a VHS cassette, of course. Prepare yourself for some early 2000s marketing cringe.

I recently picked up an Xbox Live neon sign from eBay, and it came with a curious disc and VHS cassette. Upon further perusal, I found myself transported to June 2002, when these packages were presumably sent out by Redmond PR to various industry figures and press. (In 2002, I was skipping school to play Halo Combat Evolved, so I have to believe there's some sort of quantum feedback loop going on here.)

This video has been posted on the internet before, but I'd never seen it before, so forgive me if this is not your first time being exposed to this cringe-worthy classic.

The video details how Xbox Live works, complete with fuzzy VHS quality, late-90s, early-00s fashion, and over-exaggerated, "we're- super-cool-gamers!" marketing. The video shows how original versions of Xbox Live would have had built-in voice modulation, allowing you to sound like a squeaky mouse or evil super villain over the airwaves. I kind of wish they had left that one in ... expletives from other gamers about my mother in Call of Duty would have been easier to deal with if they came with a hint of Darth-Vader delivery.

Cringing aside, Xbox Live eventually grew into a huge phenomenon, and it gave ascension to the Xbox brand as a frontrunner in the gaming industry. The service has more than 50 million subscribers, and it continues to show year-on-year growth and engagement. Thankfully, the marketing has also improved.

Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

25 Comments
  • I was on the brink of getting a ps2 that year when this was revealed. I waited. Bam! I was also one of the early Xbox live beta testers and I owned the name 'bubble'
  • Cool 😎
  • Yeah, I remember this one. Thanks for the nostalgia hit!
  • Terrible acting/writing aside it's a good promo.
  • Wow, cheese factor five. I probably owned the original Xbox at least two or three years after the launch year before I got a high speed connection (good old days of dial up) and joined XBL. Been owning the tag Avatar o Apathy (damned character limit!) ever since. Now you can't even initially choose your tag.
  • im going to follow this darkmaster  
  • Same lol
  • "The year is 2002. (...) And smartphones (gasp!) don't exist​"

    ​Really? 2002 is a year some of us still remember clearly as the precise year modern slate-style smartphones started globally (Palm VII in 1999 worked only within the US).
    While the iPhone wouldn't exist for another 5 years, 2002 was the year both the Handspring/Palm Treo 180, and Windows Pocket PC 2002 got built-in cell radio and supporting software.
    These two were basically the first modern smartphones, featuring the current slate PDA format with large touch-screen and built-in cell radio. ​So while they might not have been as common as today, they definitely did exist. I was running Win32 apps on my HTC Wallaby in 2002. To the early PDA and smartphone enthusiasts, this article catch phrase feels about the same as saying personal computers didn't exist in the year 1983, because Apple hasn't released the Macintosh yet.
  • Rubino wouldn't know this.
  • I'll add "practically" didn't exist in there for ye.
  • blackberry was king. windows mobile 5 was the version.  i owned one. 
  • Wow did you ever take this literally. Calm down dude. Lol
  • Hipster mode, activate!
  • ReVolt, haha. Good times.
  • Yeah, that made me smile.
  • I'll do you one better. The Ericsson r380, my very first smart phone, came out in 2000. By the time 2002 came along, I was already in my 3rd smart phone, and my second Crackberry, from four different OEMs. Smart phones were not only around in 2002, they were alive, plentiful, and flourishing.
  • Glorious times 😄
  • Oh, man.  I used to have thousands of CD-Rs and sleeves that looked just like the ones in the pic. I probably have the sleeves buried somewhere but I gave the discs away a long tie ago.
  • Today all of them would get a com ban for talking like this.
  • I remember being one of the first to beta test Xbox Live in the UK, using Moto GP from Climax. Good times. The original Xbox is still the only console I ever bought on launch. I paid 520 pounds (UK) for the Xbox, PGR, Amped and Halo. I skipped college that day to pick it up and take it home to experience Halo. I particularly loved the custom soundtrack feature and Dolby Digital support.
  • This is so corny that it's funny. I too bought by first XBox system (the original version late 2001). Oh, that was the day...CD installation media, 53KB dial in modems, AOL and other ISP Internet data limits...sigh !!!!!
  • 53kb modems???? I had cable 3mbps since the late 90s where did you live ??? In the middle of nowhere ????
  • Really? Cable wasn't mainstream (yes, it existed, but not the norm) in the 90's. I didn't get high speed myself until the very late 90's and it was crappy DSL. Many people were still on dial up (because of cost) in the early and mid 2000's.
  • Here in Norway, we're still stuck with ADSL. Actually getting fiber this year, but hearing this feels like we're very late. I remember we had call up until 2004 (I was 4 then actually) and we got ADSL and a laptop because of my father's job. That was amazing technology for us back then and I remember i learned how to use Windows XP and play The Sims when I was 4-5 years old. Nowadays I just see kids with crappy tablets and smartphones like they never seen anything else and just asking for help whenever something is wrong. With Windows XP I needed to figure it out myself when something was wrong. Although we never used the PC as much as kids use tablets and smartphones today...
  • it's been along way