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New original Xbox lore unearthed thanks to former Microsoft employee

Xbox
Xbox (Image credit: John Wikstrom)

What you need to know

  • Development details regarding the original Xbox have trickled out over the years, to the delight of trivia fans and historians.
  • Ed Fries, a member of the original Xbox team, just shared a trove of such details at the WN Conference in Seattle.
  • The scoops include insights as to how Steve Ballmer felt about Xbox Live along with how much money Microsoft may have been losing per year on the Xbox in its early days.

Ed Fries, a member of the team responsible for creating the first Xbox, spoke at the 2021 WN Conference in Seattle, and during his talk, he shared lots of nuggets about what went on behind the scenes at Microsoft during the original Xbox's inception, development, and release.

Fries covered a wide range of topics when discussing the original Xbox's creation (via GeekWire). His ties to the console extend way back to before the system was even a concept, as he'd worked at Microsoft since the 1980s. Then, in the year 2000, on Valentine's Day, the Xbox project was officially greenlit.

Some of the best bits of trivia Fries shared at the WN Conference include that Microsoft failed to acquire EA and Westwood Studios, along with the fact that the original Xbox's unshrinkable design hastened the release of the Xbox 360 since Microsoft couldn't copy the PS2's strategy of re-releasing a shrunken version of an existing machine.

But those pieces of knowledge are just the tip of the iceberg. Fries also shared that Steve Ballmer was super jazzed about Xbox Live, enough to pound a table to the point of breaking its speakerphone during a meeting in 2003.

Fries estimated that in the early years, the Xbox initiative lost Microsoft $1 billion per year. In addition, he shared that a point of contention within the original Xbox team was whether they could translate the popular PC FPS experience to consoles—a debate Halo put an end to.

You can find other nuggets of info over at Geekwire, but these are among the juiciest for you to dwell on while you think about the long road that led to the Xbox Series X and the best Xbox Game Pass games.

Robert Carnevale is the News Editor for Windows Central. He's a big fan of Kinect (it lives on in his heart), Sonic the Hedgehog, and the legendary intersection of those two titans, Sonic Free Riders. He is the author of Cold War 2395. Have a useful tip? Send it to robert.carnevale@futurenet.com.

2 Comments
  • Gamers worldwide really do a debt of gratitude to Steve Balmer. As without him greenlighting the original xbox project - we wouldn't have many games we enjoy playing (not to mention the rrod saga, Balmer greenlit the return programme too). Nor would Xbox be where it is today, no doubt the Xbox team's push for resources would have been harder if Balmer hadn't been at the helm. If the Xbox project was discussed present day? The team wouldn't have been given 5 minutes by the current bean counters. Who are more or less hell bent in raising the stock price even it means strangling departments from critical resources. As increased stock prices = less critical shareholders = less difficult questions to answer. On that note, Phil Spencer and Xbox division have truly proved the naysayers wrong especially those who were clamouring for the xbox division to be sold or spun off. So gamers, too owe these living legends a huge debt of gratitude - especially the folks who worked on backwards compatibility. These fine folks in my book have pulled of a miracle when you consider how low end the SOC is in the OG Xbox One. That's what you call software and hardware optimisation. Kudos also goes to AMD for making backwards compatibility possible. Ultmately though, the OG Xbox team and division are the true legendary trailblazers.
  • I totally agree with your observations and take. A whole lot of my thinking exactly.