The engineer that helped to launch the Xbox project says Microsoft's failure to embrace indie developers and user experience issues will make it lose the "living room" war to the likes of Apple and Android
Microsoft has announced that 76 million Xbox 360 consoles have been sold worldwide, including 24 million Kinect units. But as the Redmond firm celebrates this latest milestone, the former Microsoft engineer that started the Xbox project had some not so nice thing to say about the state of platform.
When Nat Brown worked as an engineer for Microsoft through the 90's and until 2000, just a year before the original Xbox console was launched, he engaged in what he calls a "painful, pointless, and idiotic internal cage-match" just to get the project green-lighted. But it's been the last few years that have been the most "painful" for Brown, who posted his thoughts on what is generally perceived to be a successful console his blog.
But Brown says most of Microsoft's successes have been due to competitor's failures, and even when this golden opportunity was presented, the company failed to take full advantage.
"But the past 5 years, and the last year in particular, have been simply painful to watch. Coasting on past momentum. Failing to innovate and failing to capitalize on innovations like Kinect. Touting strategic and market success when you’re just experiencing your competitor’s stumbling failure (yes, Sony, Nintendo – you are, I’m afraid, stumbling failures). A complete lack of tactical versus strategic understanding of the long game of the living room. It culminated for me in recent coverage1 of interviews with Yusef Mehdi and Nancy Tellem and reports of the goals of a new LA xBox studio to create interactive content," Nat writes.
The core problems with the Xbox 360, Nat says, are both to do with content. One is how it is being created, and the other is how it is being presented. Nat says the Xbox platform lacks a "functional and growing platform ecosystem for small developers", much in the same way Apple and Google have successfully managed to do with their mobile entertainment platforms, a point that Nat doesn't miss. "Why can’t I write a game for xBox tomorrow using $100 worth of tools and my existing Windows laptop and test it on my home xBox or at my friends’ houses? Why can’t I then distribute it digitally in a decent online store, give up a 30% cut and strike it rich if it’s a great game, like I can for Android, for iPhone, or for iPad?"
The second major problem is the device OS and presentation. Nat says the user experience "outside the first two levels of the dashboard" can only be described as "creaky", and uses screenshots to highlight some of the inconsistencies, and unnecessarily technical way information is being presented, to an audience that's increasingly "casual', and will eventually lead to Microsoft losing the "living room war" to the likes of Apple and Android.
But while the future may look bleak for the Xbox 360 (unless "somebody with a brain" takes charge, Nat quips), with hardware sales declining rapidly in the last year (which to be fair, is happening with other consoles too), Nat is still proud of the way the Xbox brand has developed over the years. "I am actually still thrilled to see how far it has come, how many installed units it has, how it is crushing its original console competitors, how the brand has grown and endured, and especially how great the games have become," writes Nat.