The Xbox 360 launched four years ago today in Europe, ushering in the current-generation of videogames consoles and putting a full stop in the life of the original Xbox. Only a handful of games for Microsoft’s first console made it to UK shores after 2nd December 2005, as the Xbox 360 began its life as the company’s definite priority.
In those four years we have seen a lot of change. The so-so launch titles of Perfect Dark Zero, Kameo: Elements of Power, Condemned and Project Gotham Racing 3 have all given way to superior titles leading their respective genres, and the lattermost title has also since received sequels, but in their own right marked the arrival of High-Definition gaming. The Xbox 360 dashboard has received a dramatic overhaul, from the old “blades” system to what’s known as the New Xbox Experience, bringing Mii-like Avatars, Games on Demand, motion-picture downloads through the recently renamed Zune Marketplace and the latest update offering Facebook, Twitter and Last.fm to Xbox LIVE Gold Subscribers. And while it’s almost certain that Microsoft’s eventual plan would always have steered the console in this direction, it hasn’t all been plain sailing.
With a record-breaking global launch with all major territories receiving the console with twenty days, the Xbox 360 was plagued with stock shortages upon launch, too a far greater extent than would be expected of any console, and with the PLAYSTATION3 eventually delayed in Europe til 2007, saw much greater demand than Sony’s rival which, at this point, was still considered the favourite to become the biggest selling system of the generation. It wouldn’t be til May 2006 that Nintendo would reveal what Wii as capable of, and that Sony would reveal that wallet-eating PLAYSTATION3 launch price.
Coupled with the incredibly lack of supply to meet demand, the Xbox 360 suffered from the Red Ring of Death ordeal – an issue that has long been dealt with, yet still haunts the console to this day. A reported 54.2% of all units sold within the first twelve months fell to the Red Ring of Death, a fault caused by the temperature inside the system melting the solder holding the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) in place. Dozens of newer models have since been released, adding internal memory and reducing the size of the console’s external power pack dramatically, but the public opinion of the Red Ring of Death hasn’t changed – despite Microsoft extending the warranty of affected systems bought within the extended launch period to thirty-six months – and the issue is still currently believed to be a much greater concern than the PLAYSTATION3’s Yellow Light of Death.
Late in 2006, the Xbox 360 got it’s first true system-selling game. Games that can single-handedly raise the interest in a console are few-and-far between, and with the advent of current-generation systems only the truly Hollywood-esque titles can hope to achieve such a status. Gears of War was one such title, and though the game has inevitably paled as the systems have matured, it still attracts an audience with it’s overtly machismo take on the future of humanity. The game was reported as having sold 5.88 million units globally on Xbox 360 alone (Gears of War was released on PC a year later) in November 2008, just prior to the launch of it’s sequel.
A year later, and the Halo franchise makes a dramatic entrance on Xbox 360. Halo 3 was a phenomenal success, selling a staggering 8.1 million units within it’s first three months on sale. Not only that, but just as it’s predecessor had done, it provided an remarkable argument for the reason you pay £39.99 every year to access Xbox LIVE. The most comprehensive multi-player mode on consoles, which has since breed it’s own unique destination on Xbox LIVE, Halo 3 took the time to prove that the current-generation consoles could offer much more to videogames than simply a finer visual quality.
In 2008, the walls around current-generation software development began breaking down. With the installed userbase of the Xbox 360 reaching a point at which it was feasible to deliver a game with a relatively small budget or niche gameplay ideal and still find an audience. Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution, Dark Sector and Summer Athletics: The Ultimate Challenge joined the ranks of Grand Theft Auto IV, Call of Duty: World at War and FallOut 3 on retail shelves, and Downloadable Content (DLC) began to show signs of promise, developing a small amount of uniformity in function and pricing.
This year has of course been a year of settling for the Xbox 360. Some fantastic videogame releases have been couple with extensive, appealing DLC plans and some retuning of the hardware bundles. Dashboard updates have brought new functionality to the Xbox 360 and the promise of Project NATAL in 2010 mean that the Xbox 360 looks to be competitive for some years to come. The average lifespan of previous generations of videogame consoles may well have been four-to-five years, but at four years old, the Xbox 360 is showing no signs of age.