The 360 launched a decade ago, and some of its biggest advancements tend to be overlooked by gamers. With the gift of hindsight, it was much more revolutionary that it seems on the surface…
Atari popularized home consoles, the NES brought gaming back from the brink of extinction, the Genesis gave games an edge, the PlayStation matured the market even more, and the PS2 married gaming with home media. When it came time for the next console generation in 2005, what did the 360 do to change the medium? A lot more than it seems.
Sure, the Wii’s motion controls and mainstream acceptance may be the most disruptive aspects of that generation, but Microsoft’s second system did so many subtle (and not-so-subtle) things that changed the course of gaming. As we hit such a major anniversary for the 360, let’s take a closer look at the 10 additions the console made to the world of games, whether it was a new policy that got implemented by its competition, or how it disrupted what gamers came to accept as the norm in gaming. Such as…
Since the earliest days of gaming, smaller and more experimental games from unestablished creators didn’t have much of a chance getting on a disc. But after a soft launch on the original Xbox, the 360 was home to the full rollout of Xbox Live Arcade, a digital storefront that would change console development. Not only was it a new home for retro games to find a new lease on life, it also became a launchpad for more experimental games like Braid and Limbo. Both PS3 and Wii soon opened their digital storefronts to similar content, but Microsoft was the first to give a new home to more independent and experimental titles that could succeed at a $10 price point.
“Gamify” is one of those marketing terms invented to induce vomiting in normal people, but I’ll be damned if Microsoft didn’t successfully gamify the gaming experience on the 360. No longer was your experience with a title forgotten once the credits rolled. Every 360 game has released with Achievements, little numerical rewards for completing in-game objectives. The sound of an unlocked Achievement led to a Pavlovian response of excitement (from breaking 50 rat skulls to grabbing 300 orbs), and it was a high you just had to keep chasing. Sure they didn’t actually ‘mean’ anything, but these little breadcrumbs of rewards got players to try gaming tasks they would’ve otherwise not bothered with. Achievements became so indispensable that Sony eventually had to incorporate Trophies into the PS3 just to keep up.
Sure, the previous generation of consoles had menus for exploring memory cards, swapping out discs, and playing CDs, but the UI packed onto the 360 was so much more than that. Starting with the now-ancient Blades that launched, the Xbox 360 start-up menu has become the standard starting place for most gamers. The days of putting in a disc and immediately starting a game were over. Now you could do so much without starting up a game; explore your friends list, the online store, your game library, and even take a look at the fledgling collection of non-gaming apps. Those blades also gave new space for advertising, but hey, you take the good with the bad. The home screen has gone through many incarnations, but no matter how it looked, Microsoft’s sophisticated UI changed the way people turned on home consoles from that moment onward.
Gamertags and Gamerscore
Xbox Live was already pretty robust on the original Xbox, but the 360 is really when the majority of publishers made the system integral to gaming. So many titles shipped with a multiplayer component, making your Gamertag an even more important identifier for who you were. Sure, most people were named xxxSmokeDog42069xx, but when you saw the Gamerscore attached to that handle, you gained a newfound respect (or contempt) for that person. Thanks to the success of Achievements, Gamerscore added a new level of complexity and history to previously vanilla Gamertags. These two aspects of the system worked in tandem to create a whole new sense of community.
These days Netflix streams on pretty much every device known to humanity, but the DVD-by-mail company was new to the world of streaming back in 2008. Starting that fall, the 360 was the first place outside of a computer where you could watch Netflix’s online offerings. It was a mutually beneficial relationship that made Netflix the leader in streaming video and the 360 not only the leader in games, but also in TV entertainment. Soon Netflix headed to the PS3 and Wii, with Hulu, Amazon, Comcast, and many more outlets following suite. Putting Netflix on the 360 forever ended the idea that a console ‘just’ played video games and brought us closer to the idea of an all-in-one entertainment center that Bill Gates predicted the Xbox would become.
Not every impact is a positive one, as you’ll find out on the next page!