Looking Back

Every story has more than one beginning. It’s up to the storyteller to decide which beginning to choose. The story of World War II arguably began with the German blitzkrieg of Poland, or perhaps it really began with the Treaty of Versailles and the severe economic depression that followed. Some storytellers might go back even further into the history of Europe and of the Jews to find the basis of the events that followed. Still others might start with the saga of an obscure failed artist who somehow becomes one of the most powerful people of the 20th Century.

This book is the prequel to Game of X Vol 1. It is about Microsoft, its culture and its slow evolution as a game company. It is about the people who enabled that evolution, both artistically and technically. It is about unlikely events, accidental succcesses, and catastrophic failures. It is also about visionairies and people who asked permission after. It is about big events, and small technological details. It’s about “very smart people” who could disagree, sometimes heatedly.

The accounts I have related in this book are true to the best of my knowledge and are based primarily on interviews with people directly involved. Whenever possible, I interviewed people with opposing views, although that was not always possible.

There are sections of this book about the double face of the Developer Relations Group, who on the one hand were fully dedicated to supporting developers for Microsoft’s platforms, and on the other hand often used devious and manipulative practices—internally to accomplish their goals, and externally to cause grief to Microsoft’s rivals.

This book is about Microsoft and the internal and external drama that led to its adoption of games. There were unlikely heroes who did not wield ostensible power, but who changed the course of history nonetheless. And there are monsters in this story—like IBM and Apple and even Microsoft itself—and often a kind of good and evil dichotomy. But mostly this story is about grey areas where absolute good and evil are debatable and based on individual perspectives, and in some cases, its characters can be seen as both heroes and villains at the same time.

Stepping back to the early 1990s, nobody—and I mean nobody—would have bet that Microsoft would one day become a major developer of video game console systems. At the time, Japanese powerhouses Nintendo and Sega were duking it out over who could sell more millions of consoles and engage the most players with characters like Mario, Link and Sonic the Hedgehog. Microsoft was DOS and early Windows. They were tech, operating systems and a budding supplier of business applications. And in that context, something as completely divergent as games didn’t just happen by accident. If you follow a series of events within and outside of Microsoft, along with some tectonic cultural and technological events within the company, it becomes clear that one thing led to another, and to another, and ultimately to Xbox. And so, looking at it through the lens of history, it becomes clear that the Xbox story has several beginnings, depending on how you tell it. The true beginnings of Xbox could be attributed to events that took place in a boardroom in the late 1990s, but in order to understand how and why Microsoft ultimately took the highly improbable step of creating a video game console, it helps to look back at Microsoft’s surprisingly long history with games, as well as the culture of Microsoft, its internal and external battles, and the efforts of small, comparatively powerless groups of people, often working under the radar of the massive organism they inhabited.

Game of X: The Long Road to Xbox, is the beginning of the long road to Xbox.

Next Chapter: The Manhattan Project