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Xbox founder derides Microsoft’s ‘progress’

Xbox founder derides Microsoft's 'progress'

Microsoft’s Xbox project took a steep nosedive after Nat Brown left, he claims – but it’s hard to argue with his strongly-worded critique.


The man responsible for Microsoft’s venture into console gaming has lashed out at his former workplace, accusing the company of coasting on past momentum and failing to capitalise on new technologies while alienating developers and creating an excrement-filled user experience.

Nat Brown, a founding member of the Xbox team at Microsoft and the man responsible for giving the company’s inaugural console its name – although also a man who seems to insist on calling the device an ‘xBox,’ an awkward bit of typography which has been quietly corrected in the following quotations – has made his feelings clear regarding the project’s recent direction in a self-confessed rant entitled Stupid, Stupid Xbox. In his blog post, Brown accuses Microsoft of having lost its way, with the current user interface – the Dashboard, in Xbox terms – being singled out as a woeful experience.

[The Xbox 360's] secondary critical problem is that the device OS and almost the entire user experience outside the first two levels of the dashboard are creaky, slow, and full-of-sh*t,‘ claims Brown, providing screenshot examples that range from the repetitive ‘Select a Device’ storage dialogue that appears each time a game is launched to the ‘unsaved progress’ warning that appears when a game is quit – even directly after saving.

But there’s a bigger problem than a clunky UI, Brown claims – and one which is likely to see the Xbox lose significant ground to rival devices, especially with the explosive growth of mobile gaming and Android-powered gaming consoles: the lack of accessibility to developers. ‘[The Xbox 360's] primary critical problem is the lack of a functional and growing platform ecosystem for small developers to sell digitally-/network-distributed (non-disc) content through to the installed base of Xbox customers, period. 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?

While Brown admits that there are ways for an independent developer to get involved on the Xbox platform, he dismisses each in turn: membership of the official Xbox Registered Developer Programme costs $10,000 a year, pricing amateur developers out of the market; the Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) is likewise too expensive for most and gives Microsoft full veto power over whether your freshly-developed game will even be listed for sale; and Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIG) is, Brown claims, ‘where indie developers have found they can go in order to not make money on Xbox, despite an installed base of 76M devices.

The past 5 years, and the last year in particular, have been simply painful to watch,‘ Brown claims. ‘Coasting on past momentum. Failing to innovate and failing to capitalise 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.

With Microsoft expected to launch its next-generation Xbox console, a device claimed to be based on an x86 processor and with at least passing compatibility with a Windows-based PC, these things could change – but Brown’s scathing critique certainly suggests that the company has a long way to go if it wants to fend off the threat from Sony’s soon-to-be-unveiled PlayStation 4 and Valve’s probably-launching-in-2014 Steam Box console-cum-PC, not to mention the Ouya and other Android-based microconsoles with low purchase costs and easy accessibility to indie game developers.

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