Founding Xbox Engineer Nat Brown Says The Last 5 Years Were “Painful To Watch”
Nat Brown is an engineer who joined the Xbox team at the time of its infancy in 1999, and he also claims to have given the console its name. He has now condemned the path that the brand is taking, calling the last five years, and “the last year in particular,” “painful to watch.”
Brown’s post on his personal blog reveals that, although a multimedia experience was a critical part of the Xbox’s long term plans, it has set out to achieve this and taken the center of the stage at the cost of gaming. Brown particularly feels that support for smaller or indie developers and digital distribution has been lacking quite dangerously.
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“My gripe, my head-smack, is not that the broader content/entertainment business isn’t where you want to go with a living-room-connected device. It absolutely is,” writes Brown.
“Indeed, this was the point of Xbox, that was why it was the Trojan horse for the living room, where we could land and be welcomed by millions of console customers with more hardware and better software and network connectivity than the non-console devices (webtv, cable set-top-boxes) we had been pursuing.
“No, more and better content was always the point and the plan. My gripe is that, as usual, Microsoft has jumped its own shark and is out stomping through the weeds planning and talking about far-flung future strategies in interactive television and original programming partnerships with big dying media companies when their core product, their home town is on fire, their soldiers, their developers, are tired and deserting, and their supply-lines are broken.
“Xbox’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?”
Brown went on to criticize the $10,000 fee that is required to register as an Xbox developer, and he points to the lack of ecosystem features that are found on thriving platforms like iOS, where low-barriers to entry resulted in a massive amount of content widening audience, increasing consumer choice and raising the device’s popularity significantly.
“Why can’t I then distribute it digitally in a decent online store, give up a 30 per cent cut and strike it rich if it’s a great game, like I can for Android, for iPhone, or for iPad,” he asks.
“This is where indie developers have found they can go in order to not make money on xBox, despite an installed base of 76 million devices. Microsoft, you are idiotic to have ceded not just indie game developers but also a generation of loyal kids and teens to making games for other people’s mobile devices.”
Brown’s disappointment isn’t just directed at the Xbox’s poor support for smaller developers though, as he is also quite upset with the Dashboard UI, something he has called “creaky, slow, and full-of-s***.”
“These are the 2 fronts Microsoft is going to lose on in the living room battle with Android 38, iOS,” continues Brown.
“It’s not going to be based on whether they have (a more expensive) Netflix, whether they have original TV/video content or interactive kids television shows which integrate with Kinect. They will lose unless these two things are sorted out well and quickly.
“Microsoft is living in a naive dream-world. I have heard people still there arguing that the transition of the brand from hardcore gamers to casual users and tv-uses was an intentional and crafted success. It was not. It was an accident of circumstance that Microsoft is neither leveraging nor in control of.”
As a point of interest, Nat Brown departed from Microsoft in early 2000.