Nat Brown, an engineer who joined the Xbox engineering team in its infancy in 1999 and claims to have given it its name, has penned an explosive declamation on the path which 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, whilst a multimedia experience was always a vital part of the long term plans for Xbox, it has taken centre-stage at the cost of gaming. Specifically, Brown feels that support for smaller developers and digital distribution has been dangerously lacking.
“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.
“The past 5 years, and the last year in particular, have been simply painful to watch. Coasting on past momentum. Failing to innovate and failing to capitalize on innovations like Kinect.”
“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?”
Going on to rail against the $10,000 cost for registering as an Xbox developer, Brown decries the lack of ecosystem features seen on explosive platforms like iOS, where low-barriers to entry have seen a wealth of content driving both system popularity and breadth of choice.
“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 limited to the machine’s poor support for smaller developers, however, he’s also angry with the Dashboard UI, which he calls “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.”
Nat Brown left Microsoft in early 2000.