Title : Opening the Xbox: Inside Microsoft's Plan to Unleash an Entertainment Revolution
Author : Dean Takahashi
Length : 370 pages
MSRP : $24.95
ISBN : 0761537082
Release date : Apr 23 2002
Publisher : Prima Publishing
Review by : Ken Gagne

With Microsoft having recently dropped the price of their Xbox video game console from $299 to $199, many gamers are likely to be opening their wallets to add a new system to their gaming arsenal. 

In Opening the Xbox: Inside Microsoft's Plan to Unleash an Entertainment Revolution, author Dean Takahashi opens a different kind of box, revealing for the first time many of the details behind the creation of Microsoft's next-generation, 128-bit video game console. 

As the title suggest, Takahashi occasionally plays with hyperbole. The Xbox has not yet proven to be an entertainment revolution, suggesting that this book may be a bit premature in detailing Microsoft's success story in the console wars. But though the console's historical impact remains to be seen, the significance of Microsoft's entry into the gaming industry cannot be ignored. 

Takahashi's look at the video game industry does not reach farther back than most historical books perforce must; Microsoft is, after all, the newest comer to the console market. Opening the Xbox starts in the late Nineties, when the industry has already grown to gargantuan proportions. The industry was founded by companies such as Atari and Activision with much smaller teams, whereas by the time Microsoft entered the fray, their legions number in the thousands. It is difficult to detail every person who influenced the Xbox project, though Takahashi makes a valiant effort. Though this level of detail makes for useful historical reference, it occasionally doubles as heavy and confusing reading. 

Humanizing the cast reminds us that they are not only technological wizards, but people as well. Takahashi's approach to doing so is to introduce each individual with a brief background — who his parents were, where he grew up — and then follow up with the occasional narrative anecdote. Amid the description of a business meeting, the reader may suddenly be informed of the speaker's favorite color jellybean, or the location of his tattoo. These details are a tad too specific, and their abrupt placement, jarring. 

But the events in which these actors participate can be fascinating. Opening the Xbox is as much about Microsoft as it is the Xbox. A gaming company such as Nintendo does not have the same conspiracies and conflicts about a new console that a non-gaming company like Microsoft does. Gamers, unaware of the many internal struggles that brought the software giant into the game hardware industry, can now read how likely it was that the Xbox plan was squashed in favor of furthering WebTV development. More than the Xbox was threatened by Microsoft's designs; a previously-unrevealed bid to acquire Nintendo would've taken the GameCube off the shelves as well. 

Ultimately, Opening the Xbox reads more like a book aimed at businessmen and computer enthusiasts than at gamers. Nintendo and Atari are gaming companies, whereas it seems impossible to talk about Microsoft, or even the Xbox, without mentioning Windows. The Xbox has not been around long enough to win the hearts of gamers, though people curious about the machinations that allowed a software company to produce a game console, or readers looking for a focused look on a specific part of the industry, will find much to like in this book.


This article is copyright (c) 2002, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 20-May-02