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Comment: Microsoft fires the first volley of the next-gen battle

Console launches are peculiarly subjective things, and a launch judged to be a resounding success by one commentator can look like a total disaster to another. Do the overnight queues and customers turned away empty handed mean overwhelming demand, or underwhelming stock levels? Is the number of people complaining publicly about faulty hardware normal for a new electronics product launch, or a sign of a rushed production process? Is the launch line-up surprisingly wide-reaching and playable, or indicative of developers who haven't yet got to grips with complex new hardware?

Pretty much any of those viewpoints can be argued to some extent for the launch of the Xbox 360 - but overall, you have to hand it to Microsoft. The launch in the United States has by and large been a huge success, earning massive media coverage for the company and what has, so far, been a predominantly positive reaction from consumers and critics alike. The fact that the company plans to repeat the experience in Europe as soon as the end of next week, and then in Japan eight days later, is merely the icing on the cake.

Certainly, as with any piece of hardware, there have been teething troubles - and these are amplified greatly by the ability of users to project their displeasure at non-functioning or faulty hardware through online forums. A very small number of users - smaller, it's reported, than at the majority of other hardware launches - can make a lot of noise on the Internet, but by and large the hardware problems Microsoft is experiencing seem no worse, and in many cases better, than those which have afflicted new consoles for years.

The bulk of the software which anyone expected to see on day one has, indeed, arrived on day one. Some of it is arguably disappointing - the two Rare titles, in particular, are underwhelming many of the journalists this commentator has spoken to - but it's all there, and much of it is solid and high-quality. Xbox 360 lacks a Halo-style system seller, but one will undoubtedly come in time; for now, the platform has a range of perfectly presentable software which goes some way to living up to Microsoft's bold claims of the best launch line-up ever (although in retrospect, that's still probably a contest between the Xbox and the Nintendo 64).

In other words: congratulations, Microsoft. The next generation of consumer videogame hardware has arrived, and Microsoft is the company carrying the flag. How this game plays out over the next five years is anybody's guess, and plenty of anybodies seem happy to give their guesses at the moment. Will first mover advantage matter? Can Microsoft make any headway in Japan? Do consumers really want the media functions that the new consoles promise? Will online play really be an important factor?

All of these questions are questions that nobody can give an informed answer to right now, and they're the questions that will define the next half-decade of our industry's development - but this week, those questions pale into insignificance next to the fact that right now, regular consumers are playing next-gen videogame consoles in their own homes. It may only be the start of the struggle for Microsoft, but even to get to this starting line is a triumph in its own right, and one that many within the company can be deservedly proud of.

Rob Fahey avatar

Rob Fahey

Contributing Editor

Rob Fahey is a former editor of GamesIndustry.biz who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.