The birth of Xbox Live

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Xbox Live is the kind of thing that you don’t realize is important until it happens.

One day consoles don’t have a persistent, broadband connection to the internet, and the next day they do. And within a few years people are watching movies and entire TV series over streaming Netflix and you wonder what life was even like before somebody invented Xbox Live.

The more people I got to know who are involved in making games, the more people I got to know who were involved with making Xbox Live. What struck me about the story of creating this world-evolving technological service was not the challenges they faced, but how all of it had so quickly faded into history.

Less than a decade after I started writing this story, most people had completely forgotten there was a time when your game console couldn’t connect to the internet. In an age of smartphones and wifi, such a thing is simply expected.

The geniuses at Microsoft’s Millennium E campus lived in a time before those technological marvels. Similarly to the men who went to the moon and launched the atom bomb, these people asked themselves what might happen if they tried to do a very big thing in a very small amount of time. The result is under your television, on your phone and possibly powering your car radio.

I spent about one year reporting on this story. I talked to over a dozen engineers, programmers and executives of (or formerly of) Microsoft. I’m now working on a part 2, and possibly a book.

The birth of Xbox Live