15 years later, was piracy good or bad for the Xbox?

When I got my first —original— Xbox in 2002 I bought it what already was a modified, pirated version of the console. It was ready to store game copies onto its hard disk and let players play them easily and with only one disadvantage (to the user): you could get banned from the Xbox Live service that was just starting to show its potential in those days.

When the original Xbox was launched, the PS2 had been already available for a year and a half, and that head start was a big obstacle for the Xbox, which nonetheless was able to gain traction and become a worthy alternative. The PS2 dominated that sixth generation of consoles, though: 150 million units sold as of February 2011, while the Microsoft Xbox had sold over 24 million units as of May 2006.

Both of them suffered greatly from piracy, and one could wonder if the impact of that piracy was bad or good for the original Xbox. The competition against the PS2 was really tough, but having access to an easy way to modify and take advantage of game copies downloaded from the internet may have had a positive impact for users that were debating which one of the two big rivals get.

The ability to run those copies from the hard disk and projects such as XBMC were specially interesting for certain users that understood that the console could be a great alternative as a Media Center. I used those capabilities too, and I can confirm that as far as I can recall the original Xbox was much more interesting than the PS2 for me.


So the question seems inevitable: did piracy —which was much more popular in audio and video— and homebrew scene help Xbox sales? Did it help competition against the PS2? It certainly did a lot of damage to other consoles such as the PSP, but the Xbox developers continued to make a lot of (many of them great) games even with this problem.

 

The new, evolutionary, Xbox One

I’ve been a Xbox One user since its debut, but I’m the minority here in Spain, a country devoted to the PS4. It’s hard to defend that minor position with friends -not many can play along with me- but we can for sure defend it with facts.

One of the latest ones comes from the new update from Phil Spencer at Microsoft, who ‘has hinted that the company will offer optional hardware upgrades for the Xbox One in the future‘.

The path was clear months ago: the universal platform Microsoft is building includes the Xbox One, who will be able to execute not just games but universal apps. As The Guardian explains,

What this could mean is that the Xbox One becomes more like a PC, with Microsoft releasing updated versions at regular intervals with more powerful processors and graphics hardware. In theory, because games will be written as UWAs, older titles will remain compatible with the new machines.

An upgradable console? I don’t see this coming, but I guess Microsoft will be able to make updated, enhanced versions of the console that will improve computing and graphics power and still maintain backwards compatibility thanks to the new software paradigm.

That’s something not easy to do on other consoles, and could effectively transform the Xbox One into something that resembles more and more to a PC.

I wonder if that’s not a danger in itself. Uhm.

Follow up: Mark Walton shares my thinking at Ars Technica UK, where he develops this though with much  more detail.