2001 is a critical year for Microsoft: the console is in production but everything is yet to be proven. It was at this point that Rick Thompson, the project manager, left the ship, adding a little more pressure on the initiators of the project. Robbie Bach thinks he has the shoulders to take over. “I concluded it was something I needed to do. It was a fateful decision that spawned the worst 18 months of my career” he explains in the report Power On. He is the new chef, and his first role is to play “the adult”, The one who must channel the energy of his young teams. “I had no idea what I was doing, I barely understood the business model”He reveals. Xbox teams grow from 20 to 2,000 people and move to campus “Millennium”Located 8 kilometers from the main campus. It’s another life that begins for all these engineers and artists, that of the intensive crunch to deliver a console and games on time.
One day, Bill Gates visits the premises. He spends time with Bungie, he watches how Joe Staten sets the cameras, how Martin O’Donnell plays the music. He went to see 3D artists, engineers. At the end of the visit, he invites the studio leaders into the conference room and tells them: “So, are there any artists working here?”.
When E3 2001 arrives, Microsoft employees don’t feel ready. The games are not finalized and the hardware is not yet at its full power. Microsoft holds its conference at 8 am, the day after a party hosted by Sony. As a result, the journalists present do not have their eyes in the face of the holes. Robbie Bach introduces the Xbox on stage, and turns it on to prove to the press that the machine really works. Unfortunately on this day the console does not start. Robbie Bach grimaces but tries to put on a good face. He continues his presentation as if nothing had happened and announces the release date to November 8, 2001. That is to say in less than 6 months. “It was a disaster”Recalls Chris Charla, former reporter for Next Gen Magazine. Unfortunately for the Xbox team, disasters continue during this E3. The games had big slowdowns because the hardware was not completely finished. Microsoft presents Halo in its space crowded with curious people, but the title is slow. The specialists are disappointed and think that Xbox project turns sour. Peter Moore, then at SEGA, wants to meet Robbie Bach to tell him that neither retailers nor developers believe in the Xbox, and that consumers think the product is not worth the price. Thanks Peter. It was also during E3 2001 that Kazuo Hirai (from Sony) inflicted a real communication lesson on Robbie Bach by making him admit that Microsoft was only copying Sony, in front of an audience of journalists. Faced with this disaster, Robbie Bach wrote his letter of resignation on May 25, 2001 at 2 a.m. to Rick Peluso, his boss. But Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer refuse his resignation and encourage him to continue.
Following this failed E3, the major publishers are reluctant to trust Microsoft. Larry Probst of Electronic Arts even goes so far as to say that Microsoft is “walking the dead” with the Xbox. Despite everything, the manufacture of Xbox is in full swing. The team faces different fairly classic problems when a game console is launched. This just-in-time period destroyed couples. “It was chaos, we slept at work”Say the employees.
Power On: The Story of the Xbox is available in full via here.