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Microsoft considered making the original Xbox free (and buying Nintendo)

The original Xbox was a beast in every sense. A powerful games machine with a monstrous form factor, and huge, chunky controllers, it went on sale in late 2001 priced at $299 (just under $400 in today's money, adjusted for inflation).

But before it went on sale, Microsoft considered some pretty wild ideas for its gaming platform, as one of the leads on the original Xbox project revealed in a recent interview.

The beast.

Seamus Blackley is credited as one of the co-creators of the first Xbox, having helped to establish the course of its development, and put together the team that ultimately designed and created it. Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz, Blackley said that the company seriously considered giving the console away free, in a bid to capture the casual gaming market.

"In the early days of Xbox," he explained, "especially before we had figured out how to get greenlit for the project as a pure game console, everybody and their brother who saw the new project starting tried to come in and say it should be free".

One such proponent of the free Xbox idea was Lorne Lanning, founder of games development house Oddworld Inhabitants. Oddworld had originally announced Munch's Oddyseee as its latest title for the PlayStation 2, but was persuaded to jump ship to Xbox, launching the game exclusively on Microsoft's new console - and the likelihood of a 'free' Xbox was a big factor in that decision.

Lanning said: "At the time, Xbox thought that the core market was going to be casual. They were going to be the casual gamers' machine. Now, that's when [Microsoft] approached us, because they said: 'We think you've got something that competes in that Mario space and we think Mario's the thing to kill... We want that audience. We love Oddworld. So why don't you get on this bandwagon? And we might give the box away.'"

Microsoft's suggestion that the Xbox might be offered free to gamers was an enticing idea for Oddworld. Lanning continued: "So now [we're] like, 'look if you're going to give the box away, you're going to win. If you're going to win, we want to be on board."

Of course, things didn't quite turn out that way in the end - but that wasn't the only wild idea that Microsoft considered for its first-gen console.

Ahhh... that takes us back.

One suggestion that was mooted focused on the aforementioned notion that the Xbox should be attacking the casual gaming space. Some in the Xbox development group considered that Microsoft's best chance of succeeding was simply to kill its main competitor in that space - Nintendo - by buying it up.

Blackley said that all sorts of suggestions and proposals were considered - although some were given less consideration than others. "Just name it," he said, "name a bad idea and it was something we had to deal with."

But one idea that was floated in the early 2000s, and ultimately rejected, has since materialized anyway - albeit in a slightly different form. During the development of the first Xbox, some on the team considered that "it should be forced to run Windows after some period of time."

That idea was binned the first time around, apparently due to enormous resistance from the entertainment industry, which had very little regard for the Windows OS. But Microsoft's latest console, the Xbox One, uses a reworked version of Windows to run apps, and Windows 10 will play an even bigger role in unlocking new capabilities and experiences on the console.

It's strange how things work out in the end.

Head over to GamesIndustry.biz for more details on what might have been for the original Xbox, and for their full interview with Oddworld Inhabitants' Lorne Lanning.

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