Case | HBS Case Collection | November 2006 (Revised February 2007)

Microsoft Xbox: Changing the Game?

by Andrei Hagiu

Abstract

In September 1999, the Microsoft Xbox team was wondering which strategic choices would give it the best chance against the upcoming Sony PlayStation 2. Initially called "Project Midway" within Microsoft, the console project was intended to counter the perceived threat to the Windows franchise posed by Sony expanding the original PlayStation into a broad entertainment platform with the PlayStation 2. Seamus Blackley--the chief instigator for the Xbox within Microsoft--and some of his colleagues were on a flight to Austin, Texas, where they had an appointment with Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Computer. The purpose of the visit was to convince Dell to manufacture Xbox videogame consoles running Microsoft software. Indeed, the team intended to produce a machine somewhere between a standalone videogame console and a PC tailored to play videogames. It remained unclear, however, where along the spectrum from dedicated console to PC Microsoft should position the Xbox. Would it be an open platform like the PC in the sense that independent developers could publish games on it with no restrictions and without having to pay royalties? Who would produce consoles and under what arrangements? What features should the console include, and how would it be priced to consumers? The home videogame industry had been born in the 1970s during the Atari "golden age", then collapsed suddenly in 1983. It was reborn at the end of the 1980s under Nintento's leadership, which was then challenged for a few years by Sega, only to be conquered by Sony's original PlayStation. And along the way, some companies such as 3DO had tried unsuccessfully to change the prevalent business models. This tumultuous 25-year history might provide Blackley and his colleagues with some useful tips on how best to enter the market.

Keywords: Customers; Recruitment; Leadership; Management Teams; Multi-Sided Platforms; Two-Sided Platforms; Production; Strategy; Competition; Expansion; Video Game Industry; Texas;

Citation:

Hagiu, Andrei. "Microsoft Xbox: Changing the Game?" Harvard Business School Case 707-501, November 2006. (Revised February 2007.)