Ed Fries interview — From building games for the original Xbox to investing in gaming startups

Ed Fries interview — From building games for the original Xbox to investing in gaming startups

Dean Takahashi of GamesBeat interviews Ed Fries about the 20th anniversary of the Xbox. Join gaming leaders, alongside GamesBeat and Facebook Gaming, for their 2nd Annual GamesBeat & Facebook Gaming Summit | GamesBeat: Into the Metaverse 2 this upcoming January 25-27, 2022. Learn more about the event.

Without good games, the original Xbox would have crumbled in defeat before the gaming might of Sony and Nintendo. While Microsoft is a solid contender in game consoles today with a stable of 25 game studios and more than 2,500 game developers, it seemed kind of puny two decades ago.

When the original Xbox launched, the company had barely 400 people spread across 10 studios. And while it had Age of Empires and Microsoft Flight Simulator for the PC, it had virtually nothing in games. The task of building a portfolio of console games fell to Ed Fries, who was head of Microsoft Game Studios from 1995 to 2004. Fries was the fifth person at Microsoft to sign on to create the original Xbox more than 20 years ago, and he figured prominently in both of my books, Opening the Xbox and The Xbox 360 Uncloaked. We had a chance to catch up on his memories of those days and his role in greenlighting games such as Halo, Forza, Project Gotham Racing, Gears of War, and many more.

Talking to Fries and other Xbox veterans like Seamus Blackley , I appreciated the challenges of having to build the console, support PC gaming, and acquire console gaming talent at a time when Microsoft didn’t have the budgets or experience that the other console makers had. Fries eventually felt the pressure of that impossible task — of beating rivals while holding costs low — and he parted ways with Microsoft. And today, he is now the founder of 1Up Ventures , which is investing in game studios. Event

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Fries and I spoke for nearly an hour about the good old days at the recent WN Seattle event.

Here’s an edited transcript of our interview. Above: Dean Takahashi and Ed Fries at the WN Seattle conference. GamesBeat: People assume Microsoft’s success in the game business was preordained. It’s good to have Ed here to remind us how difficult it was and how much heavy lifting had to be done by so many people. You’ve been sharing all this swag on social media about your Xbox days. Why did you keep it all? What’s gotten the best response so far?

Ed Fries: I was worried my wife was getting more followers on Instagram than I was! But no, why did I keep it all? I don’t know. I think Xbox is just such a part of my life that it infected every part of my house as well. It seemed like every cupboard I opened or shelf I looked on, there was something related to Xbox. Today was the very last post. It was kind of bittersweet. But it was fun to get people’s reactions. I’ve been a bit of a collector myself, like with arcade machines. I probably have a bit of a collector’s mindset. I know that collectors have seen the wooden Xbox cut from Japan, and they’re going to be out there scouring the world to find one of those. Anyway, it was just a very fun project.

GamesBeat: You had about 30 days’ worth of things to show?

Fries: I think I did 45 or so. I did a bunch. Some of them were just, “Here’s a bunch of shirts.” Some are better than others, for sure. As far as the best response, definitely the custom Xboxes, and the Japanese Xbox signed by Bill Gates for my son. The Japanese launch was February 22, 2002, and my first son was born on March 21, 2002. Bill knew I was having a kid, but didn’t know his name, so he just wrote, “Ed Junior’s First Toy” on that Xbox and signed it. That was a good one.

GamesBeat: To refresh people about some of your career, I’ll read some things here, but maybe you can chime in about what some of this early experience was like in games back then. You joined Microsoft as an intern in 1985 and as an employee in 1986. Worked on Office and Excel. Took over the games division in 1995 when it had 150 developers. People said, “Why are you throwing your career away?”

Fries: If I can go back a bit before that, I […]

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