Xbox Console History: Highs, Lows and Highlights

November 29, 2023 • Zachary Amos


Did you know the Xbox console history includes some of the bestselling video games in history? The Xbox is one of the titans of modern gaming. Over the years, it has reshaped the industry with innovation and bold design moves. There were some low points for the Xbox, though, and competition with Sony’s PlayStation consoles remains intense. 

What are the highlights of the Xbox console history? What are some of the console’s biggest games? Where will it go next? 

Xbox Console History Timeline

The Xbox console history is a rollercoaster of innovation and gaming industry competition. It includes some turning points for gaming at large and some of the most popular games of all time. What are the highlights of the Xbox console’s history? 

2001: The Original Xbox

The first Xbox console was released on November 15, 2001. Xbox is actually a shortened version of the console’s original name, the “DirectX Box.” It was a reference to the DirectX API collection. The initial motivation behind the Xbox was to show off the capabilities of DirectX in gaming. 

Microsoft succeeded. DirectX remains one of the most popular graphics drivers over 20 years after the first Xbox launched. The console was a hit. Microsoft sold over 1 million units in the first month after release and went on to sell 24 million units total from 2001 until 2005. 

The original Xbox was a huge technological leap compared to its competitors at launch. It also launched alongside one of gaming’s most legendary franchises: Halo. Halo: Combat Evolved was one of the first titles for the Xbox. It helped skyrocket excitement for the powerful new console. 

2005: The Legendary Xbox 360

The original Xbox was sadly discontinued in 2005, but an even more popular console followed it: the Xbox 360. This console was a high point in Xbox console history. It changed the gaming world and cemented the Xbox as a titan of the industry. It sold over 84 million units, nearly three times more than the already-popular original Xbox. 

The Xbox 360 was slimmer and more powerful than its predecessor. It also introduced wireless controllers and, even more importantly, digital marketplaces and online play. Both of those are standard in the gaming world today. At the time, though, Xbox Live was revolutionary. 

Suddenly, gamers could purchase items digitally, directly from their console. They could play games with no physical disk. They could play multiplayer with people all over the world. These features were available on other platforms, such as PC gaming. The Xbox 360 made them available to everyone, though. 

Microsoft released a few different versions of the Xbox 360, including the 360 Core, 360 Pro, 360 S, 360 E and numerous special editions for certain games. In fact, Microsoft didn’t end Xbox 360 production until 2016, three years after the Xbox One launched. 

2013: The Xbox One Refresh

In 2013, Microsoft released the Xbox One. It was meant to be a technological upgrade to the Xbox 360 but received less enthusiasm than its massively popular predecessor. The Xbox One only sold about 58 million units worldwide, nearly 30 million less than the Xbox 360 sold. 

The Xbox One did have some big upgrades from the 360, though. For example, it had support for 4K video and a new-and-improved controller. It also included more RAM and a bigger hard drive, so it could run more powerful games than the 360. 

Unfortunately, by 2013, competition between the Xbox and the Playstation was heated. The PS4 had more perks for gamers compared to the Xbox One, which initially hurt the console’s sales. Plus, the PlayStation was getting more and more exciting console exclusives, tempting long-time Xbox fans to make the switch. 

Microsoft eventually turned things around, though. Titles like Titanfall, Red Dead Redemption 2 and Forza Horizon 4 helped reignite excitement for the Xbox One. These newer games and many others fully utilized the newer console’s processing power upgrades. 

Microsoft went on to release two more editions of the Xbox One, the One S and the One X. These second-gen editions of the Xbox One brought a groundbreaking change to Microsoft’s digital marketplace offerings: Xbox Game Pass. 

This subscription service allowed gamers to play a library of selected titles without buying them individually. It borrowed from the subscription streaming model that was taking off in film and TV in the 2010s. Microsoft later expanded access to Xbox Game Pass to include PC users, as well, with the addition of cloud gaming. 

2020: The Xbox Series X/S Duo

The modern era of Xbox console history saw a shift in Microsoft’s strategy in an attempt to compete with PlayStation. The PS4 sold twice as many units as the Xbox One line. By the time the Xbox Series X and Series S came out in 2020, Sony had a clear lead over Microsoft in the console gaming market. 

Microsoft released the Series X and Series S as a duo. The Series X was the more premium model with more powerful specs and a disk drive. The Series S was built as a budget-friendly console designed to bring new players into the Xbox ecosystem. It had slightly less processing power, a weaker GPU and no disk drive, but it did sell for a lower price. 

The Series S was the first Xbox with no disk drive. Gamers have to download games directly to the console, which means their library is effectively limited by their console’s storage. The Series S operates more like a gaming PC than a conventional console due to its reliance on storage and digital downloads. 

For some gamers, though, that setup is a good deal. An estimated 48% of Xbox Series S players are first-time Xbox owners. The console’s release date also impacted buyers’ perceptions of its design. 

The Series S came out in November 2020, months after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. By that time, consumers were already used to streaming all of their entertainment content and were shifting away from physical media. So, the fact that the Series S doesn’t have a disk drive may not have mattered to many first-time buyers. 

The Xbox Series X/S is considered a major upgrade from the Xbox One. Both are popular consoles, but they haven’t been able to bring Microsoft back to the number-one spot in console gaming. The PS4 and PS5 both continue to outperform the Xbox Series X/S in sales. So, the console war goes on for now. 

Most Popular Xbox Games of All Time

The Xbox console history has several high points from some of its biggest games. Thousands of titles have been released on the Xbox over the years. However, a few stand out as gems of the gaming world. Here are the highlights: 

Halo: Combat Evolved

The one that started it all. This was the first Halo game ever released and one of the very first games on the Xbox platform. It’s widely considered one of the best FPS titles ever released and remains a classic. It spawned the hit Halo franchise, which has over a dozen titles, several movies, dozens of books and a streaming adaptation. 


Mojang’s surprise indie hit wasn’t just popular on PC. The Xbox helped it rocket to gaming stardom. In fact, Minecraft was so popular on Xbox that Microsoft bought it in 2014 for $2.5 billion. 

Grand Theft Auto V

The GTA franchise has always been popular on the Xbox, but GTA 5 is a true titan. It has sold over 185 million copies since its release, making it one of the bestselling video games in history. 

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Skyrim might be getting old, but it remains a favorite in the gaming community. It set a new gold standard for fantasy gaming and open-world games, offering players an incredible amount of depth and story to explore. 

Red Dead Redemption 2

The Red Dead franchise is every Western fan’s dream. It’s a unique title in the gaming market, especially with its open-world design. Red Dead Redemption 2 has sold over 55 million copies since its release and ranks in the top 10 bestselling games ever. 

Fallout 3

Bethesda created two of the best games on the Xbox – Skyrim and the Fallout series. Fallout 3 is considered by many to be the best game in the series, although Fallout: New Vegas is also a top contender. Fallout 3 won numerous awards and received a nomination for BAFTA Game of the Year in 2008. 

Elden Ring

Released in 2022, Elden Ring was an instant hit. Some even consider it a spiritual successor to Skyrim due to its sprawling fantasy world. Elden Ring has amassed a huge following online, thanks in part to its infamously challenging gameplay. 

Call of Duty 4

The Call of Duty franchise is a cornerstone of the Xbox library. It includes some of the most popular and influential games in Xbox console history. Call of Duty 4 is widely considered the best game in the entire franchise. 

Forza Horizon 4

The Forza series is the pinnacle of racing games, but Forza Horizon 4 is truly the stuff of legends. It was one of the stand-out titles that helped save the Xbox One. Horizon 4 won multiple awards, including a BAFTA Game Award and Best Sports/Racing Game. 

When Will the Next Xbox Console Come Out?

The Xbox console history has a lot of ups and downs, but there’s no doubt that the Xbox is a titan of the gaming industry. Now everyone is wondering what Microsoft will do next. When will the next Xbox console come out? 

Microsoft is currently planning to release a sleek new version of the Xbox Series X in 2024. It will reportedly be more powerful than its predecessor and include a redesigned controller. It’s still early, so Microsoft has not released much info on it yet. However, gamers can expect the next Xbox console to include some major upgrades to compete with Sony’s powerful PS5.