March 14, 2004 was cause for a double celebration in Xbox's European HQ: Xbox's second birthday and the first full year of Xbox Live on the continent.
From derided, mistrusted outsider, to the established number two in the market in Europe, Microsoft's Xbox crusade has undoubtedly been highly successful, but with Sony still a long, long way ahead the real hard work has only just begun.
As the planet buzzes with palpable excitement over the potential first details of next-generation hardware at next week's Games Developers Conference in San Jose, we caught with Xbox European product marketing group manager, Richard Teversham, to discuss his company's first two years in the console business and beyond.
Can you give us your overview of Xbox's first two years in Europe?
Teversham: With Xbox itself I believe we've made a fantastic start. If you compare it to other industries, in two years it's been a huge success in marketing terms. More importantly, I think, we've actually built a brand that people recognize and are used to.
When we started in this business, even in PC games originally, there was a lot of: what are they doing? Where are they going? Within two years we became a market leader and there's a parallel there with Xbox.
We've made a good start and, as ever, we've got it all to play for.
What's been the biggest challenge for Microsoft in entering the console market, the biggest learning experience?
Teversham: One of the biggest challenges as a newcomer to the industry is that you have to overly prove yourself to get on the same playing field as the other guys. There are a lot of relationships already in progress, and from a standing start you have to create momentum. You have to do things better than the competition to get on the same playing field as them.
With Xbox, we've broken through a lot of these barriers. Developers and publishers now see the benefits of working with Xbox, they've seen the installed base go up and the brand loyalty that's out there in the market.
March 14 was also the anniversary of Xbox Live in this territory - are you pleased with its performance so far, and can you update us on the latest user figures?
Teversham: Across the world, numbers up to December are 750,000 users; in Europe we're over 100,000. We've also launched in 14 countries across Europe which is a fantastic achievement.
We've been looking at market research and Xbox is seen as the online console, and then the satisfaction ratings of people playing Xbox Live are well into the 90s. Xbox was the first console to deliver a really good experience online; Xbox was set up for this purpose and I think we've delivered on our promise. Having over 100,000 people in a year is a fantastic achievement.
And moving forward, we've tried the trial cards this year and different things running up to Christmas. We are only half way there on Live; once we have Halo 2, other games and the new features on the service they will drive mass adoption.
Halo 2 is widely seen as the online killer app for Xbox, but having slipped off the radar somewhat, has this damaged Xbox Live's appeal at all, or had an impact on renewal rates for existing subscribers?
Teversham: The renewal rates are very, very high - we thought that would be the case as they were the people on the official beta test, but we are seeing high retention rates for those people.
Do you have figures to back that up?