Nat Brown, a Microsoft engineer who helped start the Xbox project and claims to have named the device, has severely criticised the company's direction, saying the last five years of the Xbox 360 have been "painful to watch."
"The past five years, and the last year in particular, have been simply painful to watch," said Brown on his blog, criticising Microsoft for allowing its focus on multimedia entertainment and partnerships with "dying media companies" to overtake its gaming roots.
"Coasting on past momentum. Failing to innovate and failing to capitalize on innovations like Kinect. Touting strategic and market success when you’re just experiencing your competitor’s stumbling failure (yes, Sony, Nintendo--you are, I’m afraid, stumbling failures). A complete lack of tactical versus strategic understanding of the long game of the living room. It culminated for me in recent coverage of interviews with Yusef Mehdi and Nancy Tellem and reports of the goals of a new LA Xbox studio to create interactive content."
Brown says a "Trojan horse" push for the living room was always the goal of the Xbox, but criticises Microsoft's current strategy. "My gripe, my head-smack, is not that the broader content/entertainment business isn’t where you want to go with a living-room-connected device. It absolutely is. Indeed, this was the point of Xbox, that was why it was the Trojan horse for the living room, where we could land and be welcomed by millions of console customers with more hardware and better software and network connectivity than the non-console devices (webtv, cable set-tob-boxes) we had been pursuing."
"No, more and better content was always the point and the plan," continues Brown. "My gripe is that, as usual, Microsoft has jumped its own shark and is out stomping through the weeds planning and talking about far-flung future strategies in interactive television and original programming partnerships with big dying media companies when their core product, their home town is on fire, their soldiers, their developers, are tired and deserting, and their supply-lines are broken."
Brown sums his argument up into two points: that the lack of a "functional and growing platform ecosystem for small developers" will hurt Microsoft in the long run, and that "the device OS and almost the entire user experience outside the first two levels of the dashboard are creaky, slow, and full-of-sh*t."
"Microsoft is living in a naive dream-world," concludes Brown. "I have heard people still there arguing that the transition of the brand from hardcore gamers to casual users and tv-uses was an intentional and crafted success. It was not. It was an accident of circumstance that Microsoft is neither leveraging nor in control of."
Despite his complaints, Brown says he is still thrilled to see the continued success of the Xbox. "Almost 14 years after the painful, pointless, and idiotic internal cage-match to get it started and funded, the hard selling of a compelling and lucrative living-room product to Bill (and then Steve as he began to take over), a product that consumers would want and love and demand, I am actually still thrilled to see how far it has come, how many installed units it has, how it is crushing its original console competitors, how the brand has grown and endured, and especially how great the games have become."
Nat Brown worked at Microsoft from 1990 to 2000, leaving the company before the original Xbox shipped in 2001.
Microsoft is widely expected to unveil its new Xbox hardware sometime this year, with the latest rumours for the machine indicating that it might attempt to block preowned software.
For more information on Microsoft's next-gen plans, check out GameSpot's previous coverage.