In the late 1990s, Microsoft made the decision to jump into the fiercely competitive--and potentially highly lucrative--video game console market. Their first system, the Xbox, debuted on November 15, 2001 amid a market dominated by Sony Computer Entertainment and the immensely successful Sony PlayStation 2. Microsoft's other main rival for market share, Nintendo, launched their next-generation system, the much-anticipated GameCube, in November as well. Microsoft envisioned their system as more than a home video game console; they developed the Xbox as a revolutionary home-entertainment vehicle. To this end, designers included an Ethernet port that allowed players access to Xbox LIVE (launched in November 2002), an online, real-time gaming community available for a monthly subscription fee. In addition, the console was capable of playing standard DVDs through a multimedia expansion pack. The system sold relatively well, topping 25 million consoles by the end of its production run in 2006, but failed to supplant Sony's PlayStation line as the dominate home console (both the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 sold more than 100 million units apiece). Several of the launch titles for the Xbox enjoyed overwhelming success-most notably Halo: Combat Evolved, which became the signature game for the system.
Microsoft's released the successor to the Xbox, the Xbox 360, in November 2005. The system is backward compatible to play original Xbox games in addition to Xbox 360 titles (more than 1,000 titles). Best selling games include Halo 3, Gears of War, Call of Duty 4, and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance.
The Halo series is considered one of the best first-person shooter video games ever created, and many players call it Microsoft's flagship game. The first Halo was released on the original Xbox in 2001. Since then, two main sequels and several off-shoots have been released both for the Xbox and the Xbox 360. Halo is a science-fiction series that focuses on the exploits of Master Chief, a cybernetically-enhanced human, during his battle with the evil alien alliance the Covenant. The games are so popular they have spawned into books, graphic novels, toys, figurines, soundtracks, and many other peripherals. There are also off-shots from the original trilogy of games, such as Halo Wars and Halo 3: ODST. The cultural impact of the games is so large that they are being compared to such epics as Star Wars and Virgil's Aeneid. To this day Halo is considered one of the best and important video games of all time.