Incredibly, this week marks the fifth birthday of the Xbox 360. They grow up so fast -- one minute they're a fresh, chirpy little white box, gargling something about 'achievements', the next they're wearing all black and have sold 45 million units. The time flies when you're screaming at n00bs over a tacky plastic headset. Sigh.
First revealed on MTV -- whose cultural relevance has rather waned in the half-decade since -- the Xbox 360 launched in America on 21 November 2005. We had to wait until 2 December here in the UK, but were instantly impressed by its hi-def games, brilliant interface, superb Internet service and gorgeous wireless controllers.
Unlike the Wii, which would follow a whole year later, it didn't seem to offer much to normal people. Online multiplayer was the reserve of PC nerds, and hi-def gaming, while undeniably breathtaking, was only relevant to the 10 per cent of people who had an HDTV back then (although you could certainly say the same of the PlayStation 3's Blu-ray player).
It seemed a little too soon -- a feeling that would be proved with the godawful Red Ring of Death, a manufacturing problem that affected some 60 per cent of machines, according to our survey, and would end up costing Microsoft a billion dollars.
But Microsoft persevered, and a stream of superb exclusive games such as Halo 3, Gears of War and Fable 2 showcased Xbox Live, which proved wonderfully easy to use. Curiously, one of its most important innovations may be one that seemed insignificant at launch: achievements.
It turns out that giving players badges -- crucially, that their friends can see -- for collecting things or killing a certain number of monsters is an amazingly effective way of getting them to play your game for longer. Both the PS3 and PC systems such as Steam have adopted the same kind of idea, brilliantly tapping into peoples' obsessive need for completion.
New hardware has given the console a new lease of life, solving its reliability problems, making it quieter and giving gamers more to do. The Elite was effectively just a black lick of paint, but the new Slim version is a whole new look -- or rather, a return to its roots, bearing a resemblance to the angular, vented original Xbox, though far thinner of course.
The Kinect motion-controller's first generation of games are pretty poor and it's very expensive, but it has some undeniably cool tech to track your absurd hand-waving. Its real killer app might not be gaming but in hands-free media control -- imagine if it plugged directly into your TV and let you change channel by speaking a word.
Microsoft says Kinect will make this generation of Xbox last another five years. It will certainly hope so, given the vast amount of money it spent developing this one -- and then fixing the damn thing. We suspect neither MS nor Sony wants to commit to another costly round of hardware, not in this climate, not when there's no other competition for the gaming enthusiast. Maybe in a few years, eh?