Microsoft may have popularized the idea of the online network for consoles, but they weren't the first to build one: that honor goes to Sega. Two full years before Xbox Live launched, the Tokyo-based game maker unleashed SegaNet on the gaming public. The subscription-based service was revolutionary; an integral part of the just-released Sega Dreamcast, SegaNet allowed console gamers to log into a central hub and compete against friends and strangers online - all through the power of a 56K modem and dial-up connection.
When the Dreamcast proved to be nowhere near as popular as Sega hoped, the service was cancelled a mere 11 months after launch. That's where Xbox Live comes in.
Released in 2002, Xbox Live didn't just allow users to compete against one another but added a host of social features, including voice chat and a means to track online friends. Combined with the Xbox's hard drive, Xbox Live made it easy for developers to push out changes and sell digital content for their games. With killer apps like Unreal Championship and Halo 2 and a speedy broadband-only connection, Xbox Live created the template for online console gaming that's still in use today.
Xbox Live's success is largely the responsibility of one man: Boyd Multerer. Having joined Microsoft in 1997, Multerer went on to head the Xbox Live development team from 2000 to 2004 (and was the network's first official user), later creating Microsoft's XNA programming language - a now-defunct attempt to make console development more accessible to indie creators - before moving on to head the Xbox 360 OS team and finally, the Xbox One.
And now, he's gone. After 17 years, Multerer has left Microsoft to pursue other ventures. The split seems largely amicable, as Multerer has explained on Twitter that "Xbox Leadership is fine. On the other hand, I'm complicated," implying that his departure was more of a personal choice, and less of a conflict of personalities.
As for what Multerer's working on next, he's not sharing. Revealed to be "doing independent secret stuff" at the moment, Multerer has used his Twitter page to reveal that his time off has led him back to his coding roots and "exploring ideas." Whatever Multerer's up to, it seems that he has an active, hands-on role, as well as a large amount of creative freedom.
Xbox Live made consoles what they are today, while the XNA program provided many developers with their first taste of game development. Multerer is one of the true powerhouses of the industry, and putting him to work on a new, exciting project can only lead to good things. Keep an eye out for further announcements from Multerer, and don't be surprised to find that great things may be coming sooner rather than later.
Source: Boyd Multerer