Microsoft’s E3 presser is going to pivotal, potentially propelling the company back into the console race, or securing the fate of the Xbox One brand. In anticipation of the show, we’re determined three core objectives for the company. After the event, we be following up to see just how well Microsoft did in meeting these requisites, examining the feasibility of their products and assurances.
1) Demonstrate the advantages of Xbox One X’s half-cycle iteration.
With Microsoft repeatedly flaunting the six-teraflop processing power, we know their new console is going to be powerful. But with Xbox platform chief Mike Ybarra promising “one-hundred percent compatibility” with existing Xbox One software, the prodigious new machine’s raw potential seems to be constrained. Microsoft must demonstrate that their hardware isn’t going to be hampered by this design decision- that Scorpio will offer the types of experiences that both new buyers and upgraders will ante up for.
Like any other consumer, gamers will seek a feeling of validity in their new purchase. The concern is that a slightly higher resolution or an additional pass of anti-aliasing might not be enough. After all, when Sony attempted to show the advantage of the PS4 Pro, most of the comparisons were squandered through lossy YouTube and Twitch codecs. Few appreciate the hammy dialog during pressers, but if Microsoft can’t actually show the advantages, they had better tell us about them.
2) Prove they aren’t making the same mistakes as the PS4 Pro.
While Sony’s iterative console can offer higher resolutions and smoother framerate, their software library was built before the PS4 Pro was realized. As such, there are a number of games which perform worse on the PS4 Pro than they do on a launch system.
Microsoft is going to have to show an improvement across the bow, both in first-party and third-party titles, past and present. It’s a big feat, but if Microsoft has collaborated with the teams that make middleware like Unreal Engine 4, Unity, CryEngine, Havok, and PhysX, they might just make it happen. Depending on overworked, deadline-obsessed developers to bring about changes could undermine Project Scorpio’s sting.
3) Confirmation they haven’t given up on first-party Japanese software.
Microsoft has continually struggled in Japan, pouring millions of dollars into development while gaining little traction in the East. When Scalebound was canceled this year, many lamented the action, leaving the Xbox One ecosystem with one less title on a system with a scant number of exclusive offerings. Meanwhile, Sony’s pedigree has allowed them to continually dominate in their area, give the PS4 a strategic advantage.
As such, players who appreciate Japanese games have turned to one of Sony’s systems or PC for their fix, shirking the Xbox One. As many J-borne titles sell as many copies in the U.S. as they do overseas, Microsoft needs to show they have more than just the sporadic Final Fantasy title or infrequent Koei Tecmo port in their corner. Giving otaku an exclusive might just be the diminutive weight that could tip the scales in Scorpios favor and secure a purchase.
How did they fare?
Microsoft’s presser employed a lot of strategic ambiguity. Sure, the Xbox One X has powerful specs, with gameplay from Forza 7, Assassin’s Creed Origins, and Anthem looking suitably impressive. But with only a vague comparison of resolutions and demo framerates constrained by streaming services, it was difficult to see exactly how much better the new system would actually be. The company certainly paid lip service to consumer concerns, articulating a three-prong approach that tackled the Xbox brands weaknesses- focusing of power, compatibility, and craftsmanship. But with only vague evidence to support each of these components, each is little more than corporate ambition.
One nagging issue- just how many exclusives will the Xbox One/One X receive was a bit unclear. Although Microsoft touted terms like “console exclusives” and “console timed exclusives”, in execution, it a number of titles were already available for PC, or would merely benefit from premiering on the Xbox One ecosystem first. Microsoft seems to disguise its exclusivity behind smoke and mirrors, and undoubtedly consumers with suss out the answers. Although the presser focused on gameplay clips, many titles would also headed to Sony’s system. Remarkably, a section of the show was devoted to Japanese-borne games, but every single title shown was expected on PlayStation 4 and/or PC, further undermining the benefit of the system.
As such, Microsoft’s core objective- to get consumers to put a deposit on the five-hundred dollar console before it arrived on November 7th, 2017 was only partially successful. Undoubtedly, the Xbox One X is powerful, but whether the masses are wiling to pay more than competing systems remains to be seen. Perhaps once 4K televisions have thoroughly invaded households will there be a need for higher resolution output- meaning that Microsoft is betting heavily on the future. Only time will tell if the inter-generational approach will pay off.