Microsoft’s mid generation reboot could be far more significant than Sony’s PS4 NEO.
Last generation, Microsoft wrote the playbook for the modern console. The Xbox 360 was a powerful, and yet simple, console, developer friendly and easy to get a handle on, with no gimmicks, integrated online and social functionality, and some neat media apps to round the package off. Throw in some nice co-branding deals, making it the console the mainstream would think of when a multiplatform title like Call of Duty or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and you had a recipe for a very successful system- so successful, in fact, that Sony are basically following that playbook to a ‘T’ with the PS4.
Microsoft, meanwhile, in spite of being in an obviously strong position to leverage their brand and start this generation strong, squandered their lead due to a series of historically bad decisions. From the always online DRM policies to the lack of used games, from the forced Kinect to the high price, from the weak hardware to the hostility towards independent game development, Microsoft’s early handling of the Xbox One was a textbook on what not to do when attempting to launch a console- the fact that the Xbox One managed to right the ship to the extent that it did, and sell as much as it has, is truly a testament to the sheer levels of backpedaling Microsoft exhibited pre-launch.
Of course, while the Xbox One has, as a result, managed to do well, the inescapable truth of the situation is that it has also consistently been outperformed by the PS4, its primary competition. In fact, with the PS4’s sales currently standing at over double of the last estimate that we have for Xbox One sales (Microsoft stopped giving out official shipment data for Xbox One), it’s pretty much been lapped. The Xbox brand has taken a beating- the Xbox One is widely understood to be weaker hardware, multiplatform games almost always perform worse on it, it has lost a lot of the exclusivity deals that characterized the Xbox 360 to PS4, such as Call of Duty DLC, its own first party exclusives lineup is weak, and in the enthusiasts circle, it is often relegated to being an also ran.
"Microsoft’s early handling of the Xbox One was a textbook on what not to do when attempting to launch a console."
The situation is even worse for the average mainstream consumer- for them, first impressions are often the last impression, and too many of them still believe that the Xbox One needs to be always online, and doesn’t have used games (and if you don’t believe me, get off the internet and go to a GameStop- you’re bound to run into some college student or parent buying a console for their kid, who actually believe those things still hold true for the console). For these people, the Xbox brand is toxic and something fundamentally unappealing- the bad press for the Xbox One from before the console even launched has stuck, and this demographic, the same one that made the Xbox 360 as big as it was, are unwilling to do so with its successor.
The problem is intrinsic to branding, essentially- the Xbox One brand specifically is now associated with the Xbox One reveal, and the negative press for the console since after its launch (reports about poorer versions of multiplatform games, loss of exclusives, low sales, poorer hardware performance, indie game developers speaking out against Microsoft, and so on) cannot have helped with the perception. Branding is powerful, and its effects, positive or negative, are very hard to reverse- ask Apple, who’ve experienced the good and bad ends of this, with products like iPhone or iPad or iPod that can do no wrong, and others like Apple Maps and Apple Watch, which are running jokes.
This is not a problem unique to Xbox One, either- this is, for example, the exact same problem that Sony had with the PlayStation 3 last generation. Remember, after all, that the PlayStation 3 had a similarly torrid start last generation, and that for years it struggled. As a matter of fact, it necessitated nothing less than a full relaunch and rebranding of the system, with the launch of the PlayStation 3 Slim and even the logo for the console being changed, before its sales started to pick back up again. By the end of the generation, the PS3 was doing well, putting Sony in a strong position with the PS4, although even then, it could never shake off a lot of the stigma that the console had accrued in its early days.
"With the launch of the PlayStation 3 Slim and even the logo for the console being changed, sales started to pick back up again."
Microsoft find themselves in a very similar situation right now- and like Sony and the PS3 did last generation, they, too, actually have the opportunity to turn this all around. The leaks regarding new Xbox hardware were interesting, but the star of those leaks was the Xbox One Scorpio, a massively boosted Xbox One that is due for next year. The Xbox One Scorpio, as rumored, is like the PS4 NEO, except it is far more powerful than the NEO is. Presuming rebranding, and a shifting in messaging, the Xbox One Scorpio actually effectively represents a sort of mid launch reset for Microsoft- they can effectively launch the Xbox One as a ‘new’ console, without any of the marketing and messaging baggage that the Xbox One as it exists right now has- since it is effectively going to be a new console, all the bad press regarding the Xbox One, the misconceptions regarding its online DRM, used games policy, hostility towards indie developers, and so on, are wiped clean.
Better still, the Xbox One Scorpio, by simply being a more powerful console than either the PS4 or PS4 NEO, also addresses the chief flaw the Xbox One has had, which is weaker hardware. The Xbox One Scorpio sounds like its capabilities are far beyond what the PS4 and PS4 NEO have to offer- effectively, Microsoft is recreating the PS2 versus Xbox gap, and making Sony’s shiny new PS4 obsolete months after it will have launched.
By also launching in 2017, four years after the launch of the Xbox One, Microsoft are also going to avoid the allegations of milking and exploiting their customers- a lifespan of four years is typically acceptable for a console, and Microsoft can outright present the Xbox one Scorpio as a full step forward, rather than a half assed incremental half step that the PS4 NEO sounds like it will be.
The potential definitely exists here for Microsoft to try and reverse the trends of this generation with this intriguing new hardware- will they? Will the Xbox One Scorpio even exist in the form that we think that it will? We don’t know yet- but if rumors hold true, we’re less than a few months away from finding out at E3.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.