Will the Scorpio’s additional power simply go to waste?
Later this year, Microsoft is going to release the Xbox One Scorpio- at this point, we know that it’s not a next generation system, but rather a mid cycle upgrade for the Xbox One. But what an upgrade it is! With a 6TFLOPs GPU, the Scorpio promises to be the most powerful home console ever made- in fact, the chasm between it and the Xbox One is massive, and all the extra and additional power that it has should theoretically enable some great, enhanced and improved games.
That is, of course, assuming that developers actually fully use that extra power. The question is- will they? Do we have any reason to believe that developers will use the additional resources and hardware power that the Xbox Scorpio presents them with? Troublingly enough, past console cycles so far suggest the contrary- that they won’t actually tap into the Scorpio’s additional power.
We have precedence favoring this stance- consider, for instance, the original Xbox and the Gamecube. Both systems were far more capable of the PlayStation 2, with more power and resources that could have led to a marked improvement in games on them over PS2 games. Unfortunately, most developers chose to target the PS2 as the base common denominator, and Xbox and Gamecube versions of games got few meaningful embellishments, if any at all. The additional power for Gamecube and especially Xbox was almost never put to any meaningful good use- very few games were made that highlighted that extra power, with only cursory support for the systems’ additional capabilities for most titles. Developers, working against escalated production budgets and crunch deadlines, simply didn’t have the luxury of tapping into the unique hardware nuances of each system. They had to make do with simply ensuring that their games ran on each system. Add to this the simple fact that the PS2’s install base dwarfed the install base of the Xbox and Gamecube put together, and there was even less financial incentive for them to bother.
"The additional power for Xbox was almost never put to any meaningful good use- very few games were made that highlighted that extra power, with only cursory support for the system’s additional capabilities for most titles. Developers, working against escalated production budgets and crunch deadlines, simply didn’t have the luxury of tapping into the unique hardware nuances of each system."
In today’s day and age, production budgets are the most inflated they have ever been, and game development is centered around the assumption of homogenized hardware and scalable development pipelines. The Xbox Scorpio, launching as a far more powerful system four years after the PS4 (and the Xbox One itself), therefore faces the same problem that the Xbox and Gamecube did, but exacerbated multifold. Developers have even less reason now to optimize their games for each individual hardware SKU than ever before – just look at shoddy multiplatform games for proof – and the Scorpio is launching against not just the PS4, which by the time it launches will assuredly be over 60 million units sold worldwide, but also the base Xbox One, which is nearing 30 million units sold.
More proof of this mentality holding true in the current day and age can be found in the fact that the PS4 Pro has not received much in the way of meaningful support from most publishers. While the PS4 Pro is a far more conservative upgrade over the base PS4 relative to the Scorpio, it is still a substantial upgrade- and yet, not every publisher has done anything with it that approaches fully utilizing its hardware. This is in spite of Sony apparently mandating PS4 Pro support, and in spite of optimizations for PS4 Pro not taking that much time or money- but the most we get are some half hearted upscaled visual modes (though there are some exceptions like Nioh). Why is this so? Because the PS4 Pro’s install base relative to the PS4 and Xbox One is tiny- there is no incentive for publishers to support it beyond the bare minimum.
"Given Microsoft’s APIs and UWP framework, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suppose that scaling Xbox One games up to Scorpio is going to be remarkably easy. This means that we should see most games supporting Scorpio- at least cursorily. Owing to the Scorpio’s deep resources, cursory support here could even mean games being rendered in 4K natively. On the other hand, that may be the extent of it- you’ll get your exact same games, but prettier, and that’s all."
Given all this, the chances of third party developers actually making complete and full use of the Scorpio seem slim- and Microsoft itself isn’t helping matters here, either. Its diktat that all Scorpio games have to run on standard Xbox One systems too means that developers now have to strive to maintain parity- which means that even if some developer were to choose to tap into the Scorpio’s considerable resources, maybe for creative reasons, willingly taking a financial hit- they can’t. Microsoft’s mandate ensures that all games need to be made with the Xbox One as a base, which in turn means that outside of maybe running in 4K, all of that extra power on the Scorpio goes to waste. Of course Microsoft will be pushing the console with the help of its 1st party studios and games but outside of that, I doubt many third party devs will be completely using the Scorpio’s specs unless Microsoft gets third party exclusivity.
Where, then, does this leave the Scorpio? Given Microsoft’s APIs and UWP framework, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suppose that scaling Xbox One games up to Scorpio is going to be remarkably easy. This means that we should see most games supporting Scorpio- at least cursorily. Owing to the Scorpio’s deep resources, cursory support here could even mean games being rendered in 4K natively. On the other hand, that may be the extent of it- you’ll get your exact same games, but with better image quality and may be better perfofmance, and that’s all. Given just how much power and resources the Scorpio has, that will honestly be a bit of a shame- the Scorpio’s power could have been used to make games simply not possible on the PS4 or Xbox One. I hope I am wrong and I would love it if Scorpio’s power is completely utilized but the circumstances and current market and development trends due to incremental hardware, however, shall conspire to ensure that that is not the case.
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.