Microsoft has made several missteps with the Xbox this generation, but they’ve also managed to get a lot right.
It’s not a secret that I haven’t been the biggest fan of Xbox, or how Microsoft have handled it, this generation so far. I’m not going to get into why—I’ve written reams of pieces about all my issues with Xbox, and my frustrations with how it is being handled, over the last year and a half, and they’re easy to find. But this week, I wanted to do something different—I wanted to talk about the things that Microsoft has done right this generation, the things that I feel I need to give them more credit for.
This is borne, in some part, by the launch of the Xbox One X, which I have openly praised as being a marvel of hardware engineering. The Xbox One X is a beautiful piece of kit, elegant and instantly desirable the first time you lay your eyes on it (and a far cry from the ungainly mess that is the PS4 Pro)—but it’s what on the inside that matters more, because Microsoft have managed to pack in the strongest and most powerful internals a gaming console has ever had into a compact form factor, while side stepping the kind of overheating that plagued the Xbox 360 after it strove for similar ambitions, and with an integrated power supply.
This console, it becomes clear as you use it, stands as an almost clinical response to the criticism that the original Xbox One got (and that the equally great Xbox One S last year tried to address in its turn, too): it’s powerful, small, elegant and beautiful, and made for games and gamers first. Even the name, the Xbox One X, seems to neatly abbreviate to ‘XBOX’, in contrast to the derisive ‘Xbone’ nickname the Xbox One earned for itself upon reveal.
"The Xbox One X, it becomes clear as you use it, stands as an almost clinical response to the criticism that the original Xbox One got."
And this has made me realize that the Xbox One X is the result of Microsoft openly courting feedback from players and the developer community, and trying to address all complaints that have been lobbed their way in the process. How the Xbox One X addresses the problem with the original hardware’s ungainly form factor and lack of power has been discussed already—but consider, for example, Microsoft’s fantastic Backward Compatibility initiative, which almost seems to be a mea culpa from them after some unsavoury remarks by then Xbox boss Don Matrick that Microsoft was all too willing to leave people too attached to the Xbox 360, and how it did things, behind in the last generation, without even attempting to bridge the transition into the new one.
The Xbox One’s Backward Compatibility is a hell of an olive branch—it actively makes games run better on the Xbox One than they ever did on the 360 (on the One X, some Xbox 360 games even run in 4K), Microsoft has been working tirelessly to ensure that the bulk of the Xbox 360’s library will work on the One and One X, and they have been incessantly adding games to the catalog ever since the initiative started back in 2015—unlike Sony and Nintendo, who have eventually lost interest in similar initiatives over time, Microsoft is fully committed to ensuring that Xbox gamers will eventually be able to play their Xbox games on all Xbox platform going forward, without having to worry about the kind of clean compatibility break that a generational reset usually causes.
There are so many other great examples of Microsoft listening—after years, they have opened up their gates to cross platform play between Xbox Live and other networks, including Steam, Nintendo Network, and PSN (and in the process, revealed Sony’s bluff for being what it was by making it apparent that it was Sony that stood in the way of cross platform play in the end, not Microsoft); they’ve instituted the most ambitious Cross Buy program in history with Xbox Play Anywhere, where a game purchased on Xbox automatically gets you a Windows 10 PC version, and vice versa; they’ve addressed the deficiencies of their Games With Gold monthly offerings in response to criticisms of how paltry they are, to the extent that their offerings are now routinely cited as being superior to Sony’s. They have become the first console platform ever to offer refunds for digital game purchases, and the first since the Wii in 2006 to offer digital game gifting—again, almost as if they are trying to ensure Xbox players feel secure with their purchases, digital or otherwise.
"The long and short of this is, Microsoft is trying. They have been trying all generation. They have done multiple things to respond to player and developer feedback, and win back their trust."
It’s not just players and Xbox fans they have been listening to, either—multiple developers, who have, at face value, bafflingly made the decision to launch their games to the smaller audience on Xbox versus the larger install base of PlayStation, have openly stated that Microsoft is making all efforts possible to make outreaches to developers and make their lives with development easier. Whether it is with financial or technical assistance, developers of games such as Ori, Black Desert, PUBG, and SteamWorld Dig 2 have all openly lauded Microsoft’s attempts at outreach to developers- a far cry from heir cold shoulder attitude towards the development community at the beginning of the generation. In fact, Xbox boss Phil Spencer has even (largely unsuccessfully, but still) attempted to reach out to Japanese developers.
The long and short of this is, Microsoft is trying. They have been trying all generation. They have done multiple things to respond to player and developer feedback, and win back their trust. I think they deserve credit for that, no matter what side of the console war you fall on. Because, here’s the thing—I’ll be the first to call them out on them missing the critical element in all this (compelling games), but yes, that’s a problem, and yes, we’ve all taken more than enough time of the day to keep calling Microsoft out on their nonsense with that. I think it’s only fair that we stop and give them credit where credit is due, too.