Microsoft needs to continue to build on what they have gotten right this generation.
Like Sony, Microsoft is no stranger to achieving success with their various endeavors. What was once a small company trying to make a name for itself in the operating system world is now a multibillion-dollar company making it one of the biggest in the world and having a current valuation of over a trillion dollars, making it one of America’s most valuable companies of all time. There’s no other way to slice it, Microsoft is a financial behemoth with a commanding reach in multiple sectors including operating systems, software, hardware, cloud service and more. Sony and Nintendo are no slouches, but in terms of raw size and depth of resources, no other company in the gaming space is nearly as flush with financial and intellectual capital as Microsoft. So with all of that said, they should have very little trouble doing whatever they decide will give them the best chance at success in the upcoming ninth generation of gaming consoles. The trick is figuring out exactly what those things are, and that is a task that money itself cannot quite accomplish on it’s own.
If the story of Microsoft’s entrance into the eighth console generation serves as anything useful today, it’s a very handy “what not to do” list. It’s been a long time since the launch of a console was botched quite as thoroughly as the Xbox One. Of the litany of lessons that were taught to Microsoft during that era, perhaps the most obvious is to listen to your customers, and listen closely. You might not be able to do everything they want every time, but at least making an effort can go a long way if potential buyers can see that you’re trying to put out a product worthy of their money. The Xbox fanbase couldn’t have been much stronger by the end of the seventh generation, yet, Microsoft was able to lose almost all of the report that they had built by that time within months. Even casual gamers who don’t follow gaming news closely at all could tell something was wrong, and many of them jumped ship over to Sony for their fourth PlayStation console, which would have been unthinkable just a year prior. From that point all the way to today, Microsoft’s mission has been crystal clear: get those fans back. With all the knowledge they have gained over the past several years, they arguably are as prepared to accomplish this as ever before.
On top of listening to feedback from their fanbase, Microsoft needs to continue to build on what they have gotten right this generation. The backwards compatibility, the studio acquisitions, and the consistent push to deliver higher and higher quality games must continue. These are all things that Microsoft has made clear they are interested in sticking with, which is good, but they also need to be accelerated to compete with what Sony will likely be rolling out with their PlayStation 5. Backwards compatibility needs to be native, not a patch. They should want more studios under the umbrella than Sony, not just an equal amount. And Gears 6 needs to be a much bigger improvement to 5 than 5 was to 4. It’s not just a matter of doing the right things anymore, if Microsoft wants to win, they need to do the right things better than anyone else.
Streaming services in particular need to be improved for The Xbox Series X. The Xbox One definitely laid a reasonable foundation but in terms of streaming, but with YouTube and Twitch being far and away most viewers platform of choice, it probably makes more sense to at least give gamers the option to stream to those platforms from the console. Sure, Mixer exists and there’s nothing wrong with Microsoft wanting to push that, but having the option of using other platforms will give streamers more incentive to at least try the function out on Microsoft’s new console and may even lead to more Mixer streamers down the road from the sheer amount of new users experimenting with the functionality. It’s worth a try anyway, as pretending YouTube and Twitch don’t exist has gotten Mixer where it is now, which is not a great spot despite landing gigantic exclusivity deals with big name streamers. So, while a determined Xbox One player can use certain workarounds to stream their gameplay to the bigger platforms, a real native option to do so would likely pay dividends to Microsoft over time by acknowledging Mixer’s competition and living alongside it instead of trying to survive in its own little world.
Another area that Microsoft is making progress with, but it still cannot be stressed enough, is bringing a larger number of compelling experiences to their platform that cannot be experienced anywhere else. While the Xbox One does have plenty of great exclusive games, the unavoidable truth is that the PlayStation 4 trounced them in this regard with its library of exclusives far outweighing Microsoft’s both in terms of quality and sheer amount. Sequels to Halo and Forza are certainly always welcome but Xbox needs more than that if they want to have a prayer of competing with the likes of Nathan Drake, Aloy, Ellie, and Kratos. It also won’t be enough to just hijack franchises that already exist like Hellblade. Sure, having Hellblade 2 on the Series X isn’t going to hurt, but new franchises are going to be the secret sauce that really drive mass audiences over to Microsoft’s ecosystem. Surely with the spending spree Microsoft Studios has been on with the acquisitions of several high-profile developers they can create and nurture some fresh characters and new worlds for their players to experience. Identifying the ideas these developers come up with that have the most potential is going to be a major test for Microsoft Studios, and only time will tell if they are up to that task.
One of the many spots where the Xbox One was inferior to the PS4 was in its specs. While both systems ultimately had similar specs, that’s not going to cut it going forward. The Xbox One base console was and still is notorious for running third party games demonstrably worse than the PlayStation 4 does. While most untrained eyes probably can’t even really detect the difference between 900 and 1080p, there’s no denying the power of numbers on paper. Microsoft may need to out-do the PlayStation 5 to a degree they might not have planned in order to change the conversation for the upcoming generation.
Surely there are more things that Microsoft needs to work on beyond communication, OS options and overall specs, but all in all, if those main things are addressed to the degree they require, Microsoft just might have a chance to come up from behind and catch Sony in the ninth generation of consoles. While some of the fate of the Xbox Series X may be in the hands of Sony, as this upcoming generation is theirs to lose, there’s no doubt that addressing their own problems will at least get them back into the game with Sony and Nintendo instead of playing third fiddle to them like they have for the last several years. The odds may seem against them at the moment, but with the deep pockets of Microsoft and a much clearer mission than before, Microsoft may just have what it takes to surprise all of us very soon.
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