The Xbox One X is amazing hardware- but who is it for, exactly?
Reviews for the Xbox One X are rolling in, and they all agree that this is a superlative piece of hardware engineering, delivering an immaculate package in an extremely small and svelte form factor. In other words, Microsoft have righted the wrongs of the original Xbox One, and given gamers a game-first console that is extremely powerful, extremely small, and extremely quiet. The achievements of the Xbox One X as hardware cannot, and should not, be downplayed at all.
And yet- and yet– the larger question remains: just who exactly is the Xbox One X actually for? It’s not a cheap purchase. All that sophisticated hardware comes at a hefty price, $500. In this one area, it is rather clear Microsoft has not actually learned- if the aim was to emulate the success of the PS4, or of previous Xbox consoles, which were all extremely powerful and easy to develop for, and did well for themselves, then Microsoft has forgotten a chief ingredient to the recipe- the price. The PS4 and Xbox 360 both were extremely powerful, and reasonably cheap. The Xbox One X is extremely powerful- and very expensive.
But, of course, Microsoft maintains that it does not intend for the One X to be the mass market mover anyway. The Xbox One S, they say, will move the most units, while the Xbox One X is specifically targeted at the console gamer looking for the best that gaming consoles can offer- much like the Xbox One Elite controller, which was $150, and still managed to outperform Microsoft’s expectations, the Xbox One X is presumably aimed at those willing to pay for the top of the line.
"The Xbox One X is specifically targeted at the console gamer looking for the best that gaming consoles can offer- much like the Xbox One Elite controller, which was $150, and still managed to outperform Microsoft’s expectations, the Xbox One X is presumably aimed at those willing to pay for the top of the line."
Which brings us to the problem- the Xbox One Elite controller sold to the existing Xbox One base. The Xbox One X will sell to… who, exactly? If you already own an Xbox One, you can already play all the games the Xbox One X will play. Every game is mandated to run on a standard Xbox One and Xbox One S, in addition to Xbox One X- you don’t need a One X at all. I am sure there are some Xbox owners who don’t mind spending $500 to play the games they can already play, but prettier- but how many? The PS4 Pro apparently has a 20% ratio of all PS4 sales since its launch– even if I assume a slightly higher upgrade rate for the One X (one in four, 25%), that’s still, what, 8 million units? At best?
Let’s flip the situation. What if you don’t already own an Xbox? What if you bought a PS4 because it would be the best place to play Call of Duty and Destiny and Star Wars and FIFA? All of a sudden, your PS4 no longer is the best console for those games- the Xbox One X is. So would you not spend the money on it?
And the answer is, this only works at the beginning of a generation, not in the middle of one. Right now, a PS4 player has two choices- either they spend $500 on an Xbox One X to play the same games they already can, but slightly better and prettier, while foregoing the PS4’s library of exclusives for Microsoft’s far worse showing in that arena, and while having to rebuy all their games, and while foregoing most of the additional content and partnerships that most multiplatform games have with PlayStation (not Xbox) to begin with anyway- or just accepting slightly lower visual fidelity, and sticking with PlayStation. What sounds like a sensible choice to you?
"What if you bought a PS4 because it would be the best place to play Call of Duty and Destiny and Star Wars and FIFA? All of a sudden, your PS4 no longer is the best console for those games- the Xbox One X is. So would you not spend the money on it?"
The third, and final, set of buyers is someone who doesn’t have a console yet- surely, for them, the Xbox One X is an appealing proposition? Let’s first start with the most obvious caveat- if you have not bought a console four years into a generation, you are a hugely disengaged player to begin with. You probably want to play some FIFA and Call of Duty with your friends, and that’s about it. At this point, you don’t care about owning the latest and greatest- if you did, you would have bought the PS4 or Xbox One when they were the latest and greatest to begin with. No, you’re going to go with the cheapest possible option, or the one your friends already have- a PS4 or an Xbox One S.
But, just for the sake of completion, I’m going to argue that somehow, you’re someone who is willing to spend all that money on a console, but has not gotten around to actually doing so yet- in this case, your options are either $500 for an Xbox One X, which is more powerful, but with fewer games (and fewer quality exclusives and support relative to the PS4), or the PS4 Pro, which is less powerful, cheaper, and has more quality exclusives, and better support. In this case, which one is truly ‘better’ or the ‘best bang for your buck’? Are specs all that matter, or are you buying a gaming console to play games?
But, let’s assume you are someone willing to spend money on the best console possible, have not yet bought one, and really care more about specs than anything else- then, and only then, is the Xbox One X the logical, default choice for you. In every other scenario I have painted so far (and I have painted the full range of scenarios here), the PS4, PS4 Pro, or Xbox One S all represent better choices. As a matter of fact, for the average console buyer in the market, even the Nintendo Switch presents a more appealing option at the moment- it has incredible word of mouth, hype, and excitement around it, as well as two of the best games of all time playable only on it. It is also cheaper by a significant amount than the Xbox One X.
"As a matter of fact, for the average console buyer in the market, even the Nintendo Switch presents a more appealing option at the moment- it has incredible word of mouth, hype, and excitement around it, as well as two of the best games of all time playable only on it. It is also cheaper by a significant amount than the Xbox One X."
There is, of course, one significant set of players who might buy an Xbox One X that I haven’t touched upon so far- I brushed on this earlier, but as the Xbox One Elite Controller’s sales demonstrates, there is definitely a subset of Xbox fans that is willing to spend as much money as possible to get the best that the Xbox ecosystem has to offer. We don’t know how big this subset is, and I am willing to believe it is bigger proportionally than the equivalent PS4 subset is (therefore, a quarter, rather than a fifth, as in the PS4’s case)- but even so, Microsoft ens up a) only selling to its existing audience, without meaningfully expanding it, and b) that’s a smaller audience than the one they have, and not enough to sustain ongoing sales of the new console over the long run.
So, we return to the question I started with- who is the Xbox One X for? 1,100 words later, and I still don’t have an answer- I am sure there are a fair few people who will buy it, I even identify them in this article. But the question is, are they enough to justify Microsoft’s investment in this new machine?
In the end, it comes back to this- Microsoft has greatly upped its game when it comes to services over the last few years, thanks to initiatives such as backward compatibility, Game Pass, refunds, and cross platform play. And it has significantly improved its showing on the hardware front too, as the Xbox One X demonstrates. All that is missing now is the most important component of maintaining a gaming platform- compelling, meaningful games that make players spend as much money as is necessary to play them. Nintendo has Mario and Zelda. PlayStation has Uncharted and The Last of Us. Microsoft… needs to create exclusives that can speak to an audience beyond its traditional Xbox fans. At that point, they will have the best hardware, the best services, and- hopefully- the best games. But as it stands right now? I simply do not know who exactly the Xbox One X is actually meant for.
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.