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I’m taking Microsoft’s confidence about its upcoming Xbox One Scorpio system as a good sign for the both the rest of the year and specifically the upcoming Electronic Entertainment Expo trade show in June.
The Scorpio seems like the powerful, 4K console that Microsoft has promised since last year’s E3. And while that’s nice, the upgraded system’s fate will depend more on this year’s E3 and the games Microsoft shows off at that event. Sure, by partnering with the performance-tech experts at Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry to reveal Scorpio’s internals, the Xbox company is signifying that it won’t rely on listing components or specs to market the machine in the future. But given the company’s first-party output over the course of the Xbox One’s life, gamers likely won’t have a reason to get excited about spending a ton of money on new hardware unless Microsoft has a stellar showing during its media presentation June 11 — the Sunday before E3.
That’s not to say that the specs and performance of the Xbox One Scorpio don’t matter. Microsoft has positioned it as the most powerful gaming console ever made, and the report from Digital Foundry suggests that is likely the case. But this is only the first hurdle that Xbox boss Phil Spencer and his team had to clear in the push toward launching Scorpio this holiday. The next obstacle is overcoming the growing library of PlayStation 4 exclusives (or at least console exclusives).
Something has happened in 2017. Since January, Sony and third-party publishers have released numerous massive games that are not available on Xbox One. These include Horizon: Zero Dawn, Nioh, Yakuza 0, Nier: Automata, Persona 5, and the VR mode for Resident Evil 7. All of these games hitting at the same time likely have to do with a combination of factors. Sony has cultivated relationships with third-party developer and publishers, especially in Japan. The company is likely also seeing the results of a reinvestment into the PlayStation brand after the PS4’s sudden success following its launch in 2013. At the time, Sony executives even said they were surprised how well the system sold, and if they started putting more money and time into first-party games and outside partnerships, those deals are obviously now coming to fruition.
But whatever the reasoning for the recent deluge of impressive games on PS4, the results are the same: Microsoft’s same old franchises are starting to feel stale.
The truth is that Microsoft has relied too heavily on its core franchises. Halo and Gears of War, two of the biggest gaming properties from the last generation of consoles, no longer feel as important as they once did. Even Forza, arguably the most consistently incredible Xbox game, is in the waning racing genre that is nowhere near as popular as shooters or action-adventures.
So if Microsoft comes to this E3 with Halo 6, a teaser for a new Gears of War, and Forza Motorsports 7 combined with the promise that third-party games will look better than they do on PS4 Pro, I don’t know if that will be enough to sell Scorpios. Instead, Microsoft is going to need new properties or returning favorites that we haven’t seen in a while. Crackdown 3, with its promised city-destruction physics, could deliver that if it shows up, but I think Microsoft will still need more surprises to regain the momentum it has lost this generation.
And it seems that Spencer understands that.
Reaction today is great, love feeling the energy. Games, OS, XBL, launch etc, lot's to do, proud to be part of team that's going to deliver.
— Phil Spencer (@XboxP3) April 6, 2017
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