Suggestions for: The Xbox Brand

I’ll be honest, I was expecting to write a far more negative article for this one, but Microsoft’s Xbox conference at E3 made me a believer. I’m glad I waited because my original thoughts were far more negative, but this year, Microsoft showed me that in spite of the Xbox One X’s name and the supposedly suicidal price point of roughly $500 — I dunno, I vaguely recall someone else launched a major platform at an even higher price at one point — they are back in the fight. They may not be set to win anything, but at the very least, it looks like we’re going to be going through an actual console war this generation, perhaps the most exciting in recent history and certainly more interesting than it appeared before Sunday.

For quite some time, I was something of a Microsoft evangelical, particularly during the Xbox 360 days. The sixth-generation had left me high and dry and the 360 was my first HD console of the era, acting as a counterpart to the Wii I bought in the first place. As such, many of my views of modern gaming are colored by what Microsoft did with their most successful platform. Coming out first and running roughshod over Sony, as the industry leader had become arrogant in a way that we assumed they would never reach again, yet somehow they’re slowly drifting in that area with certain decisions lately. Near the end of the seventh generation, I began to transition to PC gaming and haven’t really wanted to look back, only being essentially strong-armed into buying new consoles for the sake of exclusives. Still, even so, I feel a bit of sympathy towards the Xbox brand: when the original platform launched, it seemed to be presented as a direct successor to my beloved Dreamcast (Microsoft helped heavily with the creation of the Dreamcast while Sega offered the Xbox many of its earliest exclusives) and as such, I’ve always been especially defensive of it, especially in response to its natural rival, Sony’s line of PlayStation consoles — which I still consider the final blow the killed the Dreamcast and forced Sega into a comparatively lame run as a third-party developer.

Different Strokes

Back when the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One X (formerly codenamed “Scorpio”) were first rumored, people believed that the Scorpio was real, while the Pro was considered misinformation. “Sony couldn’t possibly be that stupid!”, they said. Sure, we especially laughed it off when Microsoft announced the Scorpio over a year before its release, essentially cutting off the legs of the upcoming Xbox One Slim revision that they announced simultaneously. These days, the original model of the PS4 is outselling the PS4 Pro at a rate of about 4:1. The PlayStation 4 is the top-selling console of this generation, therefore the Pro’s major competition is with …well, the earlier iteration of itself.

On the other hand, the Xbox One was a distant second — and likely closer in sales to the now-discontinued Wii U than the industry leader — and as such, what does the Xbox One have to lose by rebooting itself with newer hardware that, in all honesty, is the same exact price as the original release with Kinect in tow? Generally considered a joke on par with the Wii U itself in many circles, the Xbox One had to deal with many stumbling blocks: do I even need to bring up the early DRM system they tried to implement before the sheer amount of negative feedback caused them to reconsider? In spite of that, the XBO did some things right. They did manage to incorporate some fairly good backwards compatibility with the Xbox 360’s library, even if that is just a waste of resources that nobody uses and anyone who asks for that feature is clearly the biggest moron on the face of the planet. However, for every step forward the platform made, it appeared to take about 11 …hundred backward, to the extent where I’d say their presentation at last year’s E3 was a bizarre mixture of solemn death march and no-budget public access show.

On that note, let’s consider the differences between how the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One X have positioned themselves. Now, obviously, we’re pretty much just going by Microsoft’s word alone on this one and as such, making a full decision should likely wait until the system’s out in the wild, but given its impressive technical specifications, I’m sure they’re not off from the truth. Microsoft claims that the Xbox One X will be able to play the upcoming Forza Motorsport 7 at 60 frames per second on a full 4K Ultra HD resolution. The PS4 Pro, on the other hand, will only be able to run the upcoming Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy, a remastered collection of PS1 games, at 30fps on a 1330p resolution. The difference is effectively night and day, with the PS4 Pro clearly providing only the most basic of upgrades to what was originally considered the powerhouse system of its generation, while the Xbox One X is an utter beast of a machine, making up for the oft-criticized technical shortcomings of the original model. While the PS4 Pro may have seemed to have destroyed the concept of mid-generation revisions, the Xbox One X has clearly done it so well, that detractors may begin to worry about the concept once again.

What Goes Around…

A brief aside, if you’ll indulge me. This may be a little off-topic, I know, but I find it something ironic. Sony’s biggest shot during the E3 where both the Xbox One and the PS4 were initially revealed to the world was clearly the “you can share games with your friends” line, clearly taken as a potshot at the XBO’s disastrously unpopular DRM scheme. This was essentially considered the point where the writing was on the wall and Sony had clearly defeated Microsoft for the entire generation, regardless of the damage control Microsoft attempted, even removing the unpopular restriction before the system even launched.

Flash forward to just last week, when, as I already mentioned, PlayStation Europe executive Jim Ryan claimed that PS1 and PS2 games “looked ancient, like why would anybody play this?” And what did Microsoft do at their presentation this year? Not only did they renew their current promise to add more Xbox 360 games to their backwards compatibility service, but were also going to be adding games from the original Xbox as well this year. It’s hilarious to me. Sure, this likely won’t be getting as much coverage and I’m sure the positive reaction to the single game Microsoft managed to announce will cause Sony to begin reconsidering their current policy. Hell, they might even add in a clearly preliminary line in it during their presentation later today. The point is that now Microsoft has something to hold over Sony’s head when it comes to the hardcore audience. The original Xbox didn’t particularly have the best library of its generation, but considering the fact that both Nintendo and Microsoft have dedicated themselves, in various capacities, to documenting the past, it’s extremely delicious to find Sony left out in the cold for once.

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em…

I think the best thing Microsoft managed to lift from Sony during the presentation would have to be the way that they presented games this year. In years past, Microsoft seemed to focus mostly on titles that were exclusive to the platform, while Sony focused on games that were available on both platforms, which often led me to shake my head when people claimed Sony always won E3: all they’d really done is tell me about a bunch of cool games that were coming to PC. Last year, Microsoft seemed to focus on counteracting the “First on PlayStation” and “PlayStation 4 Console Exclusive” brands with their own haphazard “Only on Xbox One and Windows 10” — a slogan that almost gave me PTSD and was mercifully truncated this year. This year, however, it looks like Microsoft has adopted Sony’s strategy this year, debuting a bunch of major multiplatform games, like Metro: Exodus, Assassin’s Creed: Origins, EA’s new property Anthem and most surprisingly, Bandai Namco’s recently announced Dragonball FighterZ.

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Seriously, I did not expect to see this here.

Having said that, Microsoft did have a lot of “exclusives” as well, but best of all was the fact that they seemed to steal from Sony’s “Last Guardian” strategy a few years back. After the cancellation of Scalebound and the Phantom Dust reboot, people were worried about a few of Microsoft’s long-upcoming titles: I was particularly worried about Cuphead myself. But not only did Sea of Thieves, Cuphead and Crackdown 3 reemerged, the latter two got release dates while the former got a release window and looked significantly more polished from the last time we saw it. Microsoft also had a bunch of new exclusives as well: my personal favorite was Ori and Will of the Wisps.

Of course, that’s not to say that I don’t still have suggestions…

Change Up Your Strategies

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the Xbox One X should serve as the template as future decisions with regards to future decisions for the company. An odd concept, I know, but hear me out. The Xbox One X was essentially the same idea as the PS4 Pro, which itself has certainly not been a success, while people have been relatively positive with the XB1X by comparison.

To that extent, let’s take a look at Microsoft’s current PC gaming strategy. Essentially, they’re trying to create their own digital marketplace via the Windows Store. Considering how most people feel about Microsoft’s last foray into ruining a PC gaming platform — the ill-fated Games for Windows Live — not to mention the platform’s various issues, I think that Microsoft should definitely rethink this strategy. Personally, I think that Microsoft’s attempting to do what EA’s doing with Origin and frankly, they’re at a weaker bargaining point with that. I mean, frankly, as much as I hate Dead Rising 4, there is one thing it did that I wish more games would do: launch on the Windows Store and then release on Steam after a brief Windows Store exclusivity period on PC. Hell, why stop there? Release some of your older games on Humble Store or GOG, particularly if you don’t want to do business with Steam. Either way, just try to avoid making your PC games exclusive to the Windows Store in general — past, present and future.

If you do want to compete with Valve, however, do it in a field where they’ve failed and you’ve… well, succeeded at least once. I’m talking, of course, about the Steam Machines and the Steam OS. Attempting to creating a gaming-oriented living room PC would probably be your best way of making headway into the PC marketplace. In fact, this would’ve been my plan for the next Xbox in general, had Scorpio crashed and burned the way I (and most others) sort of assumed it would. I would still like this to be the strategy for Xbox in the future in general, but I guess there’s less of a chance at this point. Considering the fact that Microsoft’s been experimenting with a “Game Mode” that prioritizes games in recent builds for Windows 10, I could see a line of Xbox living room PCs working out pretty well.

My Dream for

Just build a custom version of, let’s just say Windows 11, call it something like “Windows X1”. It would clearly be a version of the Windows OS, completely optimized for playing games, with a user interface akin to that of the tiles seen on the more modern iterations of the Xbox. Of course, in addition to running the Windows Store, WinX1 would also be able to run various other PC gaming clients and services: Humble Store, Origin, GOG (both the standalone site and their GOG Galaxy dedicated client) and of course, Steam.

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Clearly, you’ve got some expertise with creating hardware that’s both relatively affordable and powerful — the Xbox One X pretty much proves that — so clearly you’ve got the leg up on all of Valve’s partners with that. Couple that with the fact that Windows is the premier operating system for PC gaming, which in turn will afford you literally decades worth of games, and you’ve got a true killer product on your hands: a way to bring PC gaming into the console market. This would also allow you to continue what is quickly becoming your speciality in the console gaming field: iteration.  The Xbox brand would finally come full circle: what was originally developed as a way to show just how practical DirectX was with regards to gaming would in turn be able to rule the console market place. You could even license out the “Windows X1” operating system variant, to both hardware manufacturers as well as hobbyists that prefer to build their own rigs, allowing further monetization of the platform. It’s literally win/win in that regard. Best of all, this wouldn’t even have to come at the cost of your dedicated Xbox hardware, should you decide to continue down that route. In fact, given your proclivity towards things like crossplay between the Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs and Xbox Play Anywhere, this would simply allow you to further bridge the gap between the two platforms.

Either way, it’s up to you guys. I just hope you keep up the good work. The past few E3s have been rather boring lately, but seeing you guys spring back to life makes me believe that you can regain your spot as a true, direct competitor to Sony. As competition drives people to strive for improvement, I’m sure even the most fervent Sony drone can agree that having a contest between at least two competitors leads to a better marketplace than what is essentially a monopoly that comes with Sony’s total victory. Just try to work on your PC gaming …game, okay?

 

 

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