It’s no secret that Microsoft is working on its next-gen consoles under the umbrella name of Scarlett. The company has at least two devices in the works code-named Anaconda/Lockhart and even though we have learned quite a bit about the company’s plans for the next generation consoles, it’s important to keep in mind what we do know, and the questions that are outstanding.
This year at E3, Microsoft will begin to peel back the onion on its Scarlett strategy including talking more about its next-gen consoles. The strategy for these products is to have the most powerful gaming console ever, with Anaconda, and a value priced option called Lockhart.
The idea behind two options is to make ‘next-gen’ gaming available to wider audiences with a lower price of entry. While we don’t know the pricing and do not expect it to be announced until much closer to launch, Microsoft will make Lockhart cost less than the next generation PlayStation and Anaconda should be about the same price as Sony’s device.
Even though we don’t know the full specs of either device yet, I do know that the consoles will finally ditch platter drives for proper solid-state storage, possibly of the NvME variety. But specs for this generation are likely much less important than they were in the prior years.
Microsoft has already shown that it is capable of producing a 4K gaming machine with the Xbox One X and with Lockhart being more powerful than the Xbox One X, 4K gaming at 60FPS should be a minimum benchmark for next-generation gaming. But beyond 4K/60FPS, the value diminishes significantly: would you pay $100 more for $4k/75FPS gaming? Probably not, once you hit 60 FPS, the value of more frames per second is diluted.
The bigger innovation that is happening is the software that drives the next-gen gaming experience known as GameCore OS. This new tooling that will be part of the new console generation will bridge the gap between the console and the PC to bring these platforms significantly closer together.
We have already started to see some work for the foundation of GameCore materialize in builds of Windows 10 and knowing it will be a core part of the next-gen gaming experiences brings up the question about current gen consoles.
Microsoft has built a legacy on its ability to support backwards capability with the Xbox One but what about forwards capability as well. It is my understanding that Microsoft is trying to bring GameCore support to the Xbox One family of devices but if this means true forward and backwards compatibility, we don’t know yet.
If Microsoft can make so developers can build one game that targets, Xbox One, Xbox Next Gen, and PCs, this means they have a significantly larger target market to convinces developers to bring their content to the Microsoft ecosystem. While you could argue that this may reduce the number of next-gen consoles sold, and it’s a valid argument, Microsoft would rather sell more games overall, than a few more pieces of hardware. For Microsoft, royalties from games is a much more lucrative revenue stream than selling hardware where margins are typically low.
The easiest way for Microsoft to enable true backwards and forwards capability is with their streaming platform, xCloud. The service, which will enter trials later this year, opens up a much wider door for consuming Xbox content. The company envisions bringing console-quality gaming to every screen that is connected to the Internet. It’s not hard to imagine that when you buy a Samsung TV, there is an Xbox app pre-installed that allows you to stream Halo without the need to buy another piece of hardware (besides a controller).
What we don’t know yet is how Microsoft is going to sell its xCloud service. It would make sense that they bundle it in with GamePass and offer it as a subscription service, but would you also need Xbox Live Gold too? That’s a question that is outstanding and bundling Xbox Live Gold, GamePass and xCloud into one subscription service could be too expensive for casual gamers and hardcore console gamers are more likely to buy consoles.
Later this month Microsoft will be attending the Game Developer Conference where they will start to educate their partners on their next generation hardware. And in June, the company will also talk more about these devices and its plans for the future of Xbox which means we don’t have to wait too much longer to learn more about how Microsoft plans to move forward into the next generation of console gaming.