Microsoft Needs to Get the Scorpio Launch Just Right

Posted on March 27, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Xbox One with 47 Comments

Microsoft Needs to Get the Scorpio Launch Just Right

Microsoft is set to launch a true second-generation Xbox One console this year. It’s critical that they get everything right this time.

I bring this up now because Microsoft Head of Xbox Phil Spencer recently tweeted about the importance of having great games ready for the Project Scorpio launch. “Having our [first-party] games ready for Scorpio is critical,” he wrote in response to a question about launch-day games.

Obviously, having a great games selection at launch is critical, but that’s just one item in a long list of things that need to go right for Microsoft this time around. That’s not a dig at Mr. Spencer: He gets it, and more to the point, he was answering a very specific question in that Twitter conversation. But it’s impossible to think ahead to the next Xbox One console and not think back on that first, horrible launch.

As you may recall, the Xbox One was formally announced in May 2013 at a press conference that focused on the coming console’s multimedia capabilities, for some reason. Microsoft corrected that by highlighting video game functionality at that year’s E3, but continued the shaky messaging in a series of missteps that have since cost Microsoft dearly.

The firm originally promised that the Xbox One would launch in 21 markets, but later changed that number to 13, angering customers. It originally stated that the Xbox One would require an Internet connection to even work, pretty much baffling everybody. It would only sell the console with the expensive and unpopular Kinect, which drove the base price of the console to an incredible $500, about $100 more than the PlayStation 4. And it was even going to require an Xbox Live Gold subscription at one point, though few remember that. Finally, it confused everyone with a byzantine policy regarding used games, which it later abandoned.

When the topic of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One sales come up—the general consensus is that PS4 continues to outsell Xbox One by at least 2-to-1—-people generally point to those 2013 issues as the reason, collectively for the gap. But I don’t believe that to be the case, given that Microsoft actually addressed many of those issues before the console even launched in 2014. And then subsequently addressed the rest—like the Kinect requirement—after the launch while adding tons of value to the entire ecosystem as well.

That said, the gap is very real, and exists, and it doesn’t show any sign of changing. Indeed, it’s interesting to note that Microsoft did in fact get everything right with the Xbox One S launch in mid-2016, and that has done very little to change the platform’s fortunes. Yes, Xbox One did outsell PS4 for four of the final six months of 2016. But it lost the crucial holiday months—November and December—and lost that time frame, and the entire year, too. Microsoft offers so many sales on Xbox One these days I can’t even keep track of them.

But there’s a new Xbox One coming in late 2017. Currently code-named Project Scorpio, this console has the chance to leapfrog over Sony’s PlayStation 4 platform, and put Microsoft in the lead, technically. That is the very least that it must accomplish. In fact, the worry here is that it doesn’t matter what Microsoft does, or how good Scorpio is. That the PS4’s lead is just that solid.

There’s no way to see the future. But in thinking about this console launch, I’d like to see Scorpio achieve at least the following:

Full compatibility with Xbox One and backwards-compatible Xbox 360 games. Project Scorpio can’t be mostly-compatible. It needs to work with everything.

Full compatibility with Xbox One peripherals. I’m assuming that all Xbox One controllers and other peripherals will just work as well.

True 4K gaming. Sony launched its 4K-capable PlayStation 4 Pro in late 2016. But that consoles doesn’t actually play games at 4K. If Microsoft can pull this off, they’ll make a compelling case for gamers of all kinds to jump ship.

A compelling VR/MR story. Sony launched PlayStation VR in late 2016 too, and it has been well-received. But PSVR hasn’t really taken off in any meaningful way—no VR/AR/MR solution has—and it remains to be seen whether this type of thing will ever be popular. Scorpio needs to offer high-quality VR in addition to market-leading mixed-reality (MR), thanks to Windows Holographic support and compatibility with the coming generation of Windows Mixed Reality headsets.

Premium pricing, but reasonable. The Sony PlayStation 4 Pro costs $400. Scorpio cannot come in much higher than that: I’d say $500 to $600 is the maximum. But even at that pricing—which is, honestly, unreasonable—Microsoft will have a hard time attracting platform switchers. Right, this will never happen.

A better story around games. Obviously, games are the lifeblood of any console system, and it is here that Xbox One has really fallen short. I noted above that the launch foibles aren’t the real issue for Xbox One. And that’s because it’s the games: Sony has very aggressively courted platform-exclusive and platform-first titles for PS4, and Microsoft has fallen short. Scorpio needs to come out of the gate with great games. And those games need to look better on that platform than they do anywhere else.

Smart messaging. The current group running Xbox is doing a much better job explaining themselves than the boobs that first launched the Xbox One. But they need to hit all the right notes as they unveil Scorpio. Any sign that they are backpaddling on previous promises—most games won’t really be in 4K, some Xbox One peripherals won’t work, some game is delayed, or whatever—will be jumped on by critics. And will kill any chance this console has, no matter how good it really is.

For me, the biggest thing here is the quality bar: Scorpio must consistently and obviously outperform PS4 Pro. Otherwise, what’s the point? For the entire span of the Xbox 360 and Xbox One life cycles, so far, Sony’s consoles have been technically superior. Project Scorpio is a chance for Microsoft to set things right. Let’s hope they do it.


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