It has been a pretty rocky generation for Xbox to say the least. Ever since that absolutely brutal reveal -yes, I’m talking about the Xbox One launch- the entire platform has been in crisis.
It isn’t easy playing catch up when the competition isn’t even in the contest. However, playing catch up gave Xbox and the new Head of the Xbox division Phil Spencer, a golden opportunity. When you’re in second place you can be braver, bolder. Spencer has taken that opportunity and left Xbox wonderfully poised to have a strong start to the next console generation. How have they done this and why does Phil Spencer deserve credit?
Most importantly: They Listened
The Xbox division has done a fantastic job of listening to the fan base. Something that was hugely topical at the launch of the PS4 and Xbox One was power. Every big game launch was met with cries of upscaling or ‘it’s only 720p‘ from overnight tech experts. Xbox automatically had a disadvantage that was raised pretty much every month; the console was so focused on offering options as an entertainment platform that the whole point of a video game console was abandoned.
Right from kick off, the PlayStation 4 offered more games and better graphics. Spencer knew the importance of providing a premium experience and managed to pretty much relaunch the Xbox One with two fantastic new models: the Xbox One S and the Xbox One X.
Phil knew what was important to the gamers and by introducing the ‘World’s Most Powerful Console’ he annihilated a huge disadvantage of the platform. Suddenly, Xbox fans had the bragging rights in an almost tribal battle that had raged for years and no one can deny: the Xbox One X is a seriously impressive bit of gaming kit. Hats off to Albert Penello.
The Exclusive Games
‘But Xbox One has no games‘ is one of this generation’s huge myths. Xbox One doesn’t only have exclusive games, it has some of the best of the generation. Sunset Overdrive is incredibly special, I’ll remember it forever. It takes the Ratchet and Clank formula and ramps up the intensity to a whole new level, all while providing a beautiful open world. Halo and Gears got new additions to their franchises complete with 4K options. The Master Chief Collection and Rare Replay are two fantastic anthologies, love letters even. Then you have your smaller titles like Ashen, Cuphead (huge asterisk) and Ori, all brilliant in their own rights. There’s games like Crackdown 3 and Sea of Thieves, not well received but they offer a nice level of variety. Variety is the spice of life after all and with Quantum Break, Forza, Ryse, Halo Wars 2, Super Lucky’s Tale, Titanfall, Black Desert, State of Decay 2 and more, there’s something for everyone. That’s without even mentioning last year’s Game of the Year contender: Forza Horizon 4.
The studio acquisitions and growth are excellent displays of intent. Ranging from tried and true talent to raw potential, there’s a lot to be excited about. Giving Forza Horizon developer’s Playground Games freedom to create something outside of their niche is a bold move that could be a masterstroke. Bringing on the acclaimed Ninja Theory could introduce strong, story based single player experiences to the Xbox ecosystem. All the studios combined show a focus on games and creation; Xbox systems in the years to come will be populated with plenty to play thanks to the moves we are witnessing right now.
Best Value in Gaming
It would be wrong to not talk about Xbox Games Pass. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Games Pass is incredible. If we take anything positive from this generation it’ll be that Xbox Games Pass has opened up a ton of new possibilities. A subscription service that lets you download games instead of just streaming them? A huge library with recent AAA releases and backward compatible heavy hitters? All first party games day and date? In terms of sheer content, the package here is top notch. It only gets better as well, games rarely drop out of the service and the offerings have already doubled since launch. I don’t buy games on Xbox anymore, with Games Pass I don’t need to. I always have an incredible library at my fingertips with no extra investment required.
The Sun rises in the East
Japanese support was never exactly a staple of Xbox consoles. Even for the mega franchises like Final Fantasy, it was never a guarantee that there would be an Xbox release. The 360 began to change that. Now the Xbox One gets every major Japanese release day and date with the PlayStation. Monster Hunter World marked the series Xbox debut. Kingdom Hearts 3 followed suit. Metal Gear Solid V was a huge deal. Even the recent Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was a pretty big victory for Xbox. Phil Spencer has consistently said that this is only the beginning. Devil May Cry 5 being revealed during the 2018 Xbox E3 Showcase really grabbed attention.
The Xbox Adaptive Controller is one of the greatest innovations to come to gaming in recent years. It is legitimately revolutionary. To think that this one product could open up this hobby to a group of people who probably never imagined the possibility is huge. There isn’t much to say on this other than being wonderful that Xbox dedicated resources into a project that is so vitally important and yet somehow so often overlooked.
Since Phil Spencer took over the Xbox brand has had a resurgence. In terms of sales, the console has done well enough and the brand is very profitable. Any gamer who bores another gamer with sales numbers doesn’t have enough to play though. All that truly matters are games and features, and on this level Xbox is absolutely delivering.
Whether it’s a wide array of decent first party options or the ultimate versions of beloved multiplatform titles, there are a lot of reasons to pick up your controller (and there’s plenty of variety here too). Xbox has shown this generation that the brand is willing to learn from their mistakes. They’ve rectified the power situation, abandoned all of the multi-media nonsense, doubled down on gaming and put down serious markers for the future. With E3 only a month away, I have no doubt they’re going to have an incredible show. Perhaps a show that’ll be so incredible it’ll be known almost as a Fable. Well done Phil Spencer, bring on the future of Xbox!