For anyone who missed it, Thurott has the hot new scoop on what the next Xbox will be. There’ll be two options available. The first will be a traditional console, the second is set to be a streaming focused device utilizing Microsoft’s upcoming new game streaming platform. With Xbox Game Pass and Phil Spencer’s recent comments on the ‘next generation devices’, this rumor makes total sense. There are a lot more tech details and if you want them all I thoroughly encourage you to head to Thurott!
Why does this worry me? Xbox has suffered numerous losses to their biggest competition, PlayStation recently. This could give Sony the advantage again before next gen even begins.
Let’s jump back in time to the Xbox One reveal. If you were living under a rock in 2013, here’s Kotaku calling it a disaster. The newest Xbox console wasn’t focusing on games, instead, it was all about entertainment and media. You could watch and record live TV, but only one exclusive (Quantum Break) was announced. The forced Kinect integration was ridiculous. It would always be listening to you and bumped up the price of the console for everyone. The constant internet connection being required instantly ruled out the purchase for numerous potential customers. Even single player only content would need to connect to the Microsoft servers once a day or your console would cease to function. Second hand games were ruled out, you couldn’t even let a friend borrow a game. Nevermind the fact that this console was both more expensive despite being less powerful than the PlayStation 4 and you indeed have a disaster. Sony saw all of these advantages and exploited them with glee.
Hilarious. Gamers lapped this up. The PS4 galloped into a thunderous lead that the Xbox One would never be able to compete with. In fact, despite a four-year gap between releases, the Nintendo Switch is already on course to catch up with the Xbox One sales. This raises numerous questions. Why would Microsoft want to even get close to emulating the Xbox One launch? What have they learned from this generation of gaming? Do they want to be on top? I firmly believe they don’t care about being on top. The Xbox One S and X are brilliant consoles. Despite being trounced by their competition, they’re finally selling well. Xbox is profitable and unlike Sony or Nintendo, Microsoft doesn’t rely on gaming for their overall profits. However, this acceptance of second or third place doesn’t sit right with me. When Sony didn’t have a suitable competition, the PS3 launch happened. Dark days for gaming. Nintendo plays in a league of their own, but remember the 3DS launch? It was ridiculously overpriced and lacked the top exclusives that Nintendo have always been renowned for. Competition leads to risks like The Last of Us. It leads to innovation like Nintendo Switch. If they want to compete, Microsoft needs to appeal to the most important gaming market again. The market that won the 360 by buying Halo, Call of Duty, Fifa and defining the online gaming scene on console. The casual market.
The fact that the PS4’s messaging was so simple made it the easy choice for the casual, core and hardcore market. Was it cheaper? Yes. More powerful? Yes. More exclusive titles from AAA to indie? Yes. Can I play offline? Yes. Does it listen to me or watch me while I dance around the living room naked to ABBA? No. Throw in the third party deals that Playstation developed like COD, FIFA and current juggernaut Fortnite and it’s easy to see why the PS4 outsells the Xbox One 2:1.
Current sales figures estimate the consoles at over 80 million and under 40 million respectively. PSN currently has over 80 million monthly active users. Xbox Live has 59 million. Microsoft’s terrible messaging with the Xbox One has led to a crushing defeat this generation. Even comparing non consumer factors, the PS4 annihilates the competition. Not only does Sony’s console have far more exclusive titles, it has far more critically acclaimed titles. It has been a long time in the gaming world since then. Microsoft has fixed the price and power narratives with the Xbox One S and X respectively. They’ve committed to more exclusive titles with five new first party studios. You can play the console offline (they fixed this almost immediately but the damage was done). They developed relationships with indie developers via ID@Xbox. However, they are at risk of undoing all of these leaps in the right direction with their next generation, just like the Xbox One undone the Xbox 360.
Well, what does work for a console launch/reveal?
The most popular console launches have emphasized simplicity. The PS4 was a black box you could play games on with other less important features. The PS2 was a black box you could play games on but also a DVD player. The Wii was a white box with a remote you swung around like a tennis racket. The NES was a grey box you could play games with. The Xbox 360 was a white box you could play games on with the revolutionary function of being able to play online with your friends easily. Simplicity sells. Microsoft seems to continuously ignore this fact to chase gimmicks that they mistake for innovation. Having two completely different devices available at launch will no doubt cause confusion, especially when one focuses on something which is currently a gimmick with a lot more work required to make it a viable way to game. The instant negative of being at a disadvantage in online games by owning a streaming-only platform will already turn people away. They may not even learn Xbox has a second console option that doesn’t require streaming. Word of mouth combined with negativity is a very powerful vehicle that Don Mattrick learned all about. How can these options compete with the simplicity of a PS5 at one price point bundled with the biggest third party game?
The Streaming Issue
Netflix made streaming huge. Everyone has tried to copy them with varying success. HBO, Sky, Amazon, Disney and more. PlayStation led the charge in the console gaming market with PlayStation Now. Sony spent $380 million on streaming service Gaikai in order to create PS Now. A monthly fee gives you access to a catalogue of over 500+ games, ranging from recent (but never brand new) titles to indies to PlayStation exclusives or the biggest last generation third party releases like the original Red Dead Redemption. It’s the only form of backward compatibility Sony actually offer. Has it been a success? No idea. Sony hasn’t actually shared subscriber numbers, which is odd because they share numbers for everything else. This leads me to believe that they aren’t impressive. The platform hardly dominates online gaming conversation, it’s rarely ever covered or spoken about. Digital Foundry analyzed PS Now’s performance here and it’s evident that despite the system performing well, it is nowhere near as brilliant as traditional gaming.
Streaming will never be perfect for gaming. Single player only titles can get away with it, but online multiplayer titles where latency can lead to a player’s death requires latency to be as low as possible and input lag can be devastating to the experience. Streaming will never be ideal for those titles, or for games like Street Fighter or Bloodborne which require precise timing. Streaming is a nice option but to be locked into this option from the point of purchase is not appealing in any way. The casual market likely won’t embrace this. The ones who do will be disappointed which will lead to poor word of mouth. If you’re constantly losing in FIFA or dying in Fortnite due to your stream lagging or your inputs not registering you’re hardly likely to be happy with your purchase. Even single player only gamers are likely to have issues. What if your wifi suddenly cuts out? Or even has a shudder, you’re experiencing a key story moment in Halo Infinite and suddenly the screen goes fuzzy because your connection has slightly dipped. It’s hardly an appealing thought.
Even if the streaming platform is incredibly optimized, an always online console is always going to have issues. What if Xbox Live goes down? Microsoft is inviting problems onto themselves already. Given how vital the next generation will be for the company, any advantage they give Sony could be devastating. With the Streambox they are handing Sony a huge advantage, especially if the other console has a premium price point like the Xbox One X. Multiple SKUs is something that also leads to confusion for not only gamers but parents in stores and just casuals looking to pick up something to play FIFA on. It didn’t work for PS3 or Wii U. Even with the Xbox 360 it led to multiple accessories such as the Hard Drive having to be developed. This wide and complex a difference between SKUs will no doubt lead to massive confusion, especially when the competing box is as simple as a box you insert a disc into. It could make the next generation as simple for Sony as undercutting the price of the main Xbox console and reiterating the ‘games first’ narrative they’ve excelled with this generation. Competition between the two companies is incredibly healthy. By continuing to cause marketing confusion Microsoft continues to alienate the defining consumers in any sales battle: The casuals.
I’d love to see Xbox get back on PlayStation’s level. After the excellent strides they made at E3 it would be a shame to see their next generation of consoles undo all the brilliant work. However my fingers are crossed they can provide a quality product for me, just not one that will be a commercial success. For all your gaming news and reviews, stick to thelootgaming.com.
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— [TLG] The Loot Gaming (@TheLootGaming) July 18, 2018