It’s no secret that Microsoft has been losing this generation of the console wars, and badly.
The PlayStation 4 has outsold the One at every turn, crushing the competition with a decent price and a roster of acclaimed sequels. Microsoft, by contrast, kept its console prices too high for too long and has only a small stable of aged series to keep it going. The company’s recent decision to make most of the Xbox One’s titles available on Windows 10 may have been great news for PC gamers, but not necessarily for the console.
It’s hard to feel bad for Microsoft, though. The company had its head up its collective posterior when it proposed draconian DRM and the infamous “always on” Internet requirement back in 2013, and Sony’s been laughing its way to the bank ever since. Microsoft’s latest effort to reverse its fortunes was unveiled at E3 2017 in the form of the Xbox One X, a machine with more processing power than any other console on the market (though still considerably behind PC). The specs and numbers aren’t really important; the important part is that when the Xbox One X launches in November, it’ll be the most powerful console available.
The Xbox One X indicates an interesting market strategy for Microsoft. Whereas Sony gunned for gamers’ wallets by presenting a lower price and focusing on console exclusives, Microsoft seems to be nixing both of those things in favor of raw power. With few exclusives of its own, the company seems to be hoping that gamers will choose being able to play third-party titles at 4K and 60 FPS over Sony’s swoll lineup of native titles. It’s an ambitious gamble, one that could pay off just as much as it could crash and burn.
There are several problems with Microsoft’s apparent strategy: the first and most obvious is that 4K displays aren’t common. Sure, they’ve been out for a little while and a few gamers have them, but most gamers still run either a 2K monitor or a simple HDTV. The share of gamers who play in 4K might be smaller than Microsoft believes, and not all of them are lining up to shell out top dollar for the Xbox One X.
The other, more substantial issue at stake is whether gamers who only have enough money for one console will forego Sony’s roster of exclusives. If it hasn’t been said enough times already, Sony has stormed the boards with great games like Horizon Zero Dawn, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, and the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy. Microsoft simply can’t compete with that; it cancels what few titles it doesn’t also port to PC and its chief allure, the Halo series, has aged poorly. Microsoft is thus hoping that gamers will prefer a third-party game at 4K over access to Sony’s library at 2K.
There’s no way to know which choice these gamers will make until the Xbox One X makes landfall in November, but for Microsoft’s sake, the Xbox One X had better win out at least a little bit. If the One X doesn’t gain Microsoft some distance on Sony’s massive lead in the console market… nothing will.