A few weeks back, I wondered if it was time to hit the panic button regarding the Xbox. At the time, I was hopeful. Let’s not hit the panic button yet, because E3 is right around the corner. Project Scorpio (now called the Xbox One X) would be every bit as powerful as the Digital Foundry specs reveal suggested. It would also launch at a competitive price. Furthermore, meaningful new Xbox-defining experiences would launch to take advantage of the powerful new hardware.
As it turns out, after Microsoft’s E3 2017 conference, only one of those things would come to be.
That Xbox panic button I was talking about a few weeks ago? Mash that sucker in until it gets stuck. Xbox is officially in a free-fall.
The day after an incredibly disappointing E3 showing, one has to seriously question the course that Xbox is taking at this juncture. Perhaps Phil Spencer’s vision for the Xbox brand is not as golden as it was made to seem, even as recently as a week ago.
Microsoft did deliver on one front: the Xbox One X is every bit as powerful as Microsoft said it would be. Games like Forza Motorsport 7, Metro Exodus, and Anthem looked absolutely stunning and take full advantage of the new hardware. The thing really can do true 4K. There’s no half-baked PS4 Pro-esque checkerboard rendering here. It’s also sleeker-looking than any piece of hardware that Microsoft (or Sony, for that matter) has put out all generation.
However, Microsoft missed big on the one front that they could not afford to miss on at E3: games. Xbox fans, myself included, have been saying “wait for E3, Microsoft will have some cool new stuff to show.” It looks like Xbox fans such as myself have even more waiting to do.
Microsoft’s presentation was mostly confused and disjointed. It was proudly announced that 22 console exclusive games would be shown on stage. This caused me to sit up and take notice. What transpired was that Microsoft marketing merely invented a new term to describe the muddled realm of game exclusivity. The majority of the games announced were “console launch exclusives,” which is a fancy way of saying “timed exclusive.” Apparently, Xbox marketing executives didn’t realize that if a game is going to release on another console, it isn’t a console exclusive. It was pretty shady, and in this regard they treated Xbox gamers as if we are dumb. I don’t appreciate that.
There is one Xbox One X first-party launch title, that being Crackdown 3. The game was showcased in a trailer in which very little in the way of the destructibility from previous trailers was shown. I’m sure the game will be good, but this was disappointing.
Who is this $499 console for? Apparently, not for anyone that wants to experience new first-party Xbox games.
The Sea of Thieves segment lasted far too long. This is where the conference truly started to unravel. It became obvious here that Microsoft was lacking in new content and ideas from their in-house studios. This segment came across to me as nothing more than filler designed to cover up a lack of new games. Moreover, graphics mod for Minecraft received a spotlight, yet nothing was shown from The Coalition or 343. I don’t think Minecraft speaks to the target audience that is looking at the Xbox One X.
Phil Spencer and company paid a lot of attention to indie games during the Xbox E3 presentation. While it is important for indies to be highlighted at E3, too much time was spent on them. It’s ridiculous to expect gamers to spend money on new hardware to play games that can also be run on an iPhone.
Most importantly, it was painfully obvious that Microsoft truly can no longer compete with Sony and Nintendo when it comes to exclusive games. Some really cool-looking Japanese games were shown on stage, which was great to see at a Microsoft event. There was an amazing variety of games shown throughout the conference. The problem is, the PS4 is already delivering on both of these fronts, and virtually all of the games shown in this regard are coming to the PS4 too. There was no new must-have Xbox experience showcased at the conference. That Microsoft ended their conference by featuring a multiplatform game that doesn’t release for over a year is extremely telling.
Lastly, the elephant in the room is the price of the new console. The Xbox One X costs $499. That’s a bargain for the performance and specs of the hardware, but it’s still expensive for a console. Gamers are very price-conscious. Ask Microsoft how well $499 worked for them in 2013, and you can see the problem. Microsoft should have priced the Xbox One X at $399. This would have enabled them to get the new hardware into the homes of as many gamers as possible, setting them up well for the next generation. For someone like myself, who games primarily on Xbox and has a lot of money invested in the Xbox platform, this isn’t too big of a deal. I will be buying a Xbox One X, in fact. For everyone else, a $499 asking price is hugely misguided, and makes the console a hard sell.
Overall, E3 2017 demonstrated that Microsoft has only partially learned their lesson. After being trounced by Sony this whole generation, being outsold nearly two to one, they needed an “A+” showing. What they delivered was nothing more than a “C.” Microsoft’s messaging is that they have basically surrendered and have fully conceded this generation to the PS4. After Microsoft made things interesting over the past year or so, all of that changed in one afternoon. It isn’t even a fair fight anymore.
This Microsoft conference hurt all gamers. It hurt Xbox gamers that now have to deal with a barren 2017 in terms of exclusives and now don’t have any new AAA games from key first-party studios to look to, either. PS4 players suffer because Sony has already shown some anti-consumer tendencies over the past year. Now that Microsoft has basically backed out and completely surrendered this console generation to them, who knows how gamers on the world’s most popular platform may be screwed over in the future.
Right now, the only thing that the Xbox One X can claim is having the best console versions of multiplatform games. I don’t think that’s what we had in mind when we kept saying “wait for E3.” When backwards compatibility for a 16-year old console gets the biggest ovation of your conference, there’s a problem.
You know what? Screw the panic button. Microsoft skipped over it and went straight to waving the white flag.