A game changer. The world’s most powerful console. Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox One X console is certainly a beast. Ultimately, this will not be enough to save it from gaming irrelevance. The Xbox One X will fail as a console, but perhaps it’s meant to.
Spec Sheets Don’t Sell Games
Hyperbole aside, the Xbox One X is extremely impressive on paper. It’s a titan of processing power housed inside a sleek box that will look great in anyone’s entertainment center. That said, gaming history is littered with cautionary tales of the most powerful consoles of their generation that ultimately failed.
Consoles like the NEOGEO, Sega Saturn, and PlayStation Vita were the most powerful consoles of their class at launch, but failed to gain a large market share. While many factors are to blame for these consoles’ collective failure to launch, their astonishing graphical prowess wasn’t enough to save them.
The Price Is Wrong
Coming off the overwhelming success of the PlayStation 2, Sony announced that the PlayStation 3 would cost either $500 or $600, depending on the size of the hard drive you wanted. The Xbox 360, released a year earlier, was $100 cheaper than either model, again depending on your desired hard drive configuration. Sony’s pricing missteps put the PS3 out of reach for many gamers who instead gravitated toward the Xbox 360 during its life cycle, helping cement Microsoft’s status as a household staple in gaming.
During the current phase of the “console wars,” we’ve seen Microsoft make Sony’s mistakes of the previous generation. While the launch dates were closer together, Sony priced the console at $400 while Microsoft bundled the Kinect with the console, driving up the price to $500. This, in part, helped Sony jump out to a commanding market share of next gen consoles.
Now it appears that Microsoft is poised to make the same mistake yet again. The PlayStation 4 Pro has been on the market now for nearly a year with a $400 price tag. While the Xbox One X is a remarkable piece of technology, charging a $100 premium over the PS4 Pro is not going to fly for your average consumer.
What do the Microsoft Kinect, PlayStation Move, and PlayStation VR all have in common? They’re all sub-brands of existing consoles that require games to have a special mode in order to be utilized. Most developers aren’t willing to commit major resources to develop games for a specific sub-segment of a console when those same resources could be used to create extra features or DLC for titles that are accessible to the console’s entire user base.
The problem that both the Xbox One X and the PS4 Pro will experience is that most developers will be simply unable to commit enough resources to make games that take full advantage of the hardware. Both Microsoft and Sony are trying to take some of that burden off of developers already by having the hardware capable of “super-sampling” common games to upscale them to a higher resolution. In the short term however, few developers will be willing to invest heavily in these kinds of updates without some sort of incentive.
The Xbox One X is going to be a failure, but it’s going to be a failure in the same way that a Corvette is a failure. Commercially, the Corvette doesn’t make much money for Chevrolet. They sell far more sedans or crossover SUVs than they do Corvettes. It’s also not very practical for most people, but that’s not why people love it. They buy it for the prestige – and Chevy’s brand benefits from that.
The same goes for Microsoft. The Xbox One X isn’t going to be for everybody. Most consumers will still buy the cheaper Xbox One S, but every gamer is going to drool over the possibility of owning an Xbox One X. The Xbox One X will increase the visibility of the Xbox brand and allow Microsoft to hold bragging rights for the foreseeable future, marketing Xbox as the most powerful gaming console.
As we move into a world where 4K TV’s are becoming more common, the prestige play is definitely the right play for Xbox.
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