It’s Game Over for the Xbox One

Xbox One has lost the console wars to Sony’s PlayStation 4.

The console wars are ever in flux, but when it comes to the rivalry between Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One, the war is over. The battle has been fought, and the PS4 has emerged the clear victor. The PS4 has sold around twice as many units as the Xbox One since both systems launched in 2013.

That’s not even a war. It’s a slaughter.

All that Microsoft can do now is hope and pray that the upcoming Scorpio can save the day; that it’s not too little too late to introduce an even more powerful system to the market.

And it’s not just about how many systems have been sold, it’s about what gamers on either platform can expect in terms of content and value right now and moving forward.

You need look no further than Sony’s incredible line-up of exclusive or semi-exclusive titles to see how badly the PlayStation 4 is beating the Xbox One. So far in 2017, Microsoft’s only Xbox One exclusive has been Halo Wars 2, but thanks to Microsoft’s (consumer-friendly) Play Anywhere program, you can play that on PC and skip the Xbox One altogether. That’s great for consumers but not necessarily for the Xbox One.

There’s other Xbox One exclusives in the pipeline for 2017, but Crackdown 3 and Sea of Thieves can’t keep a gaming system afloat. Neither IP is big or popular enough. If the Scorpio does launch this holiday season, Microsoft will need a major launch title to go along with it, but it’s a little early for Halo 6 or Gears of War 5. The very fact that these two franchises represent the bulk of the Xbox platform’s exclusive draw is itself a very big problem for Microsoft, and one they need to address now if they want to remain in the console business.

Indeed, it isn’t merely the Xbox One’s horsepower that’s led to its second-place status, it’s the lack of compelling content on the system. While Sony has a long list of incredible exclusives just in the first few months of 2017, ranging from Nioh to Persona 5 to Horizon Zero Dawn, Microsoft is cancelling promising titles like Scalebound. And that cancellation comes on the heels of the shuttering of Fable Legends with no new Fable anywhere in sight. That’s a game that the Xbox One desperately needs, and something that could launch alongside the Scorpio in a big way. A current-gen Fable could be fantastic, and yet we’ve heard neither hide nor hair of it.
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Destiny 2 First Screenshots
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Maybe Scorpio Should Start Fresh

I’ve argued that Microsoft should abandon the Xbox One brand and start fresh with Scorpio. I’m not sure that’s necessary for Microsoft to succeed, but it would free them from the confines of this generation and allow them to start over with a brand new console and all the hype that entails. Just make it backwards compatible, and you won’t alienate consumers.

Look no further than the boring PS4 Pro to see how ineffective a console “refresh” can be. And once you’ve got an Xbox One, an Xbox One S and a Scorpio sku, things become overly complicated for consumers and developers alike.

But really, Microsoft needs more games not just more horsepower. They need compelling new franchises, and they need to start offering a more competitive platform. Reducing the cost of Xbox Live Gold or offering it for free for a year with the purchase of a Scorpio, for instance, could make the Xbox brand more compelling.

Game Over

Whatever the case, right now one thing is clear: In its current form, the Xbox One is dead. It’s over. Franchises like Destiny and Call of Duty offer exclusive content to PlayStation 4 gamers now. In the latter’s case, that’s a major reversal from the Xbox 360 years. This means that the PlayStation 4 now has the lead not just in JRPGs and big, long-running Sony first party exclusives, but in mainstream shooters as well. My how the times have changed.

This isn’t a good thing. This isn’t something we should want. Competition is incredibly important in an industry like video games. A more competitive Xbox brand is good for consumers because it ensures that Sony doesn’t start to rest on its laurels. Nintendo is another important factor here, but Nintendo dances to the beat of its own drum, and appeals to a somewhat different audience. The important war—the video game equivalent of Intel vs. AMD—is between Sony and Microsoft.
Halo Wars 2 isn’t enough to keep the Xbox One afloat.

Microsoft

Halo Wars 2 isn’t enough to keep the Xbox One afloat.

And for the time being, the war is over. Right from the get-go, the Xbox One didn’t stand a chance. It was $100 more than the PS4, saddled with a Kinect that nobody wanted, and marred by a host of anti-consumer decisions that were quickly walked back. I think Phil Spencer has done an admirable job trying to right the ship after inheriting the top spot at Xbox, but it hasn’t been enough.

I hope very much for all our sake’s that the Scorpio can turn things around for the Xbox brand, but I can’t help but wonder if an even more powerful console is even the right direction for console gaming. I think the Switch helps illustrate that more power isn’t everything. Meanwhile, game development costs have simply ballooned out of control and will only continue to do so if companies like Microsoft insist on more and more horsepower, 4K gaming, and so forth. To be honest, the Xbox One would have been just fine if it had been on par with the PS4. Now we risk a new arms race that many developers and publishers will have a hard time keeping up with. After all, if it’s this hard to make new exclusives for the Xbox One, imagine how much more difficult and costly it will be to make games for a machine 4.5 times more powerful.

Desperate Times

On the one hand, it’s exciting to hear about a more powerful console that can give the PS4 Pro a run for its money. On the other hand, better graphics only go so far these days. We’ve reached a point where higher graphical fidelity pays increasingly diminishing returns. The leap from 1080p to 4K is nowhere near the leap from SD to HD. Whereas we once marveled at each new blockbuster’s incredible graphics, these days it feels fairly routine. The importance of art-style and design, not to mention frames-per-second, is slowly overshadowing the value of higher detail and resolution.

That being said, Microsoft has to do something at this point. There are rumors of a VR headset, which I think is a huge mistake (VR is dead in the water also) but a more powerful console is a better idea. Right now it’s game over for the Xbox One. Only drastic measures, and really good games, can save it now.