Project Scorpio, Xbox One X, the weak-hearted mini-PC - call it what you will, Microsoft’s new console is going to be one of the most disruptive forces in modern gaming. But while the big M might think they’re going to corner the market with the most powerful console the world has seen yet, they may be in for a rude awakening when their fanbase goes PC instead.
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The One X is a big gamble by Microsoft. It’s the equivalent of them swaying drunkenly at the blackjack table, screaming ‘double-or-nothing!’ in response to the comparative bust of the original Xbox One. And if it fails again, what does that mean for the Xbox division? Nothing good...
Microsoft got lucky with the Xbox 360. They managed to get a 12 month jump on their complacent Sony rival, bringing a new ‘next-gen’ console out before the competition and, when PlayStation did finally hit the shops with the PS3, managed to do it cheaper too. Of the new consoles, the 360 was a comparative joy to develop for as well, with PS3 devs struggling to get the most out of the impressively awkward Cell processor until the very end of the console’s life.
That was the Xbox team’s high-water mark though. Sony learned their lesson and the big M got over-excited with the new hardware (and unforgivably unambitious with the VCR-like styling) of the Xbox One. They gambled that having the most powerful technology would automatically build on the 360’s generational dominance. But Sony’s PS4 was smartly designed, better-looking, and undercut Microsoft’s gaming slab by just enough to make a big difference.
That means, as of July this year, the PS4 has sold more than twice as many consoles as the Xbox One. And when we’re talking at the scale of Sony selling around 30 million more, it’s clear who has won this generation’s console war.
But Microsoft have seemingly decided that was but a mere aberration, and surely, surely if they produce an even more powerful console people will jump ship from PlayStation and come back into the Xbox fold. The Xbox One X is the most powerful console ever made, so even if the One X costs more than the PS4 Pro, or a second-hand car, people will still hungrily sell their first born for one. Well, that seems to have been the hope, anyway.
Sadly, for Microsoft, I can’t see the new machine being the suture that halts the hemorrhaging of their Xbox user base. It seems to me that even more gamers will be ditching the Xbox franchise this time around - because of, not in spite of, the One X and the expensive, mid-generation hardware upgrade it represents.
But this time they’re not just going to be running into Sony’s waiting arms, they’re going to come and join us in PC-Land too, where the ethernet cables are coated in gold, our Steam libraries fit to bursting, and the thought of replacing our entire system every few years a complete anathema.
Microsoft are trying to trade on the Xbox One X being the most powerful console around, but that’s getting into dangerous marketing territory, as it’s definitely not the most powerful gaming machine - that’s the PC. The PC is where you’ll get the definitive experience for any cross-platform game; it’s where you’ll get the slickest frame rates, the greatest graphical fidelity, and more mods, updates, and total conversions than you can shake a joypad at. So if they’re preaching to gamers about the absolute best gaming experience - and hang the expense of it - those folk will quickly start looking towards the PC instead of the One X.
Don’t get me wrong, PC gaming is still very expensive in comparison with either console, and $500 for a 4K-capable PC seems like a bit of a bargain, if you look at the One X like that. But if you’re trading on being the most powerful, the folk who might buy into Microsoft’s vision of ditching the standard Xbox One in favour of something with more gaming grunt could very well end up going all the way and getting themselves a serious gaming PC.
I’ve already had dyed-in-the-wool Xbox gamers asking what sort of PC they should consider instead of going for an Xbox One X, and I doubt they’re alone in asking their PC buddies for upgrade advice.
All consoles can really offer now is game exclusivity, and when it comes to Microsoft all they’ve got to offer is timed exclusives. The unnecessarily staggered launch of Destiny 2, pushing back the release of the best-looking version, is testament to that. The PS4, then, is the only high-end gaming platform to offer genuine content exclusives - unless, of course, you count the Switch’s Mario/Zelda antics - with Microsoft’s hands tied wanting to deliver cross-platform goodness between Xbox and Windows.
Back in the Xbox 360 days of actual exclusives (I still curse you, Rockstar, down through every sordid level of Hades, for never giving me the definitive PC version of Red Dead Redemption) there were a whole lot of PC gamers with a 360 too. I dare say there’s still some who have Xbox Ones as well, but I can almost guarantee right now there’ll be fewer people who own both a PC and a One X than names on Katie Hopkins’ Christmas card list.
So, where does that leave the Xbox One X? Possibly wishing it was more PC.