I pre-ordered an Xbox One X Project Scorpio Edition the second it went available. Even as PlayStation dominates the gaming landscape once again, I still prefer to play games on Xbox One if I can. I’m telling you this to establish a baseline with me as a Microsoft fanboy. I love Windows 10 – seriously. I owned two Zunes, and I almost bought a Microsoft Band.
So with all that said, what the heck is Microsoft doing? How do you botch a console launch so badly, and so far out from the actual launch date?
This weekend, Microsoft was to give its last big pitch for the Xbox One X through its Gamescom presentation. Instead of a big hammering list of reasons we definitely need Microsoft’s most powerful console, we got a trailer for a Jurassic Park park-builder game. Which looks dope. But that’s not what we buy consoles for.
That cringey show
When Phil Spencer walks out at E3, it’s always a cool moment. There’s no question that Spencer cares about games, gamers, and Xbox. He knows how to talk to gamers and business people alike. I’d argue he’s one of the best speakers in both Microsoft and the game industry. Instead of a conversation with Phil, though, we got this painfully awkward show from Microsoft’s U.K. and German reps and an actress/presenter named Julia Hardy. They all did their best with what they were given, but they weren’t given much to work with.
So instead, we got an awkward show that felt more like an infomercial populated with actors who know the thing they’re selling isn’t worth the asking price.
A big part of that comes in the form of the games actually on-hand for the presentation. While the Xbox One X isn’t a brand-new console the same way the Xbox One was, it’s still a big step up from the original Xbox One, and people are looking at it like a new console launch. And for a new console launch, the Xbox One X might have the most anemic software lineup of any console launch ever.
Microsoft has already hamstrung the Xbox One sales proposition by promising that everything that hits Xbox will hit PC as well. I don’t really have a big problem with this, but it makes the word “exclusive” seem silly in the context of any games discussed by Microsoft. There is no such thing as an Xbox exclusive, and even then, games are often temporarily exclusive to Xbox before hitting PlayStation a bit later, as we saw with Rise of the Tomb Raider and as we’ll see with PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
The launch line-up for Xbox One X is comprised of Forza Motorsport 7, Cuphead, Battlegrounds, a “Definitive” edition of ReCore, and enhancements to lots of existing games. A total of one of those games is a Microsoft game built with the One X in mind, and that’s a racing game. The other games are, in order, an indie game, a game already out on PC, an old, under-performing Xbox One game, and patches for a bunch of other games. None of those are bad things per se. But there’s very little new on the list. Cuphead existed long before the One X was even out of the planning stages.
To be clear, these are fine games. Cuphead looks awesome. And PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is a big coup for Microsoft, even as a timed exclusive. But making these games “the fall lineup” is putting too much weight on them.
Games of Future Past
The other big game that was intended to launch alongside the system was Crackdown 3, and Microsoft had to delay that at the last minute. That wouldn’t necessarily make up for the lack of big titles, but it would help.
Here’s the thing. The Xbox One X is supposed to be the future. It’s the most powerful console ever, and Microsoft engineered the living daylights out of it. The team that built this thing thought about every little screw. But as it is now, Microsoft is asking us to buy its new system to play old games.
The big focuses, outside of some love for Forza Motorsport 7, have been on the idea that existing Xbox One games will “play better” thanks to the extra horsepower, and how many games are getting patches to look better in 4K. Improvements to backward-compatible games have even been brought up in the Xbox One X sales pitch! Backwards compatibility can only take us so far with a system. We need new games, too. Heck, one of the most exciting announcements was the Minecraft edition of the Xbox One S – literally last year’s model (with an admittedly awesome paintjob).
That the system is launching without anything in that vein stinks of bad planning and misunderstanding what people actually want from Xbox. Almost everything appealing that could be considered at all exclusive is set to come out sometime next year. Crackdown 3, Sea of Thieves, State of Decay 2 – they’re all 2018 games. But what about now, Microsoft? There’s a lot of good to be had, but very little special.
The Ghost of Don Mattrick
The original Xbox One hit with a dull thud because Microsoft didn’t understand its audience. And that thud not only put them behind, but it managed to give Sony a boost that would propel the PlayStation 4 way, way out in first. As the Xbox One X approaches, it’s hard not to think about that. During Microsoft’s Gamescom show, the company didn’t do itself any favors, showing off a few games like Zoo Tycoon that were originally designed with the Kinect in mind. They’ve been overhauled for 4K, which is great, but that anyone even uttered the word Kinect during the presentation was a huge mistake. High prices and Kinect dependence are what got the company where it is in the first place.
We haven’t seen the tone-deafness of former Xbox boss Don Mattrick just yet, but some of this is a bit too close to home.
Like I said: I pre-ordered an Xbox One X. I’m going to have a great time with it. I love my gaming PC, but I like playing controller games on a dedicated system where I know they’ll perform well. I’ll be happy with my purchase. But I was probably going to buy one either way, so I’m not who Microsoft needs to sell to. And even then, I’m still disappointed with what we saw this week in Cologne. The Xbox One X comes out in November, and Gamescom was the very last chance to talk the system up on a stage with lots of eyes on it.
And instead of a promising sales pitch, we got some previews of games for next year, lots of not-actually-exclusive “exclusives” and far too many words devoted to old games.
What the heck is Microsoft thinking? I sure don’t know.