Microsoft has coughed up detailed tech specs for the Xbox Scorpio, and the hardware is impressive. There is no doubt that Scorpio will be the most powerful gaming console on the market, and that power will bring immediate benefit to your existing game library.
But then what?
We need the games
The Xbox platform is gasping for air when it comes to software, and the only thing Microsoft showed off running on the new platform was Forza. Racing games are always a great way to wow an audience with visuals, but players are going to be motivated by new games and exclusives much more than fancy upgrades to franchises they already recognize.
Nintendo knows the power of that one game that can sell hardware; the Switch more or less sold out on the strength of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. You can argue that consoles need more than one game to get people excited about buying new hardware, but I’d argue that you can’t find a Switch at retail and one game is more than enough as long as the game is that good. And we know future Nintendo games will be exclusive to Nintendo’s hardware.
Sony is enjoying the success of Horizon: Zero Dawn, and will have the benefit of timed exclusive content for Destiny 2. There’s Persona 5 and Nioh. Yakuza 0. Gravity Rush 2. Nier Automata. And that’s just 2017 so far, the list goes on.
These exclusives aren’t always the biggest games, but they provide a constant drip of high-quality games you can’t play on the Xbox One, and it’s a huge competitive advantage. It’s not a competition as much as it’s a bloodbath; the Xbox platform doesn’t have the software to fight back.
Sony has also found success with its PlayStation VR hardware, and the added power of the PlayStation 4 Pro makes VR games look better, even if the difference is subtle. The PlayStation 4 is the only place you can play Resident Evil 7 in VR.
The PlayStation 4 has a sizable lead when it comes to number of consoles sold — the PlayStation 4 has sold 55 million units against Microsoft’s estimated 26 million for the Xbox One (Microsoft doesn’t release specific data anymore)— and it’s likely the PlayStation 4 Pro will be less expensive than the Scorpio, and could even see a price drop at E3, just in time to make Microsoft’s new console look even more expensive.
Like I said though, specs don't sell consoles.— Daniel Ahmad (@ZhugeEX) April 6, 2017
Pricing and Software is key. As is growing the size of that target market.
Players also seem mostly ambivalent to the benefits that 4K televisions bring to the experience. They may look great, but the technology is still a mess of competing standards and no one seems to be in a rush to buy the displays. You also can’t show off how good a 4K display looks without someone actually having a 4K display, which is part of the reason the PlayStation 4 Pro reveal felt like such a farce. For the short term at least, this battle is going to be fought on 1080p displays.
So what does Microsoft need to do?
Having the most powerful system is a huge talking point, and it sounds like the upgrades Scorpio will bring to all existing Xbox One games are going to be much more impressive than the bump we saw with the PlayStation 4 Pro. But power isn’t everything, especially when your competition is coming in at a much better price.
The PlayStation 4 earned such a commanding lead in part due to the fact the console was both less expensive and more powerful than the Xbox One, and Microsoft is likely to reclaim the lead in one of those categories at the end of the year.
SCORPIO: 4000 quadra-ferabit tetabums in a coreCooled C-90a processor and a quasiflipped IRQ— Dan Marshall (@danthat) April 6, 2017
Meanwhile, on two WiiUs duct taped together: pic.twitter.com/Oit21SRJSi
Microsoft needs to bring the pain when it comes to Scorpio games, without leaving existing Xbox One customers behind. The Scorpio needs to have the best-looking versions of every third-party game moving forward, and Microsoft needs to make sure it has enough exclusives to prove that you’ll see and play things on the Scorpio you can’t get anywhere else.
That means exclusives, that means new games in existing franchises and that means convincing players that they’re going to see a large jump in performance on their existing games even without a 4K television.
Tech specs are just numbers on paper until Microsoft is able to show us exactly what we’ll be getting with the system, and that requires a dedication to signing the best games and announcing the biggest sequels. The Xbox One has been hurting when it comes to games much more than power, and high-profile cancellations like Scalebound haven’t helped. Quantum Break has fizzled out, and we’ve heard next to nothing about Crackdown 3. Once prominent franchises like Halo and Gears of War don’t move the needle the way they once did.
The Scorpio is going to be a powerful, and likely expensive, weapon in the console war. But the ammunition is going to come from software.