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Even with Halo, Microsoft struggles to sell us on Project Scarlett at E3 2019

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We need something bigger than a small-scale Halo trailer

Xbox E3 2019 press conference state with Project Scarlett Microsoft

Microsoft does not seem to have a very good idea of how to sell the world on its upcoming next-generation gaming console, which the company is calling Project Scarlett for now.

“The console should be optimized for one thing and one thing only: gaming,” Microsoft’s Phil Spencer told the crowd at E3.

Which is great news! But the video that played after that announcement proved ... less than helpful. Let’s take a look:

Here are some of the “takeaways” from the presentation, followed by some of thoughts each claim:

  • Gaming isn’t just consoles, mobile, and PCs. It’s all of those. (How is this supposed to make me want to buy a new piece of hardware?)
  • They’re investing in technology all throughout the game stack. (I have no idea how this makes the games I play better)
  • They want it to be transformative. (Is being transformed ... better?)
  • Make it easier to get into, and stay in, the game. (I like this goal, but how will they achieve it?)
  • A goal is to reduce load times, because “loading screens are a thing.” (This makes sense, actually! Long loading times are bad!)
  • Zen 2 and Navi technology from their partners at AMD. (New architecture is just new until you can explain how it improves the games.)
  • GDDR6 gives the best performance possible. (Does it? How? Why?)
  • Resolution and frame rates they’ve never seen before. (I have fast gaming PCs. I’ve seen a lot of high resolutions and frame rates)
  • Next-gen ray tracing (Was current-gen ray tracing not good enough? Why?)
  • SSD being used as virtual RAM (Another case where it’s not immediately clear why this is a benefit)
  • Combination of SSD and solid-state drive (Aren’t these the same thing?)
  • Most immersive console experience ever (What does “immersive” even mean in this context?)

Don’t worry, though. While a lot of this may seem like empty marketing jargon, we can see it in action thanks to an early software demo that’s ostensibly running on th hardware: Halo Infinite. We should be able to see what all that power will bring to the game during this trailer, right? Let’s watch together.

What was going on in that trailer that gets you excited about paying for a next-generation system? It does an OK job of explaining where the next Halo story will begin, but there’s not a lot of technological “wow” factor in this trailer. Even last year’s announcement did a slightly better job of showing off what might be possible with the new hardware, but only slightly. That still means that Microsoft took a small step backward this year.

Microsoft didn’t have to worry about competition from Sony when it comes to press conference buzz this year. That should have made this an easy win.

But this feels like a step backward from the announcement and launch of the Xbox One X, a system that had a very simple marketing message: This is the console you should buy if you have a 4K display and you want to see your Xbox games run in 4K at a high frame rate with HDR. You could also watch 4K Blu-rays with HDR if you were in the mood.

The Xbox One X is more expensive than its competition, but it does more, especially if you’ve already invested in a high-quality display. It’s easy to understand what you’re getting and why you might want to upgrade. Currently, the Xbox One X is the best way to play Red Dead Redemption 2 if you want to see things at the highest possible resolution and the best frame rates. It’s very easy to try to sell someone on the Xbox One X: You just ask them if they want to get the most out of their 4K displays.

Sony is doing a bit better when it comes to showing off its own next-generation console. All the information about the upcoming successor to the PlayStation 4 says the right things — more power, faster loading times, and higher resolutions all sound great — and Sony even showed a version of Marvel’s Spider-Man that demonstrates how quickly the world could move and load if the game were running on the PlayStation 5 architecture. Larger environments that you can explore more quickly is a hell of an advantage, and Sony actually showed off how that might look in a game we already recognize.

The easiest explanation for Microsoft’s vague announcement is that there just isn’t much software that’s ready to show to the public yet. But it’s a bummer to have to parse through all this marketing language to try to figure out if any of it actually means anything.

So many companies want to make sure we have the option to stream our games to our phones or laptops, and the idea of a super powerful, local gaming console that operates in the traditional manner, but with more power, sounds almost quaint.

Really all we need is a look at software that shows us how gaming will grow due to this hardware. A sedate, emotional story trailer for Halo Infinite is not going to get the job done.