Firmly entrenched in second place behind Sony from both a sales and power perspective, Microsoft is looking to change that with its upgrade to the Xbox One, codenamed Project Scorpio, this year.
But ever since Phil Spencer took over Microsoft’s gaming division more than three years ago, the story of Xbox hasn’t been about the Xbox One alone. The company has sought to bring the Windows 10 and Xbox ecosystems closer together, and Scorpio seems to represent the next major step in that initiative.
Spencer’s vision for the future aside, everything will come down to games. Microsoft may have a better track record than Sony lately when it comes to delivering first-party titles, but the Xbox One’s exclusives generally haven’t caught on like some of the PlayStation 4’s biggest ones have.
What will we see from Microsoft at E3 this year? Will Scorpio’s native 4K gaming blow everybody away? What does it mean that the company has moved to an earlier timeslot than usual for its E3 press briefing — Sunday afternoon instead of Monday morning? The show begins at 2 p.m. PDT on June 11, but let’s dive in right now.
While we already know Scorpio’s full system specifications and how it will improve performance for older games, we’ve never seen a live demo. Microsoft is betting big on 4K gaming, but demonstrating it convincingly is easier said than done.
Scorpio’s coming-out party: We’re expecting to walk out of Microsoft’s press briefing knowing the main facts and figures about Scorpio — name, design, price, release date. But even beyond those basics, there’s a lot we don’t know.
Microsoft’s goal was for Scorpio to be able to run all current Xbox One games, which generally range in native resolution from 900p to 1080p, at their default frame rate but in 4K resolution. Will native 4K gaming be the norm on Scorpio? How much better will existing games look on the console? Is Microsoft redesigning the Xbox One controller (again) for Scorpio?
It’s clear that Scorpio has a significant edge over the PS4 Pro in raw power, just like Microsoft promised a year ago. And the inclusion of a 4K Blu-ray drive is another important advantage, at least for some folks. But if Scorpio costs much more than the $399 PS4 Pro — and everyone expects it will — Microsoft will have to work hard to make a case for it. (Update, June 11: Geoff Keighley reported this morning that “unless something changes today,” Microsoft will announce a price of $499.)
No VR, at least not yet: Microsoft said during the 2017 Game Developers Conference that it’s working to bring mixed reality to the Xbox One platform, including Scorpio, in 2018. And Phil Spencer said during E3 2016 that Scorpio is “built with the hardware capabilities to support the high-end VR that you see happening in the PC space today.”
But VR is apparently taking a back seat for now. Microsoft’s Alex Kipman told Polygon this week that the company is currently focused on mixed reality for Windows 10 PCs, not the Xbox One. Kipman added that Microsoft believes “console VR should be wireless,” so it could be a while before we see an Xbox VR product.
Games and services
Microsoft, just like Sony, has been vying for partnerships with the makers of multiplatform games in an effort to secure exclusive content and more. And with Scorpio due out this holiday season, Microsoft will want to demonstrate loudly and clearly that the upgraded Xbox One will be the best place to play.
Indie games: Microsoft’s ID@Xbox initiative is bringing plenty of indie games to Xbox One, and owners of the console have been waiting a long time for some highly anticipated titles. Might we see a surprise release of Studio MDHR’s Cuphead, which is set to launch sometime in mid-2017? What about updates from indie darlings Fullbright and Capy Games, both of which are working on timed Xbox exclusives in Tacoma and Below, respectively, that they announced years ago? And of course, there’s Undead Labs’ State of Decay 2, which was revealed at E3 2016 for a planned 2017 debut and is sure to resurface at this year’s E3.
Big games: Microsoft’s press briefing traditionally features demonstrations and even announcements of some massive third-party games, in addition to looks at major first-party titles. Considering that some recent high-profile exclusives have missed the mark (Quantum Break, ReCore) or fizzled out entirely (Scalebound), the company could use some big hits in 2017 and beyond.
Crackdown 3 is a safe bet to be a Scorpio showcase, and it would be a shock if Microsoft didn’t announce Forza Motorsport 7 for a fall 2017 release. Rare’s multiplayer pirate adventure, Sea of Thieves, will surely make an appearance as well.
On the third-party side, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment is one of the few publishers to explicitly describe an upcoming title as supporting Scorpio (and PS4 Pro) upon announcing the game. That alone suggests that Middle-earth: Shadow of War could show up at Microsoft’s press conference to demonstrate the console’s 4K capabilities. And it wouldn’t be surprising to see Lara Croft’s next adventure — which may or may not be called Shadow of the Tomb Raider — debut at the show.
We also learned from EA’s Saturday press conference that Anthem, BioWare’s next game, will be shown extensively during the press conference. The game, originally code-named “Dylan,” will be set in a futuristic world, but we don’t know much more than that.
A focus on Xbox Play Anywhere and 4K gaming: Microsoft doesn’t seem to care whether you buy its games on a Windows 10 PC or an Xbox One, which is why recent first-party games like Gears of War 4 and Forza Horizon 3 are part of the Xbox Play Anywhere initiative. The program also features a few titles that aren’t published by Microsoft, including some heavy hitters like January’s Resident Evil 7 biohazard and October’s Middle-earth: Shadow of War.
With Scorpio promising 4K resolution, it would make sense for Microsoft to try to bring more third parties to the table for Xbox Play Anywhere. Having more high-end PC games playable on Xbox One would certainly help make an argument for Scorpio: Get the same high-fidelity experience, whether you’re playing on your 27-inch monitor in your home office or your 60-inch living room TV.
This could go hand in hand with updates for some older games. Imagine Microsoft announcing that Halo 5: Guardians and Halo: The Master Chief Collection will be playable in 4K, on Scorpio and/or PC, before showing the first teaser for Halo 6.
Entertainment returns, kinda: No, no, Microsoft isn’t planning to relaunch the ill-fated Xbox Entertainment Studios, as far as anyone knows. But the company already has a leg up on Sony in the realm of nongaming services: Unlike the PS4 Pro, the Xbox One S can play UHD Blu-rays, and it also supports high dynamic range (HDR) color in streaming apps like Netflix. Microsoft might look to push its advantage by highlighting the recent introduction of 4K ultra HD content to its Movies & TV store.
Arthur Gies contributed to this article.