Microsoft's Vision for The Future - Where's the Benefit?

By Kevin Tavore, 4 months ago
Back in 2013, Microsoft had one of the worst gaming PR disasters of all time with the announcement of the Xbox One. Always online, no resales, and a focus on TV left many wondering what had gone wrong. This wasn't what they'd hoped for, and the floundering sales of the Xbox One worldwide sent a clear message to Microsoft: something must change.

Since then Microsoft has been trying to repair the damage by investing in new IPs from famous developers and resurrecting cult classics. These were steps to buy back confidence in the console, and to some extent it's worked but the Xbox still trails PS4 in every country around the world. Ultimately, Microsoft's strategy was the same as the one Sony has clearly already mastered. If Microsoft is going to succeed at making Xbox the preeminent brand, they need to take a different approach.

At Microsoft's E3 press conference last week, Microsoft was proud to announce the Play Anywhere program, the Xbox One S, and Project Scorpio. These three announcements represent the pillars of Microsoft's new strategy moving forward. We can play what we want, how we want, and where we want and we'll still get the benefits of the Xbox ecosystem. This is Microsoft's core message. It's certainly different than any console maker that's come before, but is it actually better for us as gamers?

Is anywhere really a great place to play for everyone?Is anywhere really a great place to play for everyone?

Grim, Dark Days

As you'd expect, the internet has been buzzing since the announcement trying to decide whether this is the end of the Xbox or the beginning of somewhere wonderful. PC gamers who just got access to every Xbox One exclusive without needing to buy an Xbox are obviously happy, but some of those who are primarily console gamers are not so happy.

The argument basically revolves around whether this "betrayal" of Xbox owners will actually have a tangible, negative effect. There are two issues that are usually brought up. First, the idea that there's no reason to own an Xbox at all when you could just buy a PC. Second, the idea that Project Scorpio is going to quickly replace the Xbox One S and render it worthless for all of its owners who can't or won't upgrade to Scorpio.

Play Anywhere Means Everyone Plays

Really, Play Anywhere is just a piece of this part of the strategy. Microsoft wants you to be plugged into the Xbox ecosystem on any device you play from Xbox to PC to iOS to Android (except, apparently, Windows Phone). Playing anywhere offers real, tangible benefits to current owners. If you can play anywhere, others can too. This means you can play with friends you otherwise couldn't. You can jump into your niece's Minecraft world she created on her iPad. You and your PC gaming friends can play Gears of War 4.

It also means there's a bigger pool of players for developers and publishers to target. How's that benefit you? Publishers decide to pick up and port games based on expected sales. If you can not only hit the Xbox market, but also the PC market, then you're far more likely to want to put the game on Xbox in the first place. Sure, we're not going to see a flood of previously exclusive JRPGs on Xbox beginning tomorrow, but it does make it slightly more enticing for a publisher to decide to port a game to Xbox, and that might just be the straw that broke the camel's back. Of course, this does assume that Microsoft can get the Windows 10 marketplace off the ground. That's still a work in progress, but Microsoft does seem to be listening and implementing the feedback they're getting.

Some, of course, will say that they don't need to buy an Xbox - they can just get a PC instead. That's true, but that's not a loss for Microsoft or a loss for us as consumers. We can still jump in a party with our friends and play Horde mode, we're just doing it on the platform we really want to play on. Now I'll admit there is a small group of people who have gaming PCs and bought an Xbox One for the exclusives - those people are getting burned - but most people pick one or the other and now they can pick the platform they want without feeling blackmailed by exclusivity.

Choice is not a negative, and it's not the end of the world for Microsoft if they lose an Xbox sale when you're still playing on the Xbox platform.

Project Scorpio Won't Sting You

Let's get this out of the way right now. Microsoft has done nothing this week but reassure that Project Scorpio IS an Xbox One. Everything is forwards and backwards compatible. Project Scorpio is not exactly the start of a new generation - it's a continuation. To Microsoft, we may never have a new generation and that's ok.

Now I'll admit there's no way that statement can be entirely true. Eventually, Scorpio is bound to play games the Xbox One S cannot. It's four times as powerful. Developers are going to want to use that power without being hamstrung by weaker consoles. But that is years off from now. Project Scorpio, today, is going to be used for two things: VR and 4K. That's not to say we won't also get improved visuals and framerates if developers desire, but those things can be done without detriment to current consoles simply because current consoles represent the majority of the market right now.

Right now, Project Scorpio is simply an improvement. The Xbox One is not dead. You can buy a new controller and feel safe that it will last for many years to come. If you buy ReCore in September, it's going to work years down the line even once you upgrade to Project Scorpio yourself. So yes, in some ways Scorpio is a new console generation. But it's also a new way to handle a console generation. Everything will be forwards compatible and that is actually incredible innovation.

So no, you don't need to buy Project Scorpio. You can play everything with the Xbox One you have right now. You'll be able to for a long, long time. Publishers will ensure games work on it just like they released games on both Xbox 360 and Xbox One, only now you won't lose features like singleplayer. And if you do decide to buy Project Scorpio, you'll likewise know that everything you bought previously will work on it. I have an Xbox 360 next to me that's losing value only to play one or two games that haven't made it to backwards compatibility. With Project Scorpio, I can sell my Xbox One to offset some of the cost.

Clear, Blue Skies

Microsoft's new strategy is certainly a gamble. It's a completely new way to handle a console generation. They're putting choice into our hands and letting us decide what's important to us. Do we want to game on console or PC? We get a choice. Do we want power or affordability? We get a choice. Microsoft is letting us decide how we want to play our games, and I can't see that as anything but a good thing.

So sure, it's the death of a console generation in some ways. But it's also the birth of something better. I, for one, look forward to the future.
Kevin Tavore
Written by Kevin Tavore
Purveyor of news articles and the occasional walkthrough or op-ed. The American equivalent of Aristotle. Likes almost all genres but has an unhealthy aversion to exploration and puzzles. Nicest place he'd never want to go? Japan.