New console generations are always exciting. New hardware brings new gameplay possibilities, better visuals, better framerates, load times, etc. Launching new hardware is always a daunting task for hardware companies and launches can set the tone for an entire generation. You can come out on fire and ride momentum for years as Sony did with the launch of the PS4, or you can have controversy, mixed messaging, and poor launch reception to hamper your console for an entire generation.
The latter was the case for Xbox and the Xbox One console for Microsoft. They spent the entire generation digging out of a hole they created and then had to run uphill to even see the Playstation 4 in the distance.
Before the Xbox One had been announced, there were rumours of the Xbox (then known as Project Durango) in April of 2013 that it required to always be connected online and would check to see if you were online once every 24 hours. It was part of a digital rights management system that would forbid the use of used games. It was Microsoft’s way of tackling the used games market, a thorn on publishers side for decades since they get no revenue from used games, it all went to retailers that accepted the used games and sold them back at discounted prices. It wasn’t helped when one of Microsoft’s own employees poured gasoline on those rumours with a tweet saying “I want every device to be always on”. Orth left Microsoft days later.
Fast forward to May 21, 2013 and Microsoft formally announces the Xbox One. The All-in-one entertainment unit designed to own the living room. The press conference focused on the multimedia features of the box, TV integration, voice commands of Kinect 2.0, and the addition of an input HDMI port to attach set top boxes to your Xbox to control your TV commands through it. It took almost 30 minutes before a video game was even shown at the event.
The event was met with heavy criticism due to the focus on being a multimedia device instead of a game machine. Then President of Interactive of Entertainment, Don Mattrick, promised that E3 2013 would be all about the games. But the games were drowned out by the large price tag of the Xbox One. Due to the expensive sensors in the Kinect, and design focus on being a multimedia device rather than just a games console, the Xbox one was priced at $499. The issue with that was the competing Playstation 4 had better hardware specs, an established portfolio of 1st party studios, and was $100 cheaper. The console was also not able to launch in many countries simultaneously, going with tiered releases worldwide.
Sony was drilling down on games, games, games. The PS4 was aimed at playing all the games at better resolutions and framerates than it’s competitor while also allowing used games and the ability to play offline. Eventually, Xbox backpedaled on all these policies and launched the Xbox One without always-on DRM and the ability to play used games. But the damage was already done. Sony had all the momentum, Xbox had none. The sales told all the story. PS4 outsold Xbox One at a 2:1 ratio all generation.
It wasn’t just the hardware where PS4 was superior, it was exclusive software too. While Sony exclusives often averaged 85+ on Metacritic, Xbox’s own exclusives would often fail to excite critics or sell on par with Sony’s 1st party offerings. Xbox was at it’s lowest point in 2014 when it started to close studios, Don Mattrick left and Microsoft had as little as five first party studios.
The Phil Spencer Era
It was time to reboot Xbox and Microsoft. In 2014, Satya Nadella was appointed the CEO of Microsoft and he immediately appointed Phil Spencer lead the Xbox, Xbox Live and Microsoft Studios as part of the Windows and Devices division.
Spencer brought many changes to Xbox, with a focus on services, accessibility, backwards compatibility, cross-platform play and the focus on gaming on any device.
He reintroduced backwards compatibility to Xbox One, slowly getting Xbox 360 and original Xbox games onto the platform. He wanted Xbox to focus on gaming again.
Microsoft spent the entire generation fixing past mistakes and rebooting the Xbox brand to be about value, accessibility, and carrying your library with you. They were doing everything right but were still lacking in one important aspect, the games.
In the last two years, Microsoft rebranded their internal studios to Xbox Game Studios, and added 7 studios as well as the addition of Bethesda’s studios, totaling 23 internal studios. They now have over 30 development teams making content for their Xbox Game Pass subscribers and Xbox Series consoles.
Compared to seven years ago with the Xbox One launch, the Xbox Series consoles are entering a different market and have so much potential with a lot more positive buzz generating around the consoles. It seems this time Xbox has learned from their mistakes and is doing a complete turnaround versus the Xbox One launch:
The Xbox Series X is the most powerful console on the market, with more storage size, then it’s primary competitor, the Playstation 5, while also being priced the same ($499).
The Xbox Series S is an entry level console that is very affordable ($299), and has all the features of the a next gen console sans 4k native display output (and half the storage size).
xCloud lets you stream to millions of Android devices. You can game anywhere and continue where you left off.
Xbox All-Access let’s you get a console and subbed to Game Pass for no up front cost with a 2 year contract with 0% interest.
Xbox Game Pass is perfect for a the budget concious gamer who wants access to many big games for a low fixed cost. A boon for gamers in a COVID world where game prices are going up $10USD for next-gen.
Your library is enhanced and comes with you. Four generations of content. No need to buy everything again.
In a few years when all the new internal studios have had time to create new content for Xbox, the lack of 1st party content will be a thing of the past.
Everything Phil Spencer and co. have been working on for the last six years has culminated into what we will see November 10, 2020. The reboot of the Xbox brand. The focus being on gaming, accessibility, taking your library with you, services, and gaming anywhere you want. Initiatives like xCloud, Xbox Game Pass, Xbox All-Access, the most powerful console in the world in Xbox Series X, and the cheapest entry into next gen with the all digital Xbox Series S, are all pillars in Microsoft’s strategy to dominate gaming in ways they haven’t before.
Buckle up, it’s going to be a wild ride!