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E3 2017: Will the Future of Xbox Depend on the Success of Project Scorpio?
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 04:17pm 07/06/17 | Comments
Microsoft's Project Scorpio has been labelled the 'Most Powerful Console Ever Made', but how does it fit into the Xbox brand?

We’re only days away from Microsoft’s E3 briefing, where the company will finally lift the lid on its supercharged Xbox One – Project Scorpio. And in the process, answer the questions of pricing, availability, and software line-up. With the hardware specs of the as-yet unnamed console already out in the wild, what we do know is that right out of the gate it won’t have any problem outputting the current Xbox One line-up of games in native 4K. From a pure numbers game, it lives up to the company’s promise of being the most powerful console ever made. A statement and fact that raises a few questions.

With the most pertinent being, will the foreseeable future of Xbox depend on the success of Project Scorpio? And is it the next Xbox proper? Now at this point it’s worth noting that when talking about Project Scorpio, Microsoft has stated on multiple occasions that the hardware refresh will serve as only one of the pillars of the Xbox brand. The current Xbox One S model will continue to play each and every Xbox One release coming in 2017 and 2018, with Xbox for Windows 10 and PCs also serving as an additional home for first and second-party releases. Project Scorpio, like the PS4 Pro could very well be the beginning of the end of the traditional console hardware cycle, with hardware refreshes taking the place of completely new boxes.

For gamers, this means a library that won’t become obsolete in an instant, with classic games being available for much longer than originally intended. Microsoft is one of the leaders in this field, with the introduction of Xbox 360 backwards compatibility Xbox One paving the way for a future filled with hardware being able to access a deep library of games. But even so, at a certain point the Xbox One S could become obsolete, with Project Scorpio becoming the new baseline for future Xbox games. An interesting shift for Microsoft to take, but what incentive is there for existing Xbox owners to make the upgrade now? Or better yet, how will Project Scorpio appeal to people looking to buy a new console? Outside of those among us who love buying the latest bit of gaming tech with a mind towards the bleeding edge, there’s an undeniable sense that Project Scorpio will become a huge part of the Xbox One’s success moving forward.

But if the answer is ‘not right now’, then why build up hype for a reveal at one of the industry’s biggest events?

Fixing Past Mistakes

On the heels of the global success of the Xbox 360, Microsoft announced its follow-up the Xbox One in 2013 with a release date set for the holiday season that year. On paper, it was a more powerful console than the Xbox 360 and would usher in the next-generation of console gaming. But in execution, the announcement and launch of the Xbox One was seen by many as a series of missteps. Initially the plan for it was to require an internet connection to authenticate every game you installed, regardless of whether it was a retail or digital copy. Secondly, each console would come equipped with the next-generation version of Kinect, the company’s motion sensing camera. That last one, resulted in a higher day one price than Sony’s PlayStation 4.

Also, the Xbox One would focus on delivering other forms of digital entertainment, and in a sense become a home’s all-in-one entertainment device. Looking back, it’s easy to see where Microsoft missed the mark with the Xbox One, but each of its touted features were not necessarily bad. In many ways, they were the future. Where the Xbox One failed, was with the fact that it was more expensive than the PlayStation 4 whilst also not being as powerful. Sony capitalised on this by focusing its next-generation efforts on games, spending the time and resources to cultivate an impressive library of exclusives that over the years has resulted in the likes of Uncharted 4 and more recently Horizon Zero Dawn. Two titles that are more visually and cinematically impressive than anything currently available for the Xbox One.

Since it launched in late 2013 Microsoft has made incremental steps towards repositioning the console as something that would appeal to gamers first and foremost – culminating last year with the release of the impressive Xbox One S and the announcement of Project Scorpio. The latter of which, and the focus of this piece, being capable of running the most visually impressive games ever seen on a home console.

On the Horizon

Looking at the current slate of 2017 exclusives coming to Xbox One, things are looking a little dire with Rare’s Sea of Thieves and maybe Crackdown 3 serving as the big, you’ve got to see it, titles. Sony on the other hand has already shown most of what we can expect to see over the course of the next year or so, with God of War, Spider-Man, The Last of Us 2, Death Stranding, and Days Gone leading the charge. Each of those titles sports the sort of visual sheen you’d expect from a AAA release, with the big cloud hanging over Project Scorpio being – the games we’ll play. No doubt third-party efforts like Assassin’s Creed Origins, Destiny 2, Call of Duty: WWII, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Star Wars Battlefront II will look great on the machine, but they’ll also look great on a PS4 Pro. And in most cases, be marketed primarily for Sony’s console with additional exclusive content.

If we were to take what we currently know about what Xbox games are currently in the works, Project Scorpio looks a little bit like a fancy car without any interior. There’s a good chance Microsoft isn’t all that interested in securing as many exclusives as it can, and is happy with its current mix of studios that are developing the next Halos, Forzas, and Gears of Wars. In discussion with many different publications Microsoft has stated that Project Scorpio was designed with developers in mind, giving them the power and tools to release the best versions of their games without too much hassle. A great stance to take and in all honesty, we’re excited to see what some of the outcomes will be. But with sales of PlayStation 4 outpacing Xbox One by at least 2-to-1 in most countries, perhaps courting developers and specific titles is, well, off the table.

Which inadvertently puts a lot of pressure on Microsoft’s E3 showing this year, because it’s hard to see the debut of a console as powerful as the Scorpio as anything but the next best thing. And an E3 debut has traditionally meant games, so it’ll be interesting to see what Microsoft will show.

The Xbox brand is one that has seen several changes over the years. With a mindset that is now entrenched in being both forward and backwards compatible, and an invested interest in building a library of titles and an affordable subscription service to play any number of them. So perhaps Project Scorpio will serve as another break from tradition, a powerful console more comparable to a new gaming PC than a platform for a handful of impressive looking games. Will this result in a backlash similar to what was seen when the Xbox One made its original debut in 2013? Time will tell, but a future where Xbox can mean a home for a number of games both old and new, is one worth getting excited about.

For more on Project Scorpio, Microsoft, and VR, check out our chat with Phil Spencer and Aaron Greenberg about all things Xbox