We're at E3 2017 covering the year's biggest gaming event. Be sure to check out all our coverage on our E3 2017 hub!
Microsoft's Xbox press conference for E3 2017 is over and done, and it was a monster that clocked in at nearly two hours. And, to give Microsoft due credit, most of those two hours were packed with games.
There was a nice balance between trailers and live gameplay footage, plus there was little time wasted on extended play sessions between esports competitors [cough] or musical performances by one of those hip bands the kids love.
But there was still a six teraflop-sized elephant in the room that threw a shadow over the reveal of Assassin's Creed Origins, made us temporarily forget the excellent news about Minecraft's cross-platform play, and interrupted our mourning for the sad baby owl in Ori and the Will of the Wisps. Microsoft's "Project Scorpio" 4K upgrade for the Xbox One, now officially called the Xbox One X, has a hefty price tag attached to it: $499 US dollars.
The instant, easy response to Xbox One X's price point is, "Who wants to pay that much money for a system that has no games?" That's disingenuous, though. Microsoft's conference demonstrates a lot of great games are coming to Xbox One. And while not every game we saw today needs to be experienced in 4K, I can certainly see the appeal for people who intend to pick up Forza 7 Motorsport.
Here's the rub, though: Nearly every Xbox One game we saw today is also coming to Windows 10 and / or the PlayStation 4. Most players who cherish peak game performance already have great gaming PCs. They don't need an $499 Xbox One, liquid-cooled processor or no.
The Xbox One X just doesn't have enough exclusivity to lure people in. If we can learn anything from the success of the Nintendo Switch – and the success of Nintendo portables in general – it's that impressive-looking console hardware numbers don't mean a heck of a lot to 95% of the gaming population. People generally don't care if a game system is powered by a hamster running on a wheel made of toothpicks and chewing gum; they just want to know what that system can offer over every other system on the store shelf. Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8, and the Switch's portability won people over almost instantly even though the system's hardware isn't very powerful, and its software is under-cooked.
Again, the games we saw at the press conference today looked great. But I already know they're not locked out of the vanilla Xbox One (which would be an incredibly silly thing for Microsoft to do, of course), so I don't have to dish out $499 to play them. My Xbox One will suffice, plus my PC runs Windows 10. Simply put, there's no reason for me to buy the Xbox One X even though I'm an avid game player, and I doubt I'm alone on this one.
Another problem for the Xbox One X: Sony beat Microsoft to the console upgrade punch by over six months with the PlayStation 4 Pro. Sony hasn't been forthcoming with sales numbers for the PS4 Pro, but the tittle-tattle in the industry is that it's doing pretty OK, maybe. As Mike points out in his review of the system, the PS4 Pro serves a small niche – probably a little smaller than Sony hoped, if it's not offering up any numbers.
What's this have to do with the Xbox One X's future? Well, consider that PlayStation 4 is currently outselling the Xbox One by quite a large margin, and the lukewarm response to the PlayStation 4 represents a niche in a sizeable fanbase. According to reports, the PlayStation 4 is outselling the Xbox One two-to-one in North America – and maybe even three-to-one in Europe.
So, halve the PlayStation 4's user base, and you have the Xbox One's user base. Then cut out a small slice of the already-diminished pie to represent the people who might be interested in a 4K / processing upgrade. Remove the (potentially) enticing prospect of a proprietary VR headset that's engineered to take advantage of that extra processing power. Then charge $499 for the whole shebang -- $100 over what Sony asks for the PlayStation 4 Pro.
When you finish adding the sums and carrying the 1's, you get an idea of how hard Microsoft needs to work to sell us on the Xbox One X. From my angle at this point in time (shout-out to any future-Nadias reading back on this), there's no reason for the Xbox One X to exist.
The darker, conspiracy-driven chamber of my heart wonders if Microsoft doesn't realize this, too. There's a long-running rumor that Microsoft wants to drop the Xbox entirely, after which it could theoretically focus on making games for Windows 10. If the Xbox One X spins out, it'd be a great excuse to pull out of the console market and dedicate those six teraflops of power to PC development.
It almost sounds reasonable at first blush. Then again, so did "Nintendo should go third-party" in the GameCube era.