My very first job involved gaming. It was a store in my local area, Video Game Exchange, a smaller equivalent of the EB Games, Funcolands, and GameStops of my day. Every day I'd go to the store, stand there, and drink in all the new games. Eventually, the store manager and my mom worked together to get me a work permit, and I started selling games at retail at the age of 16.
I was in retail for a long time. Even once I had a higher paying job as a bartender, I worked part-time at a nearby GameStop. Perhaps retail and customers have changed drastically in the last years since I worked in various stores, but I doubt it.
This is all a preamble to the reveal that Microsoft has a second next generation console called the Xbox Series S. The information came via the packaging of a new version of the Xbox controller. This second console is an open secret, with its codename being Project Lockhart, an alternative model of the new Xbox. It's allegedly meant to be the cheaper, lower-power entry into Microsoft's upcoming platform. Xbox Series X is the high-end Ferrari, Series S is the Toyota Corolla. We don't even know if Lockhart will be more powerful than the Xbox One X, though rumors have pointed toward the negative.
As the word of the Xbox Series S filters through the internet, I'm seeing more talk about Microsoft's particular naming scheme. "As somebody who hasn't had an Xbox since 360, their whole naming scheme is awfully confusing. I feel like they've been talking about the same consoles for years now," writes Reddit user Niccin.
Here's the thing: The average consumer has absolutely no idea about consoles at all. You would think the differentiation between the PlayStation and the PlayStation 2 would be clear. Or the clear gulf between the Xbox and Xbox 360. Surely, the bigger number is enough for that hapless parent to get it right? Easy mental leap to make. I'm here to tell you that's not the case.
I remember trying to desperately explain the difference between the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 to one pair of parents, despite there being a clear delineation between price, library, and logos. I caught the tail end of the jump from the Nintendo DS to the 3DS, and I've never seen such nonsense from customers, insisting that store clerks had no idea what they were talking about. I literally had a father rail at me for 30 minutes, during the holiday shopping season, because he was certain there were Mario games for PlayStation 2.
These consumers weren't avid game players, so finding the product they wanted was always a chore, and I'm sure that hasn't changed. Trying to get someone who wanted, say, Medal of Honor was a mess of detective work, guiding them through Call of Duty, Battlefield, and the rest. And I'm certain half of those folks went home with the wrong game. I know this because they came back and returned them.
Microsoft's problem won't be naming, it'll be marketing. People point to the Wii and Wii U issue as a gotcha, but here's the thing: many enthusiasts couldn't tell you if the Wii U was just a tablet attachment or an entirely new console during the announcement. This was because Nintendo spent most of its time marketing the controller, and if you squinted, the console looked exactly the same. But again, that's a marketing issue and even with great marketing, retail store clerks are still having that discussion with customers. All proper marketing is changing is how short the conversation is between interest and purchase.
Will consumers be confused by the difference between the Xbox One X, Xbox Series X, and Xbox Series S? Of course they will. Naming the latter two the Xbox 5 and Xbox 5 Lite really wouldn't change that much. I know this because I've seen that confusion, even with traditional numerical naming, firsthand. I'm sure Best Buy clerks are still struggling with customers over which Apple tablet they need: the iPad Pro, iPad Air, iPad, or iPad mini. And that's before you get to updated models and screen sizes. But we don't hand-wring over the customer confusion there, because it's not our market.
I bring up the iPad because Microsoft is actually trending in that direction with this console generation. The bleed between the One generation and the Series generation is wide, with backward compatibility and Smart Delivery making it much easier for the average consumer to buy a game and know it'll play on any of the systems. Accessory compatibility is another boon here, as your Xbox One controller will work on the Series X, and the leaked Xbox Series X controller? That'll work on the One as well!
Again, am I saying there will be no confusion? Of course not. (There's a reason SEO-friendly articles like this exist.) But I am saying this confusion has always been there, in most retail interactions, regardless of how well you think the product differentiation has been made. Microsoft's "play anywhere" thrust for this generation helps it survive this problem much better than the hard cut off of previous generations.
Microsoft's problems with this generation won't be rooted in the naming of the Series X and Series S. It'll be whether it can explain to the customer why Xbox is the place to buy all its games; the platform that will make it easy to discover new, fun games. This is where the Wii U faltered, and why all the Wii U's marquee games have done vastly better in making the (albeit slow) transition to the Switch. Can Microsoft pull it off? I admit that I'm skeptical, considering we're months out from launch and we don't even have a full announcement of the Xbox Series S, or the price for either console.
Either way, I weep for the retail store clerks trying to explain the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 4 Pro, PlayStation 5, Switch, Switch Lite, Xbox One, Xbox One X, Xbox Series X, and Xbox Series S during a pandemic.
Major Game Releases: August 10 to August 14
Here are the major releases for the week of August 10 to August 14. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2020.
- Hyper Scape [August 11 for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One]: Ubisoft's foray into the battle royale space begins. Hyper Scape takes us to the future, where a virtual game is all the rage, and you're one of the contestants. Will a focus on more verticality and upgraded weapons allow Hyper Scape to stand out in a market with Fortnite, PUBG, and Call of Duty: Warzone?
- Risk of Rain 2 [August 11 for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch]: Risk of Rain started from humble beginnings as a student project that became a Kickstarter and then a hit indie. Now the developer is back, taking the roguelike shooter into the third dimension. Risk of Rain 2 has been in early access until now, but the buzz has been overwhelmingly positive on Steam already. Now everyone will get a chance to shoot, loot, and survive once again.
- A Total War Saga: Troy [August 13 for PC via Epic Games Store]: Creative Assembly's Total War series has mined a number of eras in history and gone full fantasy with Total War: Warhammer, but now it's trying a game that splits the difference. Taking players back to the Trojan War, A Total War Saga: Troy tries to find the reality within the myth. Dive into the legends of the Minotaur, Achilles, and more in this strategy experience.
- EA Sports UFC 4 [August 14 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One]: EA Sports tackles UFC in the octagon again. This time around, the developers are aiming to make a game that's a bit more accessible to casual fans, while ensuring a great fighting simulation for hardcore fans. Oh, and EA is currently "exploring opportunities" for UFC 4 on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, but there's been no confirmed announcement for the game on those platforms or PC.
Five Things You Should Know Heading Into This Week In Gaming
- The Xbox Series S is real. When the Xbox Series X was still called "Project Scarlett," there was a rumored younger sibling for the console code-named Lockhart. Thanks to new Xbox controller packaging that has leaked early, we know that Lockhart is the Xbox Series S. We still don't know when either of the Xbox Series consoles will launch, nor do we have price tags, but hey… Lockhart is real!
- Microsoft and Google are feuding with Apple over cloud gaming. The Apple App Store is a juggernaut in the industry, as it's the only access to more than 1.4 billion Apple devices. The problem is Apple is staunchly opposed to allowing apps to make money without Apple getting its 30% cut. This stipulation means that cloud gaming services like Project xCloud and Google Stadia, which rely on subscriptions and other purchases, are being shut out. Apple says this is because it can't review the content on these services, but people have pointed out that that's not an issue for services like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+. Microsoft forcefully stated that Apple is trying to "deny consumers" access to cloud gaming services. Will things change? Probably not, as Apple remains one of the largest companies worldwide, with no challenge to its dominance.
- Street Fighter Producer Yoshinori Ono is leaving Capcom. For years, Yoshinori Ono has stewarded the Street Fighter brand over at Capcom. The producer and Blanka fan has done his best to keep Street Fighter and fighting games in general alive at the publisher, but it seems his watch is over. In a statement on Twitter, Ono confirmed he was leaving Capcom. Street Fighter 5 is still receiving new characters, but Ono's comments about "the new Street Fighter brand" leads us to believe Street Fighter 6 is already in the works.
- Fall Guys is a certified hit. Mediatonic's alternate take on battle royale is proving to be a massive success. Fall Guys launched on Steam last week, and according to Devolver Digital, it's one of the publisher's biggest games, having sold over 2 million copies already. And that's not counting players on PS4, who are largely playing for free thanks to its PlayStation Plus access for the month of August.
- Rocksteady is teasing a Suicide Squad game. Despite working on the beloved Batman: Arkham series, Rocksteady Studios hasn't released a game since Batman: Arkham VR in 2016. Rumors were that the studio was working on a Superman game, but Rocksteady threw kryptonite on those rumors back in 2018. Instead, it's revealed Suicide Squad, a game that will have a more robust announcement at the upcoming DC FanDome on August 22. No other details about the game have been released, but rumors point to an online co-op experience, not unlike Crystal Dynamics' upcoming Marvel's Avengers.
Axe of the Blood God for August 10, 2020
Axe of the Blood God is our official RPG podcast releasing every single Monday. You can find subscription info here. We also put out an Axe of the Blood God newsletter every Wednesday, which you can subscribe to here.
This week, Kat and Nadia talk about the RPG legacy of Nintendo DS. The World Ends With You is getting an anime soon, but other titles like Etrian Odyssey, Dragon Quest 9, and Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood cemented the DS as home to some very unique RPG experiences. Listen to them talk about Nintendo's "third pillar" and their initial reactions to the portable system.