Regardless of your thoughts on the recently revealed specs for Microsoft’s “enhanced” Xbox One, Project Scorpio, fact is that the console will be the most powerful on the market when it launches at the end of 2017.
That alone isn’t enough to mark Scorpio down as a sure thing, because Microsoft is fighting an uphill battle from further back than any major player has been before.
Had the Xbox One entered 2017 with a more appealing catalogue of exclusives — both released and forthcoming — then the Scorpio would probably be the hottest item going around.
The reality, however, is that the console stands as merely a box of impressive tech, and Microsoft is banking a lot on that alone to reestablish a relationship with developers.
Its philosophy is clear and coherent: turn the tables by hitting the market as the most powerful console available. That might just shape Scorpio as both a must-have for consumers, and a piece of tech that developers — both big and small — just have to develop for.
But it’s a chicken-egg scenario: you can’t get the consumer without the games, and you can’t get the games without the consumer.
Scorpio stands as a reboot of the Xbox One era, and Microsoft appears intent on shaping its existence as more than just an “upgrade” over Xbox One: this is to be the console Xbox One was supposed to be.
And I don’t mean technically: I mean as a device that fulfils the wants and needs of the most hardcore of gamer, that projects an identity of being as “pro” gamer as possible. Scorpio isn’t meant to be for families: this is for the gamer prepared to drop $3,000 on a top-of-the-line 4K TV.
Microsoft’s breakdown ahead of the Xbox One’s launch — its shift towards an all-out entertainment box — was no surprise. That it so condescendingly forced anti-gamer restrictions and rhetoric on fans is what saw its dedicated “day one” fanbase cut in half overnight.
You would be hard-pressed to find as colossal a stuff-up in gaming history. Microsoft went into this generation neck-and-neck with Sony and PlayStation. The 360 had been a huge success, and this next console was supposed to be a sure thing. Somehow, Microsoft fluffed the unfluffable. It would be comical if it wasn’t so depressing for we diehard Xbots.
Scorpio is a day one for me, but probably for the very reason Microsoft has invested so much in Scorpio to begin with: I need something new, something to justify why I prefer Xbox over PlayStation.
It’s not merely like the end of the 360’s life, where it was a matter of simply moving on into a new generation. No, Scorpio is here to make amends.
The biggest roadblock for Microsoft, however, is not what the Scorpio can offer. The company knows where it went wrong with Xbox One to begin with, and where it went wrong over the past 12 months.
In hindsight, however, it’s clear that Microsoft shifted its focus to Scorpio long ago, and that the Xbox One has been buying time before the “true” Xbox vision is released.
The roadblock is the competition. Scorpio is still going to be battling perceptions of shallow exclusivity. There’s the battle against the PS4 Pro, which is a great console and has extended the console’s life by an additional 2-3 years. Sony is probably too comfortable right now, but it can afford to be.
The Switch has also demonstrated — again — that unique, high-quality and consistent experiences have significant market value, regardless of the power of the hardware.
So how does Microsoft sell a $500 console during what is already an established console generation, next to a unique platform in Switch that has an exciting next 12 months?
I can’t think of an E3 that has been so important for one company more than E3 2017 is for Microsoft and Scorpio. Even with some huge wins with the likes of Games with Gold and backwards compatibility, Microsoft’s shallow exclusivity pool has kept the pre-launch fire burning.
Even as it so suddenly changed philosophy and won back a few of its diehards, it faced an uphill battle that was — and always has been — impossible to win.
We know the tech, we know the engine that drives the car. But is Scorpio a custom Datsun Sports, or a Ferrari with all the extras?