Microsoft still finds itself battling perceptions of confusion with the quasi-unveiling of its new/upgraded home console, codenamed Scorpio.
Whether its specs reveal last week via Digital Foundry was the right thing or not is still up for debate, but it’s clear at this point that the company isn’t holding anything back when it comes to the console’s power and potential.
The problem, however, is that it’s still on a journey. This isn’t a new console and a fresh start at the beginning of a new generation: this is an updated looking to make amends.
Scorpio along with PS4 Pro represent a fascinating shift in the approach to the home console. The Pro was marketed as — and has been seen as — a slick but not necessarily a must-have upgrade. Scorpio is certainly similar in purpose, although you could argue that Microsoft is hoping its own upgrade can achieve more for the brand broadly than what Pro has been able to for PlayStation.
What I mean by that is that the PS4 didn’t need the Pro, but the Xbox One needs the Scorpio. This is a console that must reestablish and reignite the Xbox brand.
It can do that, but Microsoft needs to hit five key benchmarks.
A responsible price point
Eurogamer — who published the preview and saw the console first-hand — predicts the console will ship for US$499, which was the same price as the Xbox One at launch in North America.
That’s feasible, as component prices have dropped in the four years since, and while Scorpio may have cost well over $1,000 in November of 2013, it could well fit within the $499 mark some four years later.
If it does fall within the $499 US price, that means we should expect somewhere in the $599 range in Australia, which is what Xbox One cost when it launched here.
Microsoft probably doesn’t want to push the console into the $500 mark, as it would appear increasingly unappealing next to the PS4 Pro — a great and powerful piece of hardware — and Nintendo Switch.
The Pro launched for $399 US, but was $560 in Australia. Even though Microsoft is indeed going for the “core” gaming audience with Scorpio — one that is heavily invested in digital and 4K technology — it still doesn’t want to sell expensive hardware in a saturated market.
A $599 price in Australia is realistic should it be $499 — as expected — in the US. However, it could well push into the $650 mark Down Under.
There’s no point releasing new hardware and focusing so stringently on the specs without having the software to back it up.
Now we obviously know that the first-party credentials are going to be strong, and Forza Motorsport 7 has already shown to be up and running at 60fps in 4K.
Third parties will surely support it in the same way they have the PS4 Pro. The Xbox One’s lacking exclusives lineup, however, simply cannot carry over to Scorpio.
Gamers need a reason for the upgrade so quickly. This is a pricy investment that demands a 4K television, so the software can really be the only way to justify the upgrade.
Games like Crackdown 3 might help, but aside from that the blockbuster exclusives lineup is thin. Microsoft has already played its hand with Halo and Gears of War this generation. Forza stands as an exciting way to showcase the console’s capabilities, and we all know it’ll be amazing.
But Scorpio needs more experiences like Quantum Break, and these games need to break through the ceiling and scream “Scorpio”.
Some in the industry have argued that exclusivity may not be what makes or breaks Scorpio. But the console is already battling perceptions of excessive power, and we all know that first-party titles get the best out of utilising hardware to its full potential.
As I waited for the Scorpio specs unveiling, I didn’t expect it to be as in-depth and complicated as it was.
Even having a basic understanding of the technology and meanings, I got lost in a lot of what was being described.
Microsoft says Scorpio is for the “core” gamer. Not to understate how technically literate that audience is, but throwing specs at the audience is impressive only for a short while without truly understanding how the tech works, and whether developers actually like making games for it.
The PS3 for example was a beast, and Sony threw specs at us as a means to justify the launch price.
What transpired for the next 3-4 years saw the console struggle for third-party exclusivity and deals, as developers fought growing pains to familiarise themselves with the tech.
It eventually fought through that on its way to a super successful generation, but the Scorpio faces different challenges. It’s coming at perhaps the Xbox brand’s lowest ebb, and it’s battling the market dominance of the PS4. Specs probably won’t be all that does it.
Appealing to a market that has invested in 4K is one thing, but now that the technobabble is out of the way, it’s time to utilise times like E3 to really showcase the console in action.
A clear, consistent message
It’s no secret that Microsoft fluffed the Xbox One’s reveal. Even with all the technobabble of the spec reveal, at least the message is consistent: this is a powerful gaming console, aimed at the hardcore crowd that is willing to invest in top-of-the-line hardware.
Sony did the same with the PS4 Pro, and there was no mincing just who the console was made for.
Scorpio’s 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.
Reestablishment with the Xbox core
A combination of the above four points might win back some of the core Xbox fanbase from its first two generations, a market that has seemingly jumped ship to the PS4 and may opt for the Switch as its second console.
Scorpio, however, can kickstart the Xbox brand, and establish itself as the “main” console, with either the PS4 or Switch as a secondary option.
That’s a massive challenge for Microsoft, but it’s possible. It can’t mince its word, it can’t avoid the demand for exclusives, it can’t cancel its games, and it can’t price itself out of the market.
Importantly, it can’t for a second forget what Xbox stands for. Scorpio is powerful, and it plays games and streams in native 4K. But that’s what it can do. It’s what surrounds the console that ultimately matters, and it could be the reboot Microsoft and Xbox need to crawl back that once passionate fanbase.