The Xbox One X is a very impressive system from a technological perspective. Even though Microsoft has been continuously touting the hardware specs for about a year now, I still find it pretty amazing the engineers managed to fit such powerful hardware into a sleek form factor with a somewhat reasonable price tag. Now that the launch of the system is upon us, though, I’m left wondering: why exactly does this system exist?
Some of you may have already jumped to the answer that Microsoft itself has given: the Xbox One is for the hardcore console gamers who want the best possible experience. This system was designed to appeal to players who want a ‘premium’ console, hence the reason why Microsoft has been pushing the ‘true 4K’ buzz term since last year.
Indeed, the Xbox One X really does fit this role. Like it or not, this is the most powerful console to hit the market yet by a pretty noticeable degree. But that’s just the thing: it’s so ambitious. Microsoft didn’t just want to create a mid-generation upgrade; it wanted to make the best possible mid-generation upgrade. While it’s certainly commendable that the company is trying to cater specifically to the core console gamer market, the reality is that this is a niche group of consumers. In fact, even Phil Spencer (the Head of Xbox) has admitted that he’s expecting the Xbox One S to outsell the Xbox One X.
So, if this is the case, then why on earth would Microsoft be trying this hard? Why put such great effort into designing a premium console that was no doubt expensive to create and probably won’t generate much profit when you have a much more economical system already on the market? Well, it’s probably because Microsoft isn’t trying to push the Xbox One: it’s trying to push the Xbox brand as a whole.
The Xbox One X’s probable true purpose is to reinvigorate trust in the Xbox brand as a whole.
I still find it quite odd that both Microsoft and Sony just so happen to have the exact same idea to create 4K-capable mid-generation upgrades to their existing 8th-gen systems. Either both companies have spies or they actually discuss plans with one another. There’s also the likelihood of major studios like EA, Activision and Ubisoft telling them both to release more powerful hardware since the PS4 and Xbox One took so long to replace their predecessors. Whatever the case may truly be, the point is that both Microsoft and Sony have delivered these mid-generation upgrades, but they took very different routes.
Last generation, Sony tried it’s hardest to deliver a powerful system in the form of the PS3. It was a cutting-edge machine for its time, but this power was locked behind an architecture that was far too complicated for most studios to take full advantage of it. As a result, Sony went back to the drawing board and was able to deliver a system that was both powerful and easy to work within the form of the PS4. While the Xbox One turned out to be pretty similar to the PS4, Sony had the upper hand. This was a big point of controversy for Microsoft back in 2013 when both consoles launched, and several titles were rendered at 900p or less on Xbox One while they were at full 1080p on PS4.
Fast-forward to now, and it’s clear that the positions have changed. Now, Microsoft once again has the upper hand thanks to the X being noticeably more powerful than even the Pro. But, how did this happen? Well, on top of the hardware difference, Microsoft made a lot of other bad decisions early on with the Xbox One. Some examples are the forced inclusion of the Kinect (resulting in the whole system being $100 more expensive than the PS4 at launch), DRM policies, and focus on TV/movies over games. All of this led to the PS4 basically winning the competition before it really even began. This can clearly be seen today as PS4 shipments are over 67 million units currently, whereas the Xbox One is unofficially in the ballpark of 30-40 million. Since the PS4 has been on top since the generation began, the PlayStation execs probably thought that the PS4 Pro didn’t need to be overly-ambitious to win over the masses. As a result, Sony took a more lax approach and focused on doing just enough to get the system to render at 4K (even if that means it being upscaled most of the time). This, in turn, kept the price competitive too. Microsoft, on the other hand, has been on a redemption mission.
The PS4 Pro is modest because Sony is already on top. Microsoft has to fight to prove the Xbox platform’s worth.
Since so many missteps were made with the Xbox One before it even launched, the system basically stumbled out of the gate when it was released. After Phil Spencer took the reigns a few years ago, things began to look up, but the damage was already done. The gap between PS4 and Xbox One is too wide for Microsoft to do anything to truly catch up. No doubt, Phil, and his team know this. But, that’s why I said earlier that the X isn’t meant to truly push the Xbox One platform any further. It exists to restore faith in Xbox as a brand.
What Microsoft is trying to do is show gamers that it’s willing to push the envelope. It wants to win back the hearts of all the consumers who converted over to PlayStation back when this generation began; Microsoft wants to regain their trust. That’s why the Xbox One X has continuously been marketed as being the ‘best place to play.’ Microsoft wants to get people in that mindset right now with the hope it will result in true positive returns in the future. Microsoft has the money to let the Xbox One X out on the market with no real expectation of it turning a profit. Ultimately, the goal is to pave the way for the next true Xbox system; the successor to the ‘One’ family.
Now, in all honesty, this is just my own theory. But, think about it: why else would Microsoft do this? If Microsoft itself is expecting to sell more One S consoles than One X, then why bother making the ‘premium’ system in the first place? Even if every single owner of the original XBO and the One S upgraded to the One X, that would still be far less than the amount of PS4/PS4 Pro units, not to mention there’s no way sales from newcomers to Xbox One would boost fast enough to close the gap. That’s why it makes sense that the One X only exists to make Xbox as a whole look good again. This is a comeback story in the making. Will it work out? Only time will tell.