A lot of announcements were made throughout E3 2018, but one of the primary takeaways happened at the very end of Microsoft’s show. Head of Xbox Phil Spencer announced, rather casually, that Microsoft’s hardware teams are currently “deep in development of the next Xbox systems”. Notice that phrasing—”systems”. That’s plural. It does appear that the next-gen Xbox will be a family of systems rather than just a single unit like we’re used to. Would it work if Microsoft were to launch multiple systems simultaneously? Most likely.
The current generation has been rather strange, to the say the least. Nintendo went ahead and introduced a whole new platform just when the generation was coming into its own, but Sony and Microsoft really pulled the rug from under everyone by launching mid-gen upgrades to their existing platforms in the form of the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. It’s a common occurrence in the console industry for hardware revisions to come about every so often, but not entire upgrades like the Pro and X. While there was a bit of backlash from some in the fan communities when these systems were announced (myself included), the negativity has pretty much worn off at this point. But, the strangeness hasn’t.
You see, the thing about the Pro and the X that has always confused me (and several others) is that these systems were released square in the middle of the life cycles of their base counterparts. This made a lot of folks understandably feel slighted, especially those that had just purchased the base systems right before these premium models were announced. On top of that, the Pro and the X haven’t served as replacements to the base models; they’re simply compliments. That’s what led to me to raise the question before: “what’s the purpose behind the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X?”
Before, I settled on the thought that perhaps because the 7th-gen lasted so long, the PS4 and Xbox One were technically delayed. So, developers had quickly moved ahead to a point where they wanted more powerful hardware, and thus, possibly pushed both companies to deliver upgraded systems. I still stand by this theory, but now with the aforementioned statement from Phil Spencer about the future of Xbox, I think a new answer to my question has been provided—the console business is changing.
The arrival of the mid-gen upgrades has changed the way console generations work.
Up until now, the format for any given system is that it’s launched and would typically remain on the frontlines of the market for about five or six years; then its successor would be released. Wash, rinse, repeat—this is what we’re all accustomed to. But, with the release of the Pro and the X, Sony and Microsoft have formally introduced console owners to something that’s existed in many other businesses for quite some time: the format of “pay more, get more”.
Think about it. When booking a plane ticket, a lot of airlines offer different seating tiers: Economy, Business and First Class. It’s the same plane, going on the exact same route, but your ticket determines the kind of experience you’ll have throughout this single flight. Hotels are the same: you can book a room in a hotel, but can choose between a basic, deluxe or premium option. It’s the same hotel, but your stay there will be different depending on which type of room you can afford. To bring it closer to home, think about other devices. Many flagship phones come in a basic and deluxe model nowadays (like the iPhone 8/iPhone 8+). What about computers? When buying a pre-built desktop PC or a gaming laptop, there are often different hardware configurations that go for different prices. If you want a better processor, more RAM and more/faster storage, for instance, then you pay more. Really, it’s this business model right here what Sony and Microsoft have introduced console gamers to with the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. And, if Microsoft really does launch multiple next-gen Xbox systems, then it will show that it has completely embraced this business model. But, the question still remains—could this work? In short, yes.
I’ve already provided multiple examples of how this business model is being implemented with other products/services. I could list more, but I think what I mentioned should suffice. The point is, people are already used to the “pay more, get more” mentality. With that being the case, you can say that console gamers have had things kind of easy up until this point. Until the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X launched, everything was pretty much equal each generation. But now, there’s fragmentation within the platforms themselves. The Pro and X can do things that the base PS4 and Xbox One simply can’t. You can say it’s unfair, but is it really?
Now we have platform fragmentation, but it isn’t that big of a deal.
Consoles are now catching onto trends present in the rest of the tech industry.
What would truly be unfair is if Sony and Microsoft allowed developers to exclusively release games on the Pro and X. Thankfully, that isn’t the case (for now, at least). And really, this dynamic is actually beneficial for everyone. For one, consumers get to buy the system that best fits their budget; a $200 Xbox One S is a lot easier on the wallet than a $500 Xbox One X. Developers also benefit because they get to fully realize their technological visions on the more powerful hardware. Sure, they still have to accommodate the weaker systems, but at least the tech that can do everything they want is available. Finally, the console makers themselves also benefit because everyone else is happy. They aren’t rubbing anyone the wrong way, which makes them not only look good, but it boosts the support from developers and business from consumers.
So, when you look at it this way, a multi-console launch could actually end up being one of the best ideas that Microsoft has had in a long time. Again, the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One X have already introduced console gamers to the idea of having two versions of the same machine. At this point, this idea which was once foreign has now pretty much been accepted by the majority. So, there’s nothing really holding Microsoft (and Sony) back from adopting this as their new format going forward.
What it really all boils down to is the fact that consoles are catching up with the rest of the tech world. What I mean by that is, when consoles first came about, they were pretty much the highest standard in the realm of consumer electronics. Nowadays, that’s changed. PC and mobile technology advancements have been progressing at an exceptional rate. Meanwhile, consoles have stuck to the half-decade upgrade format for all these years, until now. So, really, things were going to change sooner or later. Now, we’re seeing those changes unfold right before our eyes today. If the next-gen systems really do launch around 2020 or 2021, then we could end up getting our first real look at them as early as next year. Perhaps around this same time next year, I’ll be writing an article to share my thoughts on the announcement of the Next-Xbox.
It will be very interesting to see what Microsoft brings to its E3 stage next year.