Microsoft wants to shake things up with Project Scorpio in 2017, but without promoting bigger, better exclusive titles, how will it compete with inevitable PS5?
Now that the Nintendo Switch is finally available, it’s time to look down the road at the impending Microsoft vs Sony console war. It might seem like just yesterday that the newest generation of gaming consoles hit store shelves, but it’s already been over three years. By the time the Project Scorpio launches this fall, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One will be four years old, and if the PlayStation 5 does debut in 2018, it’ll be five between it and its predecessor.
Even though some fans had complaints about the mid-cycle PS4 refresh, the PS4 Pro, there’s a lot to be excited about in anticipation of the inevitable PS5. According to a recent report, analysts expect the true PlayStation 4 successor to arrive in the second half of 2018 with well over 10 TFLOPS of GPU performance, significantly more than is expected from Scorpio which Microsoft is promoting as the most powerful console ever made (UPDATE: the specs have been released and they’re as beefy as expected). If the PS5 speculation comes true, that’ll be a short-lived selling point for Xbox.
This isn’t the first time the Xbox has been outmatched when it comes to power, though. Previous generations maintained popularity with the help of a great selection of exclusive games, particularly benefiting from franchises like Halo and Gears of War, but also seeing a boost from Crackdown, Fable II, Forza, and others. It really is about the games.
Scorpio shouldn’t be inherently ruled out just because the PS5 is coming of course. After all, Scorpio will be the most powerful console on the market for at least 6 months or perhaps way longer, but once the two systems find themselves in head-to-head contention, Microsoft is going to need to make a really strong case for why gamers should go with the Scorpio over the PS5. A case that has yet to be made looking at their unimpressive line-up of 2017 exclusives announced last month.
Head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, posted on the official Xbox website a few weeks ago to tease “an Epic Xbox 2017 Games Lineup” and listed Crackdown 3, State of Decay 2, Cuphead, Below, and Sea of Thieves, among a few other lower-profile releases. At a glance, there’s no “killer app” here unless Sea of Thieves really lives up to its potential (our own Rob Keyes loved it at E3 2016), and it’s hard to get excited for a followup to the awfully disappointing Crackdown 2 until more of the third installment is showcased.
Needless to say, none of this looks as particular compelling or impressive as Horizon: Zero Dawn for example, which is why gamers are taking to forums, Reddit, and social media to tackle the issue. In fact, a fan recently tweeted Xbox Games marketing head, Aaron Greenberg, asking about exclusives, and Greenberg didn’t even seem to intent on selling Microsoft’s offerings:
When popular PS4 exclusives titles, Horizon: Zero Dawn and Uncharted 4, are mentioned, Greenberg simply says they’re great and he plays them too and counters by listing titles that aren’t new and hot Xbox releases right now. Either Microsoft has a major ace up its sleeve for E3 (count on it!) to go alongside the Scorpio – and this whole thing is indeed surrounded in secrecy at the moment – or they’re inexplicably actually relying on a followup to the disappointing Crackdown 2 as their killer app this year. Without any legit flagship, buzz-worthy exclusives in 2017 and specifically, for the Scorpio, the system could be dead in the water for many gamers.
Looking at the incredibly busy quarter of video game releases, Halo Wars 2 fell relatively under the radar for Xbox/Windows 10, lost in the shuffle of For Honor, the Nintendo Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild launch, Resident Evil 7 and even Ghost Recon: Wildlands to a certain degree. On the Sony side, exclusives Nioh and Gravity Rush took some attention as well.
By its own admission, Microsoft sees the Scorpio as the beginning of the end for console generations and that’s why it’s a platform that is intended to be seamlessly cross compatible with the Xbox One with games expected to mostly function on Windows 10 PCs as well. Microsoft has outright said the future of the Xbox looks a lot like PC gaming, and while there may be games that exclusively work on Xbox hardware, there are no announced plans for Scorpio exclusive games. Soon – or at E3 as they’re teasing – they need to change the narrative here. The PS4 is far ahead in unit sales compared to the Xbox One and the Scorpio can turn that around only if it avoids the problem Switch has (lack of big games).
The big hitter franchises of yesteryear like Halo and Gears of War aren’t as popular with their core fan bases and the mainstream as they once were, but they can turn that around with the Scorpio. Expect an impressive looking Scorpio-focused Forza Motorsport 7 at E3 and maybe a big surprise or two ready for this holiday season. Wouldn’t it be neat if Halo 6 was announced and supports Xbox Scorpio VR? They need something like that.