A first impression is often a lasting one, and this is as much true of a video game console’s launch as it is a limp handshake or a lack of eye contact. Sega learned the hard way with the Saturn, Sony with the PS3, and Microsoft with the Xbox One; a successful launch is vital to winning a “console war”. More than just creating a buzz by touting cutting-edge tech, though, a console’s strong beginnings are about establishing momentum and ensuring it continues to snowball.
Microsoft is now seeking to execute that strategy with its upcoming Project Scorpio console, and it all starts with a new E3 conference date. By moving that date forward, Microsoft aims to aggressively plant its flagpole in the ground, triumphantly touting its upcoming Project Scorpio console, and affording itself some extra time for gamers to marinate on its specs. It’s a clever move, bolder and less reactive than what we’ve seen from Microsoft this generation, but there’s still a big potential problem with Scorpio’s design that could undermine that initiative.
Having been soundly beaten commercially by Sony’s PS4, Microsoft is rather in need of hitting the reset button and regaining the initiative. Scorpio should provide the perfect platform to achieve that: the ultimate response to PS4 Pro that moves the goalposts so far beyond its competition that it effectively reinvents the game. The upcoming console has the power to facilitate developers to make prettier, larger, and more ambitious games than anything available on PlayStation.
Or at least, it does on paper. But in practice, committed to marketing the console as part of a shared ecosystem with no exclusive content from the base Xbox One, Microsoft is actually sending Scorpio into battle with one hand tied behind its back. Despite loudly trumpeting its strong performance, Scorpio will only afford boosted visuals and framerates, not a full generational leap – this sounds awfully similar to the PS4 Pro mandate. If this does ends up being the whole of Scorpio’s story, I’d suggest that stifling its design for a halfway house upgrade is somewhat of an unforced error. Most important, this conservative strategy could well end up being a missed opportunity, handing the initiative straight back to Sony moving forward into the next generation.
It really is a strange decision, especially given Phil Spencer’s insistence that Scorpio is not a reaction to PS4 Pro. But then again, Microsoft’s messaging about iterative consoles and Scorpio hasn’t been especially clear from the start, trying to appease Xbox One owners with one hand and attempting to deliver a knockout punch to Sony with the other.
Even if Microsoft is confident in a premium device that churns out 60fps and 4K gaming better than Sony’s PS4 Pro, I’m not actually sure many gamers’ expectations are measured in line with that precedent. Scorpio’s graphical and processing qualities invite rhetoric in support of a more ambitious jump in quality, further encouraged by Microsoft’s hot and cold messaging in the build up to the console’s reveal.
Microsoft’s CEO, Phil Spencer, had actually originally suggested Microsoft wouldn’t make a premium system unless it offered a significant jump in capability. But what he meant was… well, exactly what he said; Microsoft would offer a premium console, but with a much more significant amount of horsepower than PS4 Pro. Was this a trolling, of sorts? A jibe at Sony’s efforts while trying to simultaneously add more punch to Scorpio’s big reveal, or was it just Spencer backtracking? Certainly, Scorpio’s specifications do make Pro seem rather underwhelming by comparison, but without exclusive content, games aren’t likely to benefit any more than PS4 Pro games do, with faster frame rate boosts or up-scaled 4K visuals. What is the point of Scorpio’s big engine if Microsoft isn’t going to go pedal to the metal?