Nearly two months have passed since Microsoft revealed their latest iteration of the Xbox, the Xbox One X. A behemoth of a home console, the Xbox One X delivers true 4k gaming through its 6 teraflop GPU, 12GB GDDR5 graphic memory, and 8-core custom AMD CPU. Yet, while fans can find much to love about the console, questions still swirl around the future of the system four months out from its launch.
During Microsoft’s E3 2017 Press Briefing, the company meticulously crafted their message around the impending launch of their new console. Talk of the Xbox One X’s specs, price point, advantages, and features bookended the entire presentation, and announcements concerning games receiving Xbox One X support became a thread throughout the 90-minute conference. However, despite the constant talk about the new system, Microsoft did not simultaneously announce that pre-orders for the console were open to consumers.
Now, with the Nov. 7 release date inching ever closer, fans looking forward to the console’s release still have no way of pre-ordering the system. While sites like Best Buy, GameStop, and Target all have landing pages with product information for the Xbox One X, news of when people can actually start putting money down on the system is scarce. The delay in pre-order availability may be due to a hangup in bureaucracy and not in Microsoft’s strategy. “This device has not been approved by the Federal Communications Commission,” according to the official product page. “It is not for sale until the FCC approval has been obtained.”
However, the latest update regarding pre-orders for the system seems to suggest that the FCC approval is no longer pending. “Our plan is set for this,” Spencer said in response on Twitter to a question regarding the release of Xbox One X pre-orders. “All approvals are done so now just landing the announce with all the info, won’t be too much longer.”
“Won’t be too much longer,” is by no means a concrete answer to the question, and ten days after the tweet, pre-orders for the console have yet to open. If the company is no longer waiting on the FCC to approve the device, as the tweet suggests, then it stands to reason that the ball for opening pre-orders rests firmly within Microsoft’s court.
Yet, with each passing day, the conversation surrounding the Xbox One X fades, and the momentum gained from the reveal back in June slows. Pre-orders play a crucial role in the success of a console launch, especially one as seemingly flawed as the Xbox One X.
Objectively speaking, the Xbox One X offers an impressive amount of technology in a reasonably priced box. Gamers in the know expected a higher price point for the system, especially given the talk about the console being made for “premium customers” in the lead up to its reveal. Nonetheless, many who watched the company’s press briefing experienced a sense of sticker shock when Spencer announced the price.
The conversation of perceived value in gaming, more often than not, stems from a relative comparison — “how does X compare Y in terms of price?” — rather than the actual merits of the technology itself. On that front, Microsoft loses the battle to Sony and itself. Sony offers the PS4 Pro, its premium, yet relatively under-powered machine, for $100 less than the Xbox One X. The new console also rings up at $200 more than the Xbox One S, a hard sell to anyone who doesn’t understand the minutiae of what makes the Xbox One X a better experience than the Xbox One S.
What makes the sell all the more difficult is that, outside of 4k gaming, the Xbox One X doesn’t really offer anything outside of what Microsoft’s other consoles in this generation can already do. The Xbox One S will play all of the same games, run all of the same apps, and allow players to participate in the same multiplayer experiences as the Xbox One X, all at a lower price point.
Even the 4k messaging only lands with a small segment of the gaming audience. “I know they are selling the appeal of 4K, but let’s be real, probably fewer than 10% of US households have a 4KTV, and certainly way less than that in any other developed country,” analyst Michael Pachter said in an interview with GamingBolt. “So who is waiting for this? Next year, maybe around the end of 2017, we’ll probably be closer to 20% US households, and 10% for the rest of the world.”
While consoles have found success through future-proofing in the past, there has to be an immediate appeal for consumers to support a console through to future success. The Xbox One X promises premium 4k experiences to players who currently own the technology, but other than that, the difference between the Xbox One X and Xbox One S is minimal and quite negligible.
Immediately available pre-orders would have allowed consumers to make a lower-risk leap into the freshly announced console without giving them time to consider all of the questions that surround the system itself. Pre-orders give customers an outlet to act on their impulse after seeing the impressive technology. Brick and mortar retailers offer customers the ability to put a little money down in order to secure a console while making incremental payments on the console before it releases. Without giving customers the ability to commit to the purchase of the system immediately after its reveal, Microsoft lost out on the momentum it generated; the same momentum that Nintendo seized after they revealed their latest console, the Switch, making their console launch a hands-down success.
Microsoft learned that how you start with a console launch often dictates how the entirety of that console generation will go. Unfortunately, it seems that the Xbox One X launch may suffer as a result of the bureaucratic red tape that has held back pre-orders. With Gamescom right around the corner, Microsoft has another opportunity to seize some of the lost momentum, but at least some of the damage has already been done. The company would stand to benefit from making the pre-orders available now rather than holding off for some grand announcement even just in the immediate future.