Nothing generates a buzz across the video gaming industry like the reveal of new hardware. Scorpio is finally here and its status as an absolute powerhouse of a console is confirmed. It can, indeed, run high fidelity 4K graphics all at a glorious 60fps, and the specs live up to those boasted at last year’s E3.
Project Scorpio looks set to push console gaming forward with its native 4K 60fps experiences in a way the PS4 Pro’s upscaling has yet to fully achieve. Yet, despite my confidence that Scorpio represents a more valuable iterative upgrade than Sony’s, I can’t shake an overwhelming deja vu of last year’s E3. As good as Scorpio looks, does Xbox really have the software to remain relevant in the face of Sony’s lightning start to 2017?
Games, games, games; Sony’s own E3 2016 presser delivered a very clear message, and the Japanese giant hasn’t dropped the ball on that promise. There’s no question that 2017 is off to a flying start across the whole video gaming industry, but there’s also no question as to who is leading the charge. With Nioh, NieR: Automata, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Persona 5, the PlayStation 4 is home to quality exclusives and its Pro iteration still remains the most capable device to play everything else. Sony’s momentum is palpable; a seemingly unstoppable tidal wave that shows no signs of washing out. With so many tantalizing exclusive games on the horizon, who would bet against the first two “year(s) of dreams” becoming a trilogy?
But rather than looking ahead at the future of Sony exclusives, I don’t want to brush over the significance of Q1 2017. While the parity between both PS4 and Xbox One’s library of games has been tipping in favor of Sony for quite some time, the past three months have really highlighted a gulf in quality and quantity. The PS4 is building a seriously good catalog of games, and in doing so, has made it difficult for Microsoft to claw back lost ground. The eighth generation may have begun as a story of shared, multi-platform content, but after Q1 2017, that’s most definitely no longer the case.
For newcomers entering the games market, there’s just too many superb PS4 exclusive titles to recommend the Xbox One over its main competitor. And similarly, there are too few quality Microsoft first party titles currently releasing and on the horizon to make a convincing case for its own repertoire, either. What this all boils down to is that more than ever, this latest cluster of critically-acclaimed PS4 titles is winning over the lion’s share of the gaming market to team PlayStation.
Although the cat is finally out of the bag with Scorpio’s specifications, Microsoft still has it all to do when it comes to rebalancing the scales in its favor. Because even in an industry that is unquestionably obsessed with graphical fidelity, software remains the life and blood of a console’s success. Yes, the PS4 edged out a considerable lead even without any exclusive games, but that was as a result of Microsoft’s poor reveal of the original Xbox One. Sony has not rested on its laurels and the brand has kicked on from the nascent success thanks to a host of critically-acclaimed exclusive titles. We’ve witnessed a similar outcome with Nintendo’s Switch, whose early successes have most definitely been helped by a stellar exclusive on the system and its dying predecessor in Breath of the Wild.
Clearly, the importance of software’s role in ensuring the Xbox’s continued survival isn’t lost on Microsoft. Speaking with Eurogamer, Mike Ybarra, Corporate Vice President of Xbox, explained that winning “the hearts and minds of developers” is at the core of Scorpio’s design philosophy. Microsoft hopes to achieve this by providing a platform that lets “them (developers) create the absolute best versions of those games.”
Microsoft has, therefore, identified that Scorpio’s ability to “save” the Xbox brand still rests firmly with focusing on building a better games library for the Xbox ecosystem. The design ethos of iterative consoles such as PS4 Pro and Scorpio is about putting an extra gloss on something that already boasts substance. But where are the Microsoft games with the resonance to wrestle momentum from Sony?
Sea of Thieves, Crackdown 3, State of Decay 2; these are titles that have long been on the drawing board, but it’s hard to imagine them penetrating the mainstream as significantly as Sony’s own offerings in early 2017. Ultimately, that line up isn’t engendering the same degree of interest as games like Horizon Zero Dawn, and in combination with the smaller install base of Xbox One, aren’t likely to record the same commercial success, either.
Scorpio has absolutely piqued the interest of gamers, evident by swathes of internet traffic overloading Eurogamer following the reveal. But, after an extraordinary first three months of the year, the PS4 has positioned itself as the platform for gaming in 2017 by excelling in a department to which Microsoft still apparently has no answer, or is waiting until E3 to provide. Ultimately, even touting the power of Scorpio, Microsoft’s retort still isn’t loud enough for gamers to turn around and listen without a better lineup of software moving forward.