The day the Durango officially became known as the Xbox One was a dark day in Xbox history. With Don Mattrick at the helm, Microsoft was steered off course from its successes with the 360 and toward an all-in-one entertainment solution that was not received well by many fans and critics. Gamers unsurprisingly wanted the focus on games, and certainly did not want a “relationship” with their TV. Mattrick’s vision totally missed the mark and got the Xbox One brand off to a terrible start. More than any other factor, this self-inflicted miscalculation saw Microsoft cede the lion’s share of the market to its rival, Sony, right off the bat.
The Xbox One has since been somewhat resuscitated by a man on a mission. Revered for speaking plainly and passionately about the brand, Phil Spencer has inspired a turnaround, admitting the mistakes of the past and working tirelessly to steady the ship. Yet the Xbox One has still been soundly beaten this generation and Microsoft has decided it is time to hit the reset button. The solution is Scorpio, an almighty gamble on an iterative console upgrade, providing a rare second chance to breathe new life into a born again Xbox One. E3, the gaming industry’s biggest annual event, provides the perfect platform to launch this second bite of the apple.
Make no mistake about it, this year’s E3 press conference will be the most pivotal moment in the recent history of the Xbox brand, and it is absolutely crucial that Microsoft does it right. To say that Microsoft has all its eggs in one basket might be a bit overstatement, but the importance of Scorpio’s resonance with its target audience should not be lost on anyone. The updated console is a huge roll of the dice that will decide parity between the major console players for the remainder of the generation (if you can call it that).
Indeed, the differing fortunes of the vanilla Xbox One and PS4 provide a vivid case study of how much impact an E3 conference can have on winning over the hearts and minds of gamers.
Unfortunately for Microsoft, Nintendo Switch’s early commercial success and Sony’s host of recent well received exclusive titles has made the task of things all the more difficult. Scorpio’s value to Microsoft rests not only on its ability to convert current Xbox One owners, but also to attract a new market. The size of that market, however, has shrunk as a result of its competitor’s prosperity. Moreover, there is a fine margin between enticing its current pool of gamers to migrate to the system and upsetting those who might feel abandoned. Striking this balance will be a key theme of Microsoft’s E3 presser.
Sony’s own somewhat shaky reveal of PS4 Pro demonstrated how difficult it is to demo 4K, 60fps gaming via streams that nullify the extra visual fidelity. So how will Scorpio fare any better? Critically, Microsoft cannot spend too much time mulling over the specifications and must instead focus on touting upcoming software to sustain Scorpio moving forward.
Microsoft knows that Scorpio’s success rests as much with quelling the narrative that Microsoft’s first party offering is poor as much as it does on impressing with its upped performance. In a discussion with IGN, Spencer suggested this might, indeed, be Microsoft’s strategy when he said “doing everything at E3 would be difficult… I like our E3 being about games. I don’t want to take up the majority of the time talking about hardware.” Spencer went on to say he is “Incredibly proud of the lineup this year” citing Crackdown, Sea of Thieves, State of Decay, and “some things we haven’t talked about yet.”
Certainly, it will not be enough to showcase those aforementioned titles only. Microsoft simply has to spend time pledging a roadmap of first party content to give gamers a reason to be interested in Scorpio. Sure, revealing games too early is arguably a poor tactic, but hardware is nothing without the games that run on it. Fans and potential buyers want to see the proof in the pudding, content to be excited about and an end to the Xbox One’s lull in first party games. This especially pertinent given the growing unwanted perception that after the demise of several interesting IPs, anything outside of the Halo, Gears, Forza holy trinity is liable to be canceled. This narrative, true or not, needs to change.
Yet even with an emphasis on games, Microsoft faces an uphill battle promoting Scorpio at this year’s E3. Such is the massive expectation that it is going to deliver PC quality graphics on a console for the first time, you can’t escape the feeling that however well this final reveal pans out, nothing it does will be enough for some. If Scorpio delivers anything less than certain numbers and figures, that news will be picked up and broadcasted loudest. The supreme distraction, though, and what will far more important deciding factor to the mainstream, will be Microsoft’s ability to woo the industry with exciting content.
The world will be watching; this is Phil Spencer’s moment stamp his mark on Xbox One, and it’s Microsoft’s moment to convince the industry that the future of console gaming is at home on Scorpio. Unlike the reveal of the original Xbox One, Scorpio’s message must be clear, concise, and put the gaming consumer at its heart. If it doesn’t, expect Sony to continue to steamroll its competition.