If you’ve been watching gaming news websites over the last 24 hours, you’ll have seen numerous websites reporting on Xbox Scorpio. Due sometime at the end of this year, the leaked specifications for Microsoft’s next Xbox iteration seem to lineup with the much promised 4K experience. It’s all great news if you’re heavily invested in the 4K gaming scene (and don’t own a PC) but the big question I’m left asking after all these leaks – will Scorpio really be enough to fix Xbox One’s issues?
It’s easy to see why. Xbox One hasn’t enjoyed the best of runs and while a more powerful iteration sounds tempting; Scorpio seems to be focusing its efforts almost exclusively on Xbox One’s power shortcomings. While this is an issue for the console, it’s certainly not the only issue that Microsoft’s console has been dealing. It leads me to worry that Scorpio’s beefed up specifications may only end paying lip service to the platforms more gaping shortcomings.
Ever since announcing the Xbox One back in 2013, problems have swirled around Xbox One as a console. From its inconsistent AAA-exclusives through to the awkward shift to co-existing with PC gaming, Xbox One has been left feeling like the kid that lost all his toys and was forced to share. The shared eco-system in particular points a worrying long-term vision of Xbox One that has many gamers questioning Microsoft very commitment to the console business. So of course when it comes to Xbox Scorpio, there are questions about how committed Microsoft is to the sector it’s about to enter.
Part of the reason I suspect this is comes down to the fact that there’s no real hook to these devices. We know already that Microsoft is forcing all games to play nice across Xbox One, Xbox One S and Xbox Scorpio. This means that any benefits are on a purely cosmetic level, which ultimately doesn’t improve much beyond graphical fidelity. Sony do the same with PlayStation Pro and its library of games – so it’s not an exclusive problem. It is a problem though when you’re trying to sell the benefits of your new, highly expensive device.
By tying the Xbox Scorpio to Xbox One so closely, Microsoft is choking the potential of its new device before its even hit store shelves. Why on earth would gamers opt into a console that’s not packing exclusive games? What’s the point in Scorpio if the benefits are mere bumps in graphical performance? If we’ve learned nothing from the endless army of reboots and shameless hallowing out of the AAA-gaming market, it’s that great graphics don’t guarantee great games. The race to be the most powerful console is futile when true 4K connoisseurs would almost always opt into the PC market. Unless Microsoft has actively been lying to gamers, then Scorpio won’t be receiving its own unique lineup of AAA-games that take advantage of this new power. It’s something of a mess and really underlines how strange Microsoft’s current situation really is.
In fairness Sony have this same problem, but their answer was to undercut Scorpio quite aggressively. By releasing in late-2016, Sony made a play for the 4K gaming market well ahead of Microsoft. The price of their device will inevitably drop, and drop long before Scorpio can follow suit. It leaves the new device awkwardly positioned and means if it arrives as a disappointment, Sony is already lined up to bag those customers. No pressure there, Microsoft.
Yet the idea of Scorpio remains hugely exciting, if nothing else because the raw specifications being talked about are insanely high-end for a console. There’s talk of 4x the GPU grunt and a complete overhaul of the ram architecture – one of the big shortcomings in the base Xbox. Microsoft’s console has always been somewhat lacking when it came to pure graphical grunt – so it would be an understatement to say that Scorpio is an attempt to correct this. But really, that’s not what Xbox One needs. Xbox One needs great exclusive titles that rival those found on PlayStation 4.
It’s also awkward to see Microsoft talking about using the same 4K tricks that the weaker PlayStation 4 Pro uses. The Pro makes no secret of its lack of true 4K gaming – but its argument has always been that its price reflects this. When Scorpio arrives, it’s hard to imagine that gamers will be so forgiving to hear Microsoft encouraging developers to employ sub-4K tricks. Yes true 4K is at a high price point for performance, but when the whole point of your machine is to deliver that performance, gamers won’t be happy if it awkwardly falls short.
Scorpio has a lot of convincing to do before it releases later this year. Phil Spencer can talk it up as much as he wants on social media, the fact is that we need to be convinced of this 4K revolution. Right now it feels very much like a series of ever-moving targets; with console manufacturers failing to deliver the expected gains to gamers. Xbox One can’t afford another botched product launch. It’s not just Scorpio’s success on the line, I suspect many within Microsoft will be looking on curiously to see how the entire Xbox ecosystem shapes up in the shadow of its release.
We’ll be watching to see if Scorpio can improve Xbox One’s fortunes, or merely adds to its problems.