So Microsoft just lifted the lid on Xbox One X, the latest addition to the Xbox family. It’s the high-end device console gamers need – at least Microsoft’s marketing screams. But watching the conference, and seeing reaction from those around me, I’m left with one huge question; what’s the point of it?
Of course if you’re looking to invest in a full 4K setup, $500 is a drop in the ocean. But Xbox One X really doesn’t feel like a day one purchase for the many. Robbed of true exclusives, the argument for existing Xbox One owners to rush out and upgrade is already mute – they can access the same catalog of titles. The sweeteners like 4K Blu-Ray are nice additions for sure, but those don’t sell the consoles gaming capabilities. If Microsoft’s aim here was to sell the Xbox One X as a must-buy, it really struggled.
Not that Microsoft didn’t try to convince gamers. Many of the games shown off were fine in their own right. The likes of Crackdown 3, Forza Horizon 7 and Anthem will likely look amazing in 4K – but they’ll also great on PC. They’ll also play just as well on an ordinary Xbox One, something that didn’t get any mention during the showcases. Ultimately this is the biggest problem I had as the closing splash screens rolled on the conference – Microsoft just hadn’t sold the 4K dream to me, at least not in the package they’ve presented.
The biggest problem is that there wasn’t that “WOW” moment. The moment Master Chief blew my mind in 4K or an amazing new IP that had to be seen in a bigger format. The fact that all of the titles shown off came with the tagline “Enhanced for Xbox One X” robbed them of this potential, because nothing really stole the show.
Throughout the conference, we were shown games and showcases that came laden with praise for 4K. “It’ll look better on Xbox One X” was the mantra. Developers talk it up, with promises of updates for already released games also tried desperately to sell the 4K gaming dream – but it was hard to escape the feeling that we were being sold a face lift.
Worse than this, it’s an expensive face lift. $500 for a console is an insane ask – at a time when gamers are already being squeezed from all sides. The live audiences reaction felt amazingly out of step with social media, which recoiled in horror at the price – and with good reason. The attempt was made to try and sell the console to those who aren’t considering 4K right now – stating that it will improve the console experience. It’s a price point that also puts it way ahead of PlayStation 4 Pro – a console that already struggles to justify its existence.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Microsoft and Sony’s decision to tie these consoles into the ecosystems of Xbox One and PlayStation 4 makes them hard sells. They need games that showcase their power to the fullest. That’s why people choose console experiences – to get the games they can’t get elsewhere. Microsoft’s decision to cross-release with PC and Xbox One means that there’s no pressure to buy the device.
I don’t need an Xbox One X to play Forza Horizon 7, arguably the poster child for the console. When a device is robbed of its primary purpose out the gate, audiences won’t feel the need to pay big bucks to take it up. Why would any gamer with $500 burning in their pocket choose an expensive console with limited features, when they could spend $100 or $200 more and get a PC that does the job as well?
This isn’t me decrying the hardware either. Microsoft deserves praise for throwing so much power into a console. The specs revealed are certainly interesting to read; but they don’t offer a reason to buy the device outright. The market for high-end console users is very limited and its interesting to see Microsoft and Sony courting them so aggressively; but the huge focus on their current state only serves to highlight the shortcoming of both company’s approaches to 4K.
I left Microsoft’s E3 showcase feeling more confused than anything. The Xbox One X clearly has some graphical appeal – but it doesn’t feel like a device that knows quite where it wants to be. It’s a console robbed of purpose, existing for the few when better options are available. There’s a long time between now and the consoles November release. Hopefully Microsoft can find a more distinctive vision for its 4K dream.
Right now, it already feels like an afterthought.