I’ve taken some time after yesterday’s Xbox Games Showcase to compose my thoughts on the show and the more I think about it, the more dumbfounded I become. We’re roughly four months away from the Xbox Series X now, so now is the time to tell people why they should buy your console at launch instead of/in addition to a PlayStation 5. You should be putting forwards games that look close to finished, with gameplay and visuals to sell just what it is that your console could do. Xbox instead seemed like they wouldn’t or couldn’t do that yesterday, instead focusing on CGI clips with little to no substance for games that are seemingly won’t release for two years or more, other than a somewhat underwhelming demo for Halo Infinite and the fantastic looking The Medium. I walked away with nothing showing me why I needed to buy an Xbox Series X early on. It points to one of two things: Xbox either doesn’t have the games in place to properly support a new console launch or they’ve made a big marketing mistake. Either way, I feel like Xbox are actively pushing me towards a PlayStation 5 as the true next generation console launch.
I want to preface this piece by pointing out that for the last two console generations, Xbox has been my first choice. The Xbox 360 is probably my favourite console of all time, with it introducing me to a breadth of games and genres I’d never experienced before. Much of those games were first party published games like Mass Effect and Crackdown. I bought an Xbox One on day one and have upgraded it to a One S and then One X as those options have become available. I’ve generally had all consoles through the life of a console generation, but my beginnings of the last two have been with Xbox specifically.
I went into yesterday’s Xbox Games Showcase to find a reason to buy an Xbox Series X beyond its beefy specs. We’ve seen time and again in the past that power isn’t enough to truly make a console, you need the software as well. Much of what I expected to be at the show was there, even down to the Xbox Series X updates coming to games like Sea of Thieves, but what I didn’t expect was the exact same problem that came with the May episode of Inside Xbox. Once again, nearly everything was CGI, target renders or ‘in-engine’. These types of reveals and announcements can be fantastic, but you need substance around them to make them truly pop. CGI trailer after CGI trailer just makes it seem like you don’t have any games ready to release in the coming year or two.
In fact, it’s since been confirmed that the Halo Infinite demo was running on a PC using target specs for the Xbox Series X, so at this point it seems we still haven’t seen true Xbox Series X gameplay from a first party game. Similarly, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2’s reveal has since been confirmed as a target render, while Undead Labs has confirmed that State of Decay 3 is early in pre-production. Rare are on record stating they’re still playing around with gameplay mechanics for Everwild, implying that’s nowhere near done yet, while Spencer himself said during the stream that Forza Motorsport is in early development. Fable and Avowed were both also tiny, itty-bitty CGI teasers, implying they also ages away from being done.
So what did we have at the show that looks like it will be ready for launch? We have Halo Infinite, which won’t support ray tracing until next year and is beginning to feel like it’s being rushed to retail. There’s The Medium, a timed exclusive game from Bloober Team that looks fantastic. Beyond those two, it’s a range of exclusive indie games (many of which look amazing) and the same cross-generation third party releases coming to literally every other platform.
While there’s certain to be some games still yet to announce, it seems pretty clear at this point that Xbox’s touted 100+ games available at launch is mostly going to be made up of patches of older Xbox One titles. We know Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Sea of Thieves, Gears 5, Forza Horizon 4 and more will be getting patches. Including these games in your launch lineup seems disingenuous at best and deliberately misleading at worst. It also potentially points to Xbox Game Studios simply not having enough first party games ready for launch, so they’ve had their studios bang out some quick Series X patches to their existing games using their PC ports as a base. This is all hardly confidence boosting stuff coming into a new generation of consoles.
Compare this to last month’s PS5 games showcase. We still had some of those CGI reveals, but they were interspersed within larger looks at gameplay for games that honestly look like they could release soon. We got multiple minutes long looks at games like Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, Gran Turismo 7 and Sackboy: A Big Adventure, along with smaller CGI/gameplay trailers for games like Horizon Forbidden West, Returnal and Demon’s Souls. While most of these also didn’t have release dates attached to them, we saw enough of them to know what to expect from them and to see that they look like real and polished experiences already. These were all games that look like they could be reasonably expected to launch in the first year of the PlayStation 5, along with the odd CGI third party game that also gave an indication of when to expect it.
We didn’t get that from Xbox Game Studios. Instead, we got the same type of conference we’ve gotten from them at E3 for years now. A bunch of CGI and ‘in-engine’ trailers for games that have promise but probably won’t release for two years or more. It’s a practice that is well documented and unfortunately points towards Xbox Game Studios seemingly not having the new games together to properly support a launch for the Series X.
So why are they releasing if they’re not ready? Because they can’t afford not to. The PlayStation 4 has blown them out of the water and they’ve seen first hand in the past what happens when a console releases later than its competition, with the Xbox 360 smashing the PlayStation 3 early on. They can’t afford to have the PlayStation 5 out significantly earlier than the Xbox Series X and building a narrative around itself. The other factor is COVID-19. Plenty of game makers are now on record as calling the games industry recession proof, with console sales skyrocketing during the pandemic so far. People are stuck at home and want things to keep themselves entertained or are depressed, anxious and worried and looking for something to escape with. They know that by releasing this year, while the pandemic is likely still in full swing, their selling potential is significantly higher than at any other point. It sounds sleazy, but hey, that’s business for you.
In the end, I went into the Xbox Games Showcase looking for a reason to buy an Xbox Series X early on. I simply didn’t get one. While I have a gaming PC, I just prefer lounge room couch gaming, and so I’ll likely buy an Xbox Series X eventually, but right now it seems pretty clear that I shouldn’t bother until more of these CGI trailers become real games. Right now, Xbox has made it clear that if I want a true next generation experience at launch, the PlayStation 5 seems to be the way to go.
UPDATE: Our pre-launch review of the Xbox Series X can be found here.