Posted September 14, 2020 by Andrew Cathie in Feature
 
 

The Xbox Series X & S Aren’t Quite The Home Run Xbox Needed


After the Xbox One, anything beyond a catastrophic failure could be considered a relative success. The now infamous reveal of the Xbox One as an always-online box that forced Kinect onto customers, was lower powered and higher priced than the competition and added a focus on media over games never sat well with the gaming public. It led to years of dismal sales and memes, all of which ate away at the goodwill that Xbox has built over the generation prior to it. They were coming off their biggest success yet, a console that had not only sold better than the original Xbox but was also considered an immense success even compared to other historic consoles.

They had also built a reputation for varied, high quality games, from Halo 3 to Viva Pinata to Crackdown to Lost Odyssey, and while that reputation had waned slightly towards the end of the generation, there was real excitement leading into the announcement of the Xbox One. Instead of building on that, within a matter hours they destroyed their reputation with many of the gaming community through a terrible press conference that completely passed over their core audience and a series of utterly tone deaf responses to concern from people. Who doesn’t remember the infamous “Don’t have connectivity? Get a 360” message from Don Mattric from that time?

Jump forward a few years and Phil Spencer had taken over the division and set upon rebuilding the Xbox brand and reversing the damage done by his predecessor. This also included elevating Xbox within Microsoft itself, building it into its own division and gaining the confidence of CEO Satya Nadella, thus increasing the resources at his disposal. It’s a mission that has been highly successful. Spencer is viewed as a highly positive figure in the gaming industry and the Xbox brand is the strongest it has been in years. We’ve gone from the Xbox being a joke, to once again being a serious contender in the gaming space.

This has happened through a number of decisions, such as focusing on games again, expanding their development studios, presenting consumer and industry positive messages and initiatives (such as pushing for Cross Play and refusing to engage in negative console war rhetoric) and introducing the best value proposition currently in gaming: Game Pass. Phil Spencer and Xbox have once again gotten their brand to a point where you can be expected about their future, as I wrote about earlier this year, and so the excitement was real for the Xbox Series X and what it would bring. However, once again, this is a story of Xbox almost nailing the routine, but failing to stick the landing. They’ve done a couple of fantastic things but have fallen over completely in another crucial place, and while two out of three ain’t bad, it’s not quite good enough.

First, let’s look at what Xbox has done right with the reveal of the Xbox Series X|S:

Price

Price is something that makes sense on its own, but in this case there are actually four different ways that Xbox have truly nailed the price conversation with the Xbox Series X|S.

First, we have the most obvious of the four: The Xbox Series S. While a cut down and stripped back version of their next generation vision, the $299USD/$499.95AUD console is the closest I’ve seen a next generation console get to ‘impulse buy’ territory in a decade. At that price, a lot of the worry about significant investments is gone and you can just jump right in. Which leads to the second way they nailed the price: Xbox All Access. Allowing users to spread the cost of a console and Game Pass Ultimate over 24 months does two things: It gets people in the door that can’t afford hundreds of dollars up front, while also giving Xbox guaranteed continuous revenue over 2 years. It’s a win win.

Xbox All Access flows into the third way Xbox nailed price here: Xbox Game Pass. A cheap console is all well and good, but games can quickly added up to hundreds more dollars at launch. Now, you don’t have to worry about that. You can slap on Game Pass for a month or two and play some games while you save up for others, or even just have it as the main way you play games. There’s a tiny cost and hundreds of games to play. What’s not to love?

Finally, Xbox nailed the price on the Xbox Series X. Even in the last week there had been plenty of worry that the Xbox Series X would hit the $599USD/$999.95AUD mark we haven’t seen since the PlayStation 3. It made sense, the console is an utter beast of a machine the puts ever other console to shame and features plenty of components that make it expensive to make. Thankfully, Xbox are seemingly eating some of the costs and going at a price point that almost feels like a steal for what’s in the Series X.

Power and Design

That leads into the second thing that Xbox have absolutely nailed here: the Xbox Series X|S themselves. Both are incredibly impressive technical achievements in their own rights. The Xbox Series S is more powerful than a console has ever been at its size, and is an incredibly interesting feat of engineering.

Similarly, the Xbox Series X looks to be an absolute masterclass of design. The console is unlike anything we’ve seen before, with a monolithic design that is eye catching in both its simplicity and abnormality. It’s unlike anything we’ve seen before in the console space and uses a number of engineering and design techniques that well beyond the pale to create not only the most powerful console ever created, but also slip it into a box that is somehow smaller than the PlayStation 5 in volume.

We’ve delved into the big wins for Xbox with the Xbox Series X|S, but there’s one big thing they’ve completely failed on so far:

Games

This is where Xbox have fallen over time and again since the latter stages of the Xbox 360’s life. After having some fantastic games from the Xbox through to most of the way through the Xbox 360, their output sharply declined. We would go months without a release and it was only the few stalwarts of Halo, Forza and Gears of War that would get regular releases. Many of their other franchises disappeared from existence and after a small spike in the Xbox One generation, the new IPs quickly dried up. Nothing they’ve shown so far indicates that this will be corrected for the next couple of years at least.

Xbox knows this is an issue for them, otherwise they wouldn’t have spent millions buying out developers like Obsidian Entertainment and Double Fine Productions. They know their output is too low and they’re working to improve it, but it was a case of too little, too late for the launch of the Xbox Series X|S. Their most recent Xbox Games Showcase gave us some cinematic announcements of games coming in the future, but when the dust settled there was only one new game for launch: Halo Infinite.

Now, Halo has been delayed and with the confirmation of the release date for the Xbox Series X|S, only a single new Xbox Game Studios title was confirmed to be coming to launch: Gears Tactics, a game that has been out on PC since February. Sure, we’ve got ports of games like Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Gears 5 and Sea of Thieves, but these aren’t new games, they’re just the same games we’ve already played with a new coat of paint. Once again, Xbox has completely dropped the ball on the games front, and its clear to all that this won’t be fixed soon.

The Xbox Series X|S came so close to absolutely nailing it for Xbox. The tech looks amazing, the pricing is great, and services like Xbox All Access and Game Pass open the doors to more people than ever before at a console launch. Unfortunately, they once again fell just short, tripping over that last hurdle just as they have time and again. At the end of the day, you need games to play on your console, and Xbox just won’t have the games to differentiate the Xbox Series X|S from the PlayStation 5. It’s clear and likely that COVID-19 has ruined some of their plans, but when their competition seemingly has games more than ready for launch, you question how much of this was caused by poor planning alongside those external influences.

At the end of the day, the Xbox Series X|S just isn’t quite the home run Xbox needs.


Andrew Cathie

 
Rocket Chainsaw's premier Fantasy-loving Editor. I basically play anything and everything that looks like it could be fun or interesting.