Microsoft, I’m so confused

Whereas Sir Gaulian has been revelling in the resurrection of some of his old favourite games at this year’s E3, I’ve been struggling to find much to get excited about, with the exception of the surprisingly different take on Zelda that Nintendo has been showcasing. However, one thing that everyone seems to be talking about is Microsoft’s announcement of Project Scorpio and their new strategy whereby all Xbox ‘exclusives’ will also be available on PC. And to top it all off, they’ve announced the Xbox One S, a slimmer version of the Xbox One with slightly more power.

I’m just a bit baffled by it all.

Project Scorpio - so what's this all about, then?
Project Scorpio – so what’s this all about, then?

I mean, what’s my incentive to buy an Xbox One S, when a more powerful Xbox will be available in 18 months’ time? Presumably it would be wiser to wait for the better machine. But then again, the statements coming from Microsoft seem to suggest that Scorpio users will only notice much of a difference if they have a 4K TV. Furthermore, they’ve said that there won’t be Scorpio exclusives, so Xbox One buyers ‘won’t get left behind’. But then what’s the point of upgrading if the games won’t be significantly different? Rich Stanton makes a good summation of the mixed messages coming out of Microsoft’s slack mouth here, and Mr Biffo makes some good points in this article. Basically, it’s hella confusing.

I presume it will work a bit like the New Nintendo 3DS – slightly more powerful specs will mean faster loading times and improved frame rates. But the New 3DS also boasted other features that made it a worthy upgrade, such as eye-tracking 3D and an extra thumbstick. What will Scorpio have, apart from tarted-up versions of Xbox One games?

I also presume that the huge boost in power will add massively to the price – the Digital Foundry report suggests that it will cost significantly more than the PlayStation Neo. So for all that extra cash, I’m guessing that buyers will want some serious improvements in their games, not just slightly shinier versions of XBone titles. I’m also guessing that the massive spec upgrade is chiefly to do with enabling Microsoft to jump on the VR bandwagon. But buying the Scorpio in addition to a VR set-up is going to be massively expensive in comparison to the rival VR offering from Sony, which will work on a bog-standard PS4. But maybe Microsoft’s VR system will work on the basic Xbox One as well? Who knows – it’s all a bit unclear at the moment.

I’m also baffled by the news that all Xbox One games will be on PC as well – which seems to be removing any reason for PC owners to buy an Xbox. It would make more sense if a PC exclusives were made available on Xbox One – for example, if Steam could be brought to Xbox. That would be a huge plus point for the console, as I’m sure there are plenty of people like me who want to play more PC-exclusive titles but really can’t afford/can’t be arsed to assemble a PC gaming rig. I’ve got a basic laptop with a few Steam games on it, but I barely play them – the laptop is for work, I do my gaming on consoles in the living room.

I have to say though, the Xbox One S is a marked improvement on the design of the Xbox One. Nice grills, MS.
I have to say though, the Xbox One S is a marked improvement on the design of the Xbox One. Nice grills, MS.

In summary, will someone please explain what the hell Microsoft’s strategy is here? Judging by the confusing and seemingly contradictory statements from Xbox’s Phil Spencer and other Microsoft representatives, even the company doesn’t seem to be entirely sure (it’s eerily reminiscent of the PR nightmare the company faced after the Xbox One reveal three years ago). The early announcement of Project Scorpio will surely make people think twice about buying an Xbox One over the next 18 months. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to hold back on Scorpio to give sales of the Xbox One S a chance? Or even hold back the Xbox One S to launch with or just after Scorpio as an ‘entry-level’ machine? And why cripple your console sales by saying your exclusives won’t be exclusive any more?

And, perhaps most importantly, what’s the point of Scorpio anyway? It’s seemingly designed for people with 4K TVs – but hardly anyone has one of these, and I’d be surprised if there was a massive stampede to get them by the end of 2017. A recent Polygon analysis pointed out that “you’d need to sit no farther than 6.5 feet from a 50-inch TV to be able to see any benefits of 4K resolution over 1080p”, so really they’re only going to appeal to the tech-savvy and people who sit with their noses pressed against the telly. HDTVs took off rapidly because they were a huge improvement over CRT TVs and standard definition. I very much doubt there will be a similar rush to upgrade to 4K. Which could leave Scorpio with a very tiny audience share indeed – and why I suspect that this talk of ‘no Scorpio exclusives’ will quickly be outed as an untruth.