Did Microsoft royally flunk its Xbox One S launch?


Microsoft this week announced not one, but two new consoles in development. The company has unveiled the Xbox One S – a stripped down, 4K-capable version of the Xbox One which will be released in August. But at the same time, the company also announced the successor to the Xbox One S, a bloated console that supports both 4K gaming and high-quality VR, slated for Holiday 2017.

All of this begs a crucial question: why would someone who knows a better Xbox is coming later buy an Xbox One S in August?

I posed this question to Dave McCarthy, General Manager of Xbox Services – well, not so bluntly.

Although not that informative at first glance, McCarthy’s answer hinted at a change in the way consoles are developed and marketed. “It’s hard to answer,” he said. “Different people have different things that may interest them.” Microsoft’s watchword before its console releases, he said, is choice.

Choice isn’t a revolutionary concept in the consumer tech world, but it would actually be a big deal in the console market.

It used to be that companies dictated the rate at which gamers bought consoles. Every five to seven years, the big hardware companies would come down from the top with new consoles and say, “You’re all going to buy a new machine. You chose your allegiance – Microsoft, Sony or Nintendo – and you were ready for the next few years.

With the advent of the Xbox One S just three years after its predecessor, Microsoft’s “Project Scorpio” a year later, and the mysterious but definitely coming PlayStation Neo, it looks like times are changing – and could cut corners. old cycle in two. Some say this points to a more smartphone-like cycle for consoles – but maybe not every year.

McCarthy said that while it’s not sure the company will maintain the pace it set for this E3, the company is starting to realize that consumer demand and technological advancements are are accelerating. As this mode of entertainment takes on new forms – mobile, virtual reality, augmented reality, streaming, social, multiplayer – consoles may need to become more iterative, less revolutionary, and more responsive to trends. Companies can no longer sit idly by and build a super console every few years. If PCs can already support VR headsets, for example, console makers will have to respond. And quick.

As the options go, the Xbox One S is attractive. Microsoft doesn’t allow journalists to touch or use the console yet, but I’ve taken a close look at it. The new console is 40% smaller than its predecessor, so it won’t dominate a media rack as much. It’s also slightly cheaper than the standard Xbox, although it’s a bit more powerful. At $300 instead of $350, the market is falling slightly to perhaps attract more buyers who are on the fence.

The fence keepers are those who should be considering the Xbox One S, or those looking to upgrade from the Xbox 360. the new console. Those more interested in powerful games will have a tougher decision whether to upgrade to the Scorpio or the Neo to replace the consoles they might have purchased just three years ago to support more intense gaming experiences.

Microsoft’s announcement was a success, said Ben Howard, vice president of programming for GameSpot. Sony has taken an early lead in the latest console wars, and Microsoft needed something new to help catch up. And with games changing quickly, it makes sense to go faster. “But it’s a risky proposition,” he warned. “They [Microsoft and Sony] could alienate people who spent money on previous consoles by releasing another one so soon.”

Also keep in mind that Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo aren’t just competing with each other. They also compete with a slew of products from Apple, Amazon, Google and others trying to create all-in-one entertainment machines, such as the Apple TV.

Sure, game consoles might be at the end of a range of devices, but cheaper, less powerful entertainment boxes have all touted some amount of casual gaming as a selling point.

“Hopefully this shows they can compete on price — maybe even get below $200,” Howard said. This, he said, would certainly help the newer and more popular consoles defend against an onslaught of competitors. “They’re all competing for eyeballs,” he said.

It could be a difficult transition to the new release rhythm. It may not work at all, really, as people continue to predict the death of the console as PC gaming experiences a resurgence and mobile gaming continues to grow like crazy. Microsoft is also hedging its bets a bit, investing heavily to ensure PC games work on Xbox and vice versa. Microsoft has even integrated its voice assistant Cortana – a core Windows 10 feature – into the new Xbox software.

But it’s clear that if consoles are to survive and thrive, they need to shake things up a bit.

© 2016 The Washington Post

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