The Xbox One has had quite a bumpy road. From the moment it was first revealed back in 2013 to now, the Xbox One has struggled to compete with its rival, the PS4. But now, with the Project Scorpio due to release later this year, it might be time to change the Xbox family fortune.
When it comes to the original Xbox One, it’s been quite the journey. There have been promises, followed by U-turns and take-backs, monthly updates packed with new features, Elite Controllers and even a new console with the Xbox One S. But the meandering journey of the Xbox One has left quite a sour taste in gamers’ mouths.
But with the Project Scorpio, Microsoft has changed its strategy and because of that, the upcoming console is already doing a better job than the original Xbox One. But to explain why, we’ve got to go right back to the beginning:
The Xbox One reveal
There’s no getting away from the fact that Microsoft massively messed up the original Xbox One reveal. Back on May 21, 2013, Microsoft lifted the veil on its brand new console in what should have been a momentous occasion and event, but was ultimately a bit of a horror show.
Okay, there were some successes, namely the brilliant Xbox One controller, an improved achievements system, easily expandable storage options and some interesting new games. But, these were overshadowed by the barrage of strange announcements and focus points that the company would, eventually, totally abandon.
Mandatory Kinect usage
One of the biggest about-turns Microsoft pulled off was surrounding its position on Kinect. Originally, the Xbox One and Kinect were intertwined to a point that no-one really expected. First of all, you could only buy an Xbox One with a Kinect in the box, causing the launch price to be $499/£429, which was $100/£70 more than its rival, the PS4.
Secondly, Microsoft wanted to make the Kinect a necessity for the Xbox One to operate at all, with voice commands and motion controls integral to navigation of the console and unlocking its full potential. The plan was for the Kinect to always be on and always listening, waiting for you to whisper the magical words “Xbox On” to coax your new console to life. It was even capable of listening to your heartbeat while you exercised.
And of course, questions of privacy instantly became a massive discussion and a big concern for potential Xbox One owners. Microsoft had to issue various statements attempting to convince users that the Xbox One wouldn’t be spying on you, but it was a case of too little, too late.
By the end of the summer, Microsoft would renege and admit the console would still function without the Kinect plugged in, but you still had to buy one at launch. By May 2014, Microsoft would start selling an Xbox One bundle without the Kinect, for the same price as the PS4, in fact – £349/$399.
Since then, the Kinect hasn’t exactly had its time in the spotlight. Motion-controlled games are incredibly thin on the ground and we know our Kinect has been gathering an impressive layer of dust for over a year. Microsoft’s since totally revamped the Xbox One’s UI, moving navigation totally away from voice controls.
The Xbox One S doesn’t even have the proprietary Kinect port built-in; it needs an adapter. But Microsoft has even stopped offering free adapters for Xbox One S owners, which might just be the final nail in Xbox motion gaming’s coffin.
A ban on used games
Microsoft had a controversial stance on used games at the genesis of the Xbox One too. Originally, it set out to restrict the sale of second-hand games only to authorised retailers. Gamers would also be able to gift games to friends who they’d been connected to on Xbox Live for at least 30 days.
Of course, that not only angered retailers but also anyone who tends to buy games second-hand – or at least wants the option to do so. After all, games aren’t exactly cheap.
However, Microsoft quickly changed its policies after Sony announced the PS4, its lower price and restriction-free policies on buying, trading and reselling games. Sony even trolled Microsoft with a hilarious game-sharing explanation video, which just highlighted how ridiculous Microsoft’s original proposals were:
“There will be no limitations to using and sharing games, it will work just as it does today on Xbox 360,” came the official blog post.
Forced online connectivity
The used-games issue also tied directly into Microsoft requirement for continuous online connectivity. The idea was that the Xbox One always had to have an internet connection to ensure seamless game switching, movie downloads, Skype video-calling and more. However, Microsoft also stated that disc-based games would also need an internet connection to work, which sparked concerns about digital-rights management policies and any kind of scenarios where web connections aren’t present.
It also locked entertainment services like Netflix, Amazon Video and Sky apps behind its own Xbox Live membership paywall.
However, post the PS4 announcement, as part of a string of U-turns on its original policies, Microsoft ditched its compulsory online connectivity requirements.
“After a one-time system set-up with a new Xbox One, you can play any disc-based game without ever connecting online again,” Microsoft said. “There is no 24-hour connection requirement and you can take your Xbox One anywhere you want and play your games, just like on Xbox 360,” said Xbox’s official statement.
Backwards compatibility was off the table
It’s incredible to think now that, to begin with, the Xbox One was not backwards compatible in the slightest. It wasn’t possible, they said. It wasn’t a priority, they said. Xbox 360 games wouldn’t work with the Xbox One’s new core architecture, basically.
But two years after the Xbox One’s first reveal and eventual release, Microsoft announced the Xbox One backwards compatibility feature, which would allow you to play Xbox 360 games on the new console both via the original discs and via digital downloads. It was an impressive announcement and the biggest of E3 2015, but still negated the statements Microsoft made back at launch.
The company promised that there would be 100 backwards compatible titles available by the end of the year, with another 100 following at a later date. And Microsoft has absolutely fulfilled those promises, with titles regularly added to the roster of backwards compatible titles and the list currently stands at over 350 titles.
A strange obsession with TV
The Xbox One’s tagline is, and always has been: “the ultimate all-in-one entertainment system” and the fact you could flow your cable TV feed through the Xbox One and its OneGuide interface was a big part of that. However, to begin with, such services were only available in America.
Later, it extended to UK satellite services and cable providers, but it wasn’t until Microsoft launched the Digital TV tuner that your average UK Freeview watcher could take advantage of the Xbox One’s TV capabilities. And that didn’t arrive until a year after the Xbox One.
Back at E3 2015, Microsoft even promised that subscription-free TV DVR for over-the-air channels would arrive sometime in 2016. But, since then the company has put those plans on hold.
“After careful consideration, we’ve decided to put development of DVR for Over-the-Air TV on hold to focus our attention on launching new, higher fan-requested gaming experiences across Xbox One and Windows 10,” revealed a Microsoft spokesperson in June 2016. “We’re always listening to fan feedback and we look forward to bringing more requested experiences on Xbox One, Windows 10 and Xbox Live this year.”
Another TV element that Microsoft abandoned was the Xbox Originals, which was a selection of TV series and documentaries made exclusively by and for Xbox by Xbox Entertainment Studios. They were part of the original announcement, but by July 2014 the Xbox Entertainment Studios was being shuttered amidst 18,000 job cuts over a period of 12 months.
The Halo Nightfall TV series still went ahead and was part of the Halo: Master Chief Collection release, along with a football-themed reality TV series called Every Street United, which focused on street soccer ahead of the World Cup. Everything else either got scrapped or released in other forms, including Humans, which was co-produced by Channel 4 in the UK and AMC.
The Xbox One updates
These were only some of the issues and controversies that surrounded the Xbox One’s reveal and eventual launch. Microsoft outlined so many policies that were subsequently abandoned that the actual messaging around the console became quite muddled. And it didn’t help that a lot of the changes were in response to fan outrage or Sony’s positioning on similar issues.
The monthly Xbox One updates have helped change people’s minds about the console and a fresh UI that’s not reliant on Kinect has certainly contributed to that. Things like the Xbox One Elite Controller, backwards compatibility, support for external hard drives, Games with Gold, the affordable 4K Xbox One S, the Play Anywhere scheme and more have shifted perspective on the Xbox One – even if PS4 continues to be the better seller.
Now, with the Project Scorpio poised to be the better version of the Xbox One, Microsoft needs to avoid making the same mistakes it made with the announcement of the original console.
The Project Scorpio promises
“Two years ago when we started this journey, you told us you wanted certain things from us. You wanted power; you wanted community; you wanted choice,” said Xbox boss, Phil Spencer, at E3 2016 when announcing Project Scorpio. “This product that we’re announcing today is absolutely the culmination of all of your feedback and something that we think will truly move Xbox forward.”
Microsoft’s talking heads even go as far as saying Project Scorpio is the “we heard you console”, meaning all the criticism of the Xbox One over the past three years hasn’t fallen on deaf ears.
The Cupertino company has already proven that it’s serious about making Project Scorpio live up to the expectations it set at E3 2016. In the teaser video for the upcoming console, which you can watch above, the company claimed it would be “the most powerful console ever” offering “the highest resolution, the best framerate, no compromises”.
In the video above, Microsoft states that the Project Scorpio will offer the following:
- Eight-core CPU
- Six-teraflop GPU, aka “the most powerful graphics processor” in a console to date
- Over 320GBps of memory bandwidth
- True 4K resolutions for gaming
- 60Hz rendering
- Original Xbox One will not be left behind
- All Xbox One games and accessories will be compatible with Project Scorpio and vice versa
- Release date of ‘Holiday 2017’
Most of those promises – aside from the release date – are down to hard specs and graphics capabilities. Microsoft has clearly learned that making promises about features is misguided. Specs are easier to deliver and promising that it’ll be “the most powerful console ever” is one promise it should be able to keep.
In early April, Digital Foundry revealed the full Project Scorpio specs and from those, it seems that Microsoft is already very much ticking all the boxes. On paper, the Project Scorpio is already 50% more powerful than the PS4 Pro, which is currently the most powerful games console on the market since launching at the end of 2016.
And because of that, and by avoiding the mistakes Microsoft made with the original Xbox One, the Project Scorpio is already far more impressive.