The finalized specs of Microsoft's Project Scorpio have finally been revealed in a Eurogamer exclusive before its release later this year — and they're impressive. Microsoft has doubled down and created a console that can deliver a true 4K experience. Sony's analog, the PlayStation 4 Pro, has been criticized for the lack of 4K Blu-Ray support and less than stellar performance when playing certain games at 4K resolution.
Project Scorpio seems poised to reverse the Xbox One's fortunes. However, instead of a mid-generation refresh, this feels like the console that should have been what we got upon release. Why Microsoft waited to deliver a 4K-capable product, what demographics it hopes to capture with Scorpio, and how it intends to market it are still unknown at this point, but we've got some opinions that we think are on the money.
Why wait to release Project Scorpio?
When the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 launched in 2013, consumer-grade 4K displays were still in their infancy. Fast forward a few years, and it's become clear that 4K would become the new standard, with UHD televisions being adopted at a faster rate than HD sets were. Of course, Sony and Microsoft had no way of knowing this, and ended up releasing their consoles during an awkward transition phase between 1080p and 4K.
It's also worth noting that while it would have been technically possible to include this technology in the original PS4 and Xbox One, it would have cost a lot more than it does today. The pricing for these components has gone down significantly as 4K becomes more popular, making it an easy decision for this current console upgrade cycle.
How does Xbox as a platform fit into this?
Pretty much everyone who games on PC uses Windows as their operating system. Microsoft has almost complete hegemony when it comes to gaming compatibility, and that doesn't look like it's going to change anytime soon. However, Microsoft wants to expand to cover two markets it hasn't captured in PC gaming: digital distribution and hardware sales.
The concept of Xbox as a platform began under a different name, Games for Windows LIVE. GFWL was supposed to be the PC analog to Xbox Live, and promised to bring many of the features that Xbox Live on PC features today. Cross-platform play was one of the big things GFWL attempted to offer, but aside a few titles, this capability wasn't used. GFWL was also criticized for corrupting save files, having a terrible interface, and not letting users be logged into their Xbox 360 and GFWL at the same time.
Although the GFWL platform is still nominally supported, the marketplace was shut down in early 2014. Its only purpose seems to be to let players download games they purchased there before 2014 and to annoy people who want to play what few games didn't transition to Steamworks.
With Windows 10, Microsoft is trying to do what it wanted to do with GFWL, which is to unify their PC and console gaming efforts. The Xbox app allows PC users to purchase games and interface with their Xbox One. Some titles even provide access to both their PC and Xbox One version with one purchase using the Xbox Play Anywhere feature. However, there is a major thorn in Microsoft's side preventing widespread adoption of the Xbox as a platform concept: Steam.
With Project Scorpio, Microsoft hopes to have its cake and eat it too
This is where Project Scorpio comes in. PC gaming hardware and software is a huge market, with enthusiast PC hardware sales reaching over $30 billion in 2016 and software hitting $35.8 billion. By comparison, console software sales stood at $6.6 billion. With Microsoft's loss of momentum this console generation the PC demographic is a ripe target.
The powerful specs and high-fidelity gaming Project Scorpio claims to offer may be enticing enough to those who game primarily on PC to draw them into the Xbox economy. Microsoft is most likely counting on the fact that PC enthusiasts are willing to drop big bucks for a superior gaming experience, and once they've bought a Scorpio, they're more likely to also make PC game purchases on the Xbox app.
If this strategy worked for Microsoft, it could close the loop and leverage control over Windows and Xbox to lock customers into its services. The capabilities of Scorpio could also divert some gamers into buying a Scorpio instead of PC hardware, and thus Microsoft could tap into that market.
Will Microsoft succeed with Project Scorpio?
The Xbox One was a relative flop for Microsoft. Next to the PS4, there's nothing unique that gives the Xbox One a sense of identity, and the exclusives for the system have paled in comparison to those for the Xbox 360. Even the name of the Xbox One causes confusion at times, and its reference to the console as an all-in-one entertainment device seems contradictory to what the Xbox division is pushing now.
If Microsoft hopes to succeed with Project Scorpio, it needs to find the design and branding that will allow the console to stand on its own and not simply be the "Xbox One Pro." The specs of the Scorpio show that it has the guts to take on the PlayStation 4 and maybe even the PC, but if it doesn't have the face to go with it, there's a good chance it will flop.
Consumers still respect the Xbox brand, but rarely do I hear praise for the Xbox One, and now is the time for Microsoft to distance itself from that. Instead of being a mid-generation refresh, Microsoft should take this opportunity to establish Xbox as a platform and introduce Project Scorpio as an entirely new console that just happens to run the same games that the Xbox One can.
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