Unless the Switch does something remarkable, PlayStation 4 will be the best selling console of this ‘generation’ (a term which may become archaic if we get another iteration beyond the Pro/S/X). Microsoft however, need to be worried. The Switch has sold nearly 5 million consoles in little over a quarter whereas lifetime sales of Xbox One are around the 30 million mark – having had a three year head start at market. Undoubtedly part of PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch’s success has been down to a renewed focus on games. Wii U tried to invade TV (TVii) and social media which detracted from a modest yet critically acclaimed lineup. Microsoft’s initial focus on Xbox being the all-in-one box of tricks lost the generation before it had begun. The ship is still coming around but what can Microsoft possibly do to prevent finishing 3rd in the current console wars?
Firstly, Microsoft has already done a great job of reversing the PR nightmare which was Xbox One’s launch. Backward’s compatibility, Games with Gold and Xbox Games Pass have all been pro-consumer moves which have caught some ground with Sony. The Xbox One is a great console with some solid – yet un-unique – features. Unfortunately, the single most important asset missing from ‘the world’s most powerful games console’ are games. So, we decided to explore what we’d like to see to save Xbox from finishing below Nintendo.
Sony’s games-centric focus came to a head with the ‘year of dreams’ announcements like Shenmue 3, Last Guardian and the Final Fantasy 7 remake. There aren’t many of these left to go to – except Half-life 3. This phantom game – seemingly on permanent hiatus – is one of the only franchises which could be classified as on par with the above games. Microsoft would have to move heaven and earth to make Valve play nice but desperate times call for desperate measures. Other than Half-life, it is difficult to see any other series which would make the same impact from returning.
On the original Xbox – released in the wake of SEGA’s exit from manufacturing consoles – became an interesting breeding ground for what should have been the Dreamcast’s final wave of software. Games such as SEGA GT, Panzer Dragoon Orta and Spikeout were joined by ports like Shenmue 2 and Jet Set Radio. Although not defining series on the Xbox, they complimented the likes of Halo, KOTOR and Project Gotham (itself a spiritual successor to Dreamcast’s Metropolis Street Racer). SEGA appears to be open to resurrecting forgotten franchises which could be an opportunity for Microsoft to create a mutually beneficial partnership. Streets of Rage, Decap Attack and Kid Chameleon have all been dormant since the 16 bit era. Then there are series – although more recently reimagined – like Shinobi, Golden Axe and Phantasy Star which are ready for a reboot. Generating modern, innovative titles like these which carry names dripping with nostalgia would help Xbox rival a certain home/handheld console hybrid in terms of software. If Ultra Street Fighter 2 can sell near 500,000 units then imagine what Microsoft could achieve with some of SEGA’s long forgotten franchises!
Among Sony’s 1st party line-up are two types of games which are near – if not at – the pinnacle of their divisions. Firstly, in the ‘story driven’ adventure category, Sony has the likes of The Last of Us, God of War and Uncharted 4. The second are the ‘souls’ games. Sony has leant into their popularity with Bloodborne and Nioh. They read the tea leaves correctly with this type of game. However with Dark Souls now on its 3rd iteration, Sony has had plenty of time to get its ducks in order. Microsoft needs to play catch up and get engaging narrative driven games and tough-as-nails ‘souls’ games out in the wild. This means either directing 1st/2nd party studios or seeking timed exclusivity agreements by studios such as Platinum.
In order to hit the short time frame Xbox One X has to work in, Microsoft would have needed to establish these deals around the time ‘Project Scorpio’ was announced. It is entirely possible PlayStation 5 could be announced in 2018 and an updated Switch SKU (Lite/XL/’new’) is expected by 2019. That gives Xbox One X around 18 months to catch up.
Xbox veterans like Gears of War and Halo are no longer as relevant as they were in previous generations though both were forged in the fires of Microsoft’s push to be seated at the console war table. However, it is this kind of creativity Microsoft needs to seek out, nurture and capitalise on. Otherwise, it may be time for Xbox Gone.