The Xbox One S may be another victim of Microsoft’s poor messaging
Microsoft has a serious messaging problem. I’ve said that before, sometimes at obnoxious length, but it bears repeating – especially after the weird and somewhat tone-deaf announcement of the Xbox One S at E3 2016.
Microsoft opened its E3 2016 show by introducing the Xbox One S, a slim version of the Xbox One. The new hardware will eventually replace the current model of Xbox One, with a smaller, sleeker console that does the same thing, just in a better package – Microsoft did the same thing with the Xbox 360. It’s a good way to revitalize interest in the console, and there’s probably a manufacturing component to it that makes it cheaper to produce.
Of course, introducing a replacement console only works if potential fans feel confident in what they are buying. Microsoft’s E3 show complicated that.
At the end of the show, Microsoft also unveiled “Project Scorpio,” a new console on the way that is made for 4K gaming. It also has six teraflops! Six! Teraflops! Yeah, if you don’t know what that means, you aren’t alone.
Microsoft introduced Project Scorpio with only a handful of details and a promise that it would be the most powerful system ever released. It was vague, which wouldn’t in itself be a major issue, except that it now leaves the Xbox One S in a weird position.
Microsoft was quick to point out that Project Scorpio is not a requirement for its Xbox One fans. All games on the way will work on both systems (although $10 says that changes soon), so unless you are interested in 4K gaming (and presumably optimized VR gaming), you can skip the new hardware. But why would you?
A price for Project Scorpio wasn’t even hinted at, but if someone is interested in a Xbox One they can either wait for the new console, or they can wait for the Xbox One S to hit the market and then look for a discounted version of the original Xbox One. Sure, it’s a little bigger, has a bulky power brick, and has a smaller hard drive, but those are all minor complaints if the price is right.
There is a place for the Xbox One S, and there are probably several good reasons to release the updated console, but it is a messaging problem. This isn’t a new issue for Microsoft, but it is an increasingly costly one.
Sony has been taking advantage of Microsoft’s missteps for years now. If you need proof, look no further than the launch of the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4.
In early 2013, it was more-or-less common knowledge that both Microsoft and Sony would release new consoles very soon, almost certainly later that year. There were plenty of rumors and leaks, so Sony decided to get out in front of it and in winter of 2013, it unveiled the PlayStation 4.
The presentation was masterful, filled with just enough information to get fans excited, but not enough to weigh it down with facts. Sony showed a powerful new gaming system with some cool features, and promised more to come. That left Microsoft in a weird situation.
Microsoft couldn’t just hastily throw together its own press conference to unveil the Xbox One – it would look desperate to copy Sony. It also couldn’t wait until E3 though, since the hype was already growing for the PS4. So in May 2013, it hosted a private event on its campus where it revealed the Xbox One.
The show was something of a mess. After the success of the Xbox 360, Microsoft took gamers for granted. It positioned the Xbox One as an entertainment system that also happened to play games, a decision that was greeted with skepticism. Time has shown that skepticism to be warranted, as several of Microsoft’s biggest announcements – including a bold new division dedicated to creating original live-action entertainment – including a Halo series from Steven Spielberg – never panned out.
It was a bad reveal for Microsoft. The messaging was inconsistent and gamers felt marginalized. The results were immediate too, as Sony’s stock shot up after the Xbox One’s reveal.
Sony maneuvered Microsoft into a late spring reveal. Coming later and second forced Microsoft to be more open about its specifics. It’s understandable to hear a Sony exec in February claim the company wasn’t yet sure about things like region locked discs ten months before launch; that doesn’t work in May, however. Sony also got a good look at Microsoft’s position prior to E3, and it changed its plans to match.
Over and over, Sony one-upped Microsoft. Leading up to E3 (and beyond), there was talk that both systems would introduce some form of locks to games, which would prevent them from being borrowed, rented, or purchased used – without paying a fee. Gamers were outraged and blamed the console makers (even though it was almost certainly a request from publishers). Sony wisely and quickly moved away from this, claiming it was never a real feature, just a rumor. Microsoft, however, wasn’t clear about this.
Some at Microsoft said it wouldn’t happen, other said it was still a possibility. That allowed Sony to pounce. It even turned the whole thing into a joke, painting itself as the true home for gamers, and Microsoft as the greedy corporation that doesn’t care as much about gaming as it does the NFL.
Sony was also considering the same restrictions, but it had enough sense not to say so publicly. Instead, it let Microsoft take the heat, and when the backlash began to become a real issue, Sony simply chose not to follow through.
Since launch, the battle has raged on with both sides winning their share of battles, but Sony is clearly winning the war. During its E3 2016 press conference, Sony proudly touted 40 million units sold worldwide as of May, while Microsoft was suspiciously silent (reports claim the Xbox One crossed the 20 million mark in March 2016).
Microsoft seems to have made another misstep, even if this one is understandable. Nintendo has its new console coming early next year, and Sony has its own mid-generation system on the way too. By getting in front of its competitors, Microsoft can potentially dominate the conversation as all three consoles are released in 2017. It just seemed to forget about the Xbox One S in the process.