The Xbox One X is impressive, powerful, and almost certainly doomed
In what was meant to be the crowning glory for Microsoft during its E3 2017 press conference, the software and hardware giant officially unveiled its next console. The new system is a supplemental console; it isn’t a replacement for the Xbox One, but rather a much more powerful option for fans that want to play games on 4K in the most powerful format available on a console. There are, however, a few fairly major problems awaiting it.
It was meant to be a triumphant moment for Microsoft. After teasing the system for months it finally revealed the official name (Xbox One X), the release date (November 7, 2017), and the price ($499). It will be unquestionably the most powerful console on the market, and it will probably be a failure.
In truth, it was probably doomed the moment that it was conceived. Ironically, the fact that it isn’t a new console but rather a voluntary upgrade for console fans may be the final nail in its coffin. It’s unnecessary and targets a fairly small contingent of gamers rather than exciting the base, which is problematic, plus it’s building on the troubled legacy of the Xbox One. And then there’s $500 price tag.
It’s easy to get caught up in the Xbox One X’s bells and whistles. It’s a powerful system with a six teraflop GPU and 12GB GDDR5 memory! It features a vapor chamber and a 3 GHz Custom CPU! There’s one major problem with hyping all those stats – if you understand them, then you know that you can get a gaming PC that is much better. And that is the real killer.
If you’re looking for a high powered gaming system, it just makes far more sense to buy a high-end gaming PC. Sure, it will cost a little more, but if you don’t have a problem dropping $500 (plus the inevitable secondary costs for accessories and games), a few hundred more probably won’t scare you off. Plus, it’s reasonable to assume that anyone who buys the Xbox One X is expecting to hold on to it for a few years. Within a year or two, however, you’ll probably be able to buy a more powerful PC at well under that $500 price point.
And given that most of the Upcoming Xbox games are also going to be available for Windows, there’s even more incentive to buy a gaming PC instead of an Xbox One X.
Power in a console is ultimately a losing bet for. Hyping a really powerful piece of hardware that can’t be upgraded means there’s a small window of opportunity to continue that sales pitch, and it will always be underpowered compared to a gaming PC. Plus, the audience that might be attracted to that sales pitch are probably PC gamers already. The Xbox One X is also missing at least one major feature that is surprising in its omission – it lacks VR capabilities. That may change, but Microsoft seems to be ignoring this market for now. So if you do want a pwoerful gaming system and you’re at lease intrigued by VR, the Xbox One X may not be the system for you. In other words, the already small potential audience just got even smaller.
“Our primary focus is making our mixed reality experiences a success on Windows 10 PCs,” Microsoft’s Alex Kipman told Polygon.
That sounds suspiciously like Microsoft is favoring its upcoming Hololens technology for its consoles. On paper, that makes sense. The Hololens technology looks groundbreaking, but the development model costs $3,000, and while the retail version will almost certainly be significantly less expensive, it probably won’t be cheap. And again, if you are willing to drop serious money on your tech, a high-end PC is probably a better fit for you anyway.
The other major selling point of the Xbox One X is the ability to play games in 4K UltraHD. It was estimated that 4 million UltraHD TV sets were sold in 2016, which isn’t a huge number but it is growing. By 2020, it’s expected that 30 million will be sold. That’s not an insignificant market, but it’s still a hell of a gamble for Microsoft to bank the hefty R&D and manufacturing fees attached to the new console on a market that is still unproven.
There’s also the obvious competition. Sony, of course, has the PlayStation 4 Pro, which also targets the UltraHD market, but it is $100 cheaper and also has the PSVR. More than that, however, Sony doesn’t need to push the secondary console to gain a competitive advantage, which leads to perhaps Microsoft’s biggest obstacle.
During its E3 2017 press conference, Sony announced that it has sold through 60.4 million units worldwide. Microsoft hasn’t released its Xbox One sales numbers in quite a while, but the best estimates suggest Microsoft has sold less than half that number. Releasing an expensive upgrade of a console that the majority of gamers aren’t using to begin with, may not provide the big win Microsoft is hoping for. Especially since to most people that aren’t hardcore tech people, the Xbox One X will just appear to be a console that plays games HD slightly better.
Microsoft has repeatedly had issues with its messaging, especially when it comes to new consoles. With the Xbox One X, those problems seem to run as deep as ever.