Microsoft arguably fumbled away any competitive edge it might have had last console generation with a heavy dose of miscommunication early on, seemingly underpowered hardware and a dwindling list of must-have-exclusives over the course of its Xbox One's lifespan.
Head of Xbox Phil Spencer has sought to tackle the early missteps during his tenure and is looking to leverage the learning experience in Microsoft's next-generation offering according to an interview with The Verge.
I would say a learning from the Xbox One generation is we will not be out of position on power or price. If you remember the beginning of this generation we were a hundred dollars more expensive and yes, we were less powerful. And we started Project Scarlett with this leadership team in place with a goal of having market success.
In addressing at least the power argument, Microsoft has been parading around the specs of its next-gen console, Project Scarlett, that include up to 120 fps, ray tracing, custom-designed CPUs with Radeon RDNA architecture, 8K gaming and variable refresh rates among other key features.
However, Microsoft has been a bit cagey on pricing and availability of Project Scarlett this past year, and Spencer address that note in his interview, "we will talk about the SKU lineup and how it works, think the root principle of we don’t want to confuse people, we share that.”
Power and price are two very important metrics to a successful console cycle but there are other mitigating circumstances that Spencer and co will need to address going into another round of consumer gaming device distribution. Fortunately, Spencer and his team have been laying the groundwork to focus on some of the circumstances within their controls such as backward compatibility and cross-play.
We had the discussion years ago ‘do we want to go do another generation?’ Yes, and do we think there will be multiple generations ahead of us? I actually think there probably is. So we’re going all in. We’re all-in on Project Scarlett and I want to compete, and I want to compete in the right ways which is why we’re focused on cross-play and backward compatibility.
Similar to promoting cross-play, the Xbox team seem open and ready to bring other cross-platform experiences to its gaming experience that could include deeper PC integration, Discord communications (of some sort), native gameplay streaming, and even floating the idea of Xbox Game Pass including Google Stadia integration in the distant future.
So do we want that Xbox experience to be available in other places? Yeah, we’re doing xCloud and other things, but it would have to be a full experience. It’s hard to think about those things on platforms that are... more closed than the at scale open platforms of phones and PCs that are out there today.
For fans and Xbox customers, it's great to hear about the vision of the division this far out, but it will ultimately come down to execution and availability at the end of the day. Going into this next-generation console cycle, Microsoft will be fighting on many more fronts than it had been the last time around.
In addition to battling Sony and Nintendo on device sales and game exclusives, they will now be fighting with Google, Sony, Apple and presumably Amazon on the evolution of cloud streamed gaming and PC game stores as it continues to try and add value between its two largest gaming platforms through software and services.