It’s time Microsoft announced the Xbox 4

Chris Stead 11 April 2017

xbox-one-scropio

We know the specifications and the release date, but Project Scorpio still has no name. Here’s why it should be the Xbox 4.

We’re now one step closer to the release of Project Scorpio after Microsoft revealed the upcoming console’s specifications. They’re impressive, too. Edging out Sony’s already released PS4 Pro at every post, it will clearly be the most powerful console on the market when it lands sometime before the end of 2017. You can see the full specs comparison here, but the bottom line is that Project Scorpio is built from the ground up for the 4K era. It’s not only capable of running 4K video natively and Dolby Atmos surround sound, but it can do so with power to burn.

Project Scorpio could be marketed as a next-generation console built for the next era of entertainment. But not if it’s called an Xbox One or an Xbox One Pro. Then it’s a current-generation console fighting from under the shadow of its predecessor. And that is a fate that Microsoft would be best to avoid.

Microsoft does not need a new Xbox One SKU, it needs a new console. It needs a fresh start. It's irrelevant whether Project Scorpio offers the hardware leap to truly be a next-gen console or not, it's whether Microsoft needs to call it a next-gen console to make the splash it needs to put a dent in Sony's current brand positivity. That it becomes the fourth Xbox, regardless of its final name.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the Xbox One, the third console released by Microsoft. It’s a fantastic console packed with entertainment options. I’ve got one and I love playing it. But for whatever reason, it has lost the current-generation fight to Sony’s PlayStation 4. It has lost the fight for market share, outsold by the PlayStation 4 by more than two to one. It has lost the fight for software, giving Sony a six to one lead on the number of upcoming exclusives at last count. And it has lost the fight for the total package, mostly thanks to the success of PSVR against the demise of Kinect.

Microsoft should welcome the next generation

To date, Microsoft has been coy at best and confused at worst in positioning the Scorpio. Initially, it was touted as being part of the Xbox One family, confirmed to play all the Xbox One’s games. The timing of the announcement – a day after the PS4 Pro reveal – added weight to this belief. Surely it was a play to show that Microsoft would not be left behind with its available SKUs. Later the water got murkier, with talk of console generations being over and the Scorpio simply being part of the Xbox family. But gamers aren’t buying it. There are “generations” and the Xbox One is part of the eighth.

Project Scorpio should be part of the ninth.

There’s no good reason for Microsoft to continue to go head-to-head against the PS4. While many of you reading this will be well educated on the two consoles and what the extra power the Scorpio brings to the table will mean, the average consumer is not. The sheer effort of trying to get the message across to the masses, when the PS4 is rolling out the big franchises and expanding its VR portfolio month after month, is a steep hill to climb.

An Xbox One Pro that plays Xbox One games, albeit with faster loading and 4K upscaling, will struggle for attention and anticipation, even relevance, across the broader market. It’s just not that interesting to most consumers. However, call that same console the Xbox 4 – or another title that infers it’s the next-generation console from the manufacturer – and that leap in quality is inferred. It’s no longer just another SKU (and a more expensive one to boot). It’s a brand new machine. It would be perceived as one evolution ahead of the PS4, even if it’s not.

Just look at the Nintendo Switch

If you need evidence for how being new is better than being more powerful, look at the Nintendo Switch. The broader mainstream market doesn’t really care how powerful it is in comparison to the PS4 and the Xbox One, they just care that it’s new. It's the next big thing. Its existence made people ask questions: What is this Switch? What does it do? What games does it have? And the media responded in kind, covering it and its handful of launch games (the smallest in 21 years) like it was the second coming of Jesus. As a result, the Nintendo Switch was effectively a sell out, breaking sales records across the globe.

Microsoft can‘t get that kind of response by simply releasing a new Xbox One SKU. However, the Xbox 4, a next-generation console built for the post-4K era, can bring the company back into the fight in a big way. Especially (I can’t overstate how important this is) if Microsoft invests heavily in tripling its portfolio of first-party studios and doubling down on exclusives for the format.

I really want Project Scorpio to succeed. We should all want Xbox doing well. We want that competition and that voice in our industry. We want another major stakeholder driving us forward and into the future with bigger and better technology and bigger and better games. Project Scorpio will be the most powerful tech in the marketplace, we now know that for a fact. However, as it stands, consumer perception of the Xbox One is such that it is being outsold by the PS4 at least two to one.

Project Scorpio needs to shake that legacy if it is to turn the tide for Microsoft. It needs to be the Xbox 4.

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