What Microsoft needs to do to come out on top at E3 2017
If Microsoft wants to take Sony's crown, here's what it needs to do.
Let's not beat around the bush: Microsoft is clearly in Sony's rear-view mirror this generation. The Xbox One has continued to lag behind the PS4 since its launch despite the Xbox One selling faster than its predecessor, the Xbox 360. Microsoft has tried valiantly to win gamers back by fleshing out the Xbox One's backwards compatibility library and slashing the console's price again and again. For all the ground the Xbox One has regained, the PS4 refuses to give up its lead.
This year's E3 is the perfect place for Microsoft to change that. With the entire industry awaiting the unveiling of Project Scorpio, Microsoft is poised to position Xbox at the bleeding edge of console technology. For that to translate into a market shift in its favour, Microsoft needs to make its E3 presentation completely unforgettable. Here's how it could do just that.
Affordable Scorpio pricing
This is the big one. Scorpio could run rings around the PS4 Pro and it wouldn't matter one tiny iota if the price isn't right. As the PS3 proved way back at E3 2006, gamers aren't going to mortgage their houses just to pick up the latest console. Since Scorpio is more of a half-step console upgrade rather than a full generational leap, a premium price tag would be even harder for most people to swallow.
On the other hand, if Microsoft takes a page out of Sony's E3 1995 playbook and drops the mic with a price tag of AUD$499 or something similarly cutthroat, that'd be a death sentence for the PS4 Pro. Rough estimates place Scorpio at around 1.5 times as powerful as the PS4 Pro in terms of raw hardware, and if Microsoft can hit a comparable price, the Pro's going to seem like a pretty poor deal.
Impressive Scorpio games
A great price alone won't be enough to turn Scorpio into a success; for that, it'll need games. A strong line-up of first-, second-, and third-party games will be necessary to prove that developers of all stripes are both willing and able to leverage Scorpio's power.
More than that, Microsoft will need to showcase the different ways developers can take advantage of Scorpio. Higher resolutions and sharper textures are great and all, but as Sony's PS4 Pro reveal last year showed, it's difficult to communicate the benefits of 4K and HDR through live streams and press releases. Microsoft would be better off highlighting how Scorpio can enable smoother performance with higher frame rates, along with extra graphical effects and more detailed physics systems, since these improvements are apparent even through a YouTube video. The more diversity there is to what Scorpio can do, the easier it'll be for gamers to buy into.
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A reasonable upgrade path to Scorpio
While Microsoft needs to push Scorpio hard, it can't risk burning existing Xbox One owners in the process. Offering a smooth upgrade path for Xbox One owners interested in Scorpio will be key to this. Whether it's trading in your current Xbox One to Microsoft for a subsidy on Scorpio or a loyalty discount dependent on how long you've had your Xbox One, there needs to be some sort of recognition for sticking with Microsoft both through the past and into the future.
VR on both Xbox One and Scorpio
With Sony reportedly shifting its VR focus into the commercial sector, Microsoft is in prime position to swoop in and steal the wind out of PlayStation VR's sails. As announced earlier this year, Microsoft plans to bring mixed reality devices, its term for both virtual reality and augmented reality headsets, to both Xbox One and Project Scorpio. Better yet, instead of making a single proprietary headset, Microsoft has invited third-party manufacturers to stimulate competition by build their own VR devices. This has already resulted in companies like Acer producing headsets for as low as AUD$400, $150 cheaper than PlayStation VR. To cap it off, Acer's headset has a better resolution than PSVR, too.
To take full advantage of this opportunity, Microsoft needs to come out at E3 with some more concrete details on how VR will work on Xbox One and Scorpio. That means showing off games, and the best way to put the kibosh on PlayStation VR would be with a one-two punch of announcing full compatibility with both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift game libraries. No small task, admittedly, although Valve's OpenVR software platform would make things significantly easier for Microsoft on the HTC Vive end of things. Still, Microsoft proved it was willing to invest a lot of time and money into winning gamers back when it developed full-blown Xbox 360 emulation for the sake of backwards compatibility on Xbox One. A similar move here would put Microsoft way ahead of Sony in the VR game.
"It's available right now!"
E3 is full of vague launch windows and distant release dates. A great way for Microsoft to stand out would be to pull a reveal and release combo, surprising everyone with a "and it's available right now!" announcement for a brand new title. We've already seen how effective such a move can be with the excitement surrounding the release of Fallout Shelter back at E3 2015. A similar play by Microsoft would generate a lot of buzz, especially if the game in question was one fans have spent years clamouring for. Battletoads HD, anyone?
Free is a hard price to turn down. Microsoft knows this, which is why it's used free games like Forza 6 Apex and Halo 5: Forge to lure PC gamers away from Steam and into the Windows Store ecosystem. More recently, the surprise release of the Phantom Dust remaster for free on both Windows 10 and Xbox One showed Microsoft is just as keen to curry favour with Xbox gamers. At E3, Microsoft needs to take that a step further with an even bigger franchise. A Gears of War 2 remaster, perhaps? Or maybe Fable 2 Anniversary? Possibly a Conker: Live and Reloaded HD? Whatever it is, the power of the free price tag would buy Microsoft plenty of support in its battle against Sony.