Will Project Scorpio Have Enough of a Sting?

Digital Foundry’s posting of the specs (and photos seen in this article) for Microsoft’s upcoming Project Scorpio has sent the internet buzzing. Featuring specs that outstrip Sony’s PlayStation Pro was expected, but it seems that the architecture and power behind this new model can actually hold its own against some well equipped PCs, once one takes into account the reduced load a console’s guts has to take on when compared to a computer. Stating that Microsoft’s box should have no problem achieving 4K at 60 frames a second is reason to take notice. With these innards, it looks like Project Scorpio will win the current console power war, but will that be enough? There are other factors that will come into play and how they are resolved before the first unit crosses the register will be the difference between a reinvigoration of the platform and an also ran.

One of the most obvious comes in the form of price. It’s much too soon to make a hash of this, and Microsoft will release this information sooner rather than later, but these parts aren’t cheap and this system will be considered even more of a luxury product over the Xbox One S. Basically, don’t expect Microsoft to eat part of the cost on this one; it will be sold at a profit. A small profit, sure, but a profit nonetheless. Based on the innards announced, and factoring in bulk discounts but adding manufacturing costs, my prediction is that it will be somewhere between $450-$500. Going higher will hobble the adoption rate.

An argument can be made that this price range would still be too high, pointing to the original launch of the Xbox One. This is different. While it launched at $500, the OG Xbox One also packed in an almost universally unwanted Kinect peripheral that caused people previous loyal to Microsoft to jump ship and adopt the less expensive, and more powerful PlayStation 4. Plus, people still had a sour taste in their mouths over Microsoft’s initially announced always online requirement and restrictions on reselling or sharing physical copies. Frankly, that disastrous idea still haunts the Xbox division, as I still have to explain to people, on an almost weekly basis, that they dropped this plan.

The real hurdle that this new box needs to avoid comes in the form of the games. More precisely, where are they? Initially, it seemed early on that Microsoft had this locked down, offering up the best exclusives to give players a reason to stay with the Xbox brand. As time went on, though, the outlook became more and more bleak. Halo 5 failed to excite in the long run, with forum goers more likely to point out missing features, like split screen and the off-putting microtransaction system in the form of burnable cards for the biggest multiplayer mode. Gears of War 4 hit well, but doesn’t see as much play at this point in its life when compared to the second and third numbered entries. Outside of Forza, it seems that Microsoft’s franchises are on the wane, and there is a lack of third party exclusives.

Compare this to Sony’s recent blitz of quality. Just this year, we have seen first, second, and third party exclusives of incredibly high quality. Horizon: Zero Dawn, Persona 5, Nioh and Berserk and the Band of the Hawk all found their home on Sony’s console. Xbox has not had a year like that, and can only point to one high profile upcoming game in their future to call their own: Crackdown 3. A sequel to a first game that hasn’t aged well and a second game that drowned what was good about the first one in a lake of unwanted zombies. Some might point out that I’m ignoring Phantom Dust, to which I would argue that I have just paid it as much attention as Microsoft has with that last sentence. Basically, the pressure is on Microsoft to backstop their entire Xbox platform with compelling titles. If their E3 presser isn’t filled with outstanding exclusives, then the Scorpio is dead in the water.

That isn’t to say that the company doesn’t have a few tricks up its sleeve. Work continues on making the system’s dashboard tolerable. It’s still an ad riddled mess of boxes that is a pain to navigate, but it’s getting better. The fact that the Scorpio is promised to improve load times, frame rates and more for every game that an Xbox One can run, including the backwards compatible 360 games, is a major boon, trumping the PlayStation Pro’s Boost Mode. This alone could be enough to entice gamers to go for the Xbox One version of a multiplatform title.

There’s no doubt that the Scorpio succeeding is good for gaming as a whole. Nobody wants one platform to reign supreme. There must be competition in this space to foster new ideas and better perks for the customers. Frankly, this industry is one that thrives on the pure theory of capitalism since the major players are willing to borrow concepts off of each other and iterate in interesting ways. The point that this has lead to stagnation overall is a discussion for another time.