It’s fair to say that this generation has seen a shift around in the big hitters with Sony pulling out a commanding sales lead early in the generation and Microsoft having a solid, if slow, start despite the issues that plagued the Xbox One before launch. Nintendo as well is now right up in the thick of it with the Switch.
It is also fair to say that these numbers pushed Microsoft into making the Xbox One what it is today; monthly updates and preview programs with a huge amount of player input have given us a console that is now a completely different beast to how it was back in 2013. Of the big three, Microsoft have made the biggest effort in giving the gamers what they want and with the release of the One X, they gave gamers the first console that is truly capable of native 4K 60fps.
Yet despite all of the updates and fan-pleasing features, the PS4 continues to march on almost unchallenged. So what does Microsoft do next to combat this?
Disclaimer – This article is purely my opinion and hypothesis based on current news reports. I do not have a magic 8 Ball to hand so, therefore, cannot quite see into the future.
It’s been painfully obvious over the last couple of years that Microsoft has been reluctant to invest in new AAA exclusive titles, instead relying on a couple of strong exclusives each year partnered with some exclusive deals on third-party titles. This plan appears to be slowly changing though, the fans have been crying out for a stronger line-up and head honcho Phil Spencer has been listening. It’s been an issue that has long been talked about even by Spencer himself, however, the internal politics at Microsoft are unclear and it’s likely that until recently the big deal decisions have been made higher up the chain with Spencer being the motivation and face of the Xbox.
Recently, however, Spencer was appointed in a new position within Microsoft, moving from Head of Xbox to Executive Vice President of Gaming basically meaning he now reports directly to the CEO. This means deals Spencer deems fit only have to be approved by Satya Nadella.
First up we should hopefully see this promotion for Spencer bear fruit with a much stronger line-up at this year’s E3 presentation. Expect a much more software focused presentation this year now that the launch of the One X is behind us. Alongside Crackdown 3, I can see Microsoft sharing news of a new title in the Fable series, a new entry for both Halo and Gears as well as Forza Horizon 4. Alongside these, it would seem Microsoft is keen to reboot at least two of their past franchises. Recent rumblings are suggesting entries for Mech Warrior and Perfect Dark. I can’t really speculate any further on those but with the E3 show usually running up to the 90-minute mark Microsoft will have to give us at least a few surprises to talk about.
With Microsoft moving the E3 conference away from the convention centre and dedicating the entire floor space at the centre to Mixer it’s clear something is going on here. Honestly, in my opinion, I think Mixer is the perfect platform to leverage as a game streaming service. Currently Mixer allows a viewer to take control of your game via the stream using a controller connected to the viewers PC – it’s certainly got a little input lag and isn’t quite perfect yet, but it’s not a big jump to think that the platform could be used to stream games from data centres to device browsers in the future.
But what about the future beyond 2018?
Well, it is clear from the numbers that Sony won’t be giving up that top spot anytime soon and despite all the effort from Spencer and his team in getting the Xbox One into the incredible shape it is in now, the numbers just aren’t coming in for Microsoft at the moment. Previously Aaron Greenberg has stated that they believe we have seen the end of console generations and that smaller upgrades will be the future and whilst most in the industry would probably agree with that statement you can’t deny that continuing the Xbox under the Xbox One moniker is a flawed idea. Why would you continue releasing iterations of a console that is underselling compared to its rival? Recent job listings from Microsoft show they are looking for GDDR6 engineers to work in the Xbox department, building “the next big thing”. This would suggest that Microsoft is at least exploring one more generation.
But what of all the work they have placed on the Xbox One?
In my opinion, I think the next generation from Microsoft will be a sort of hybrid step forward. In terms of hardware, we will see a totally new machine, but I also think the work Microsoft and the Xbox team have put into integrating the Xbox ecosystem with Windows will mean that we will likely see the OS continuing to be used on new machines. This would also mean backward compatibility (something Microsoft have invested heavily in) would be working straight out of the box and any boost in hardware would just help the existing ecosystem to run faster.
In summary, it is quite clear that Microsoft isn’t quite done with the Xbox One and with Spencer now firmly at the helm of the division the future is looking good for those of us wanting to see a return to the days of big AAA hitters each year. I also think that beyond the Xbox One we are in store for something Microsoft will have taken the time to craft well, and something that looks to correct the mistakes they have made with this generation. Hopefully that will be something that can see them return to the spot they once so dominantly held with the Xbox 360.
The future is bright for Xbox and for the gamers that call the Xbox home.