Even though E3 has only just gotten underway, most of the biggest companies have already made their biggest announcements, and amazingly, Microsoft’s offering already feels like a miss. I say “amazingly” because Microsoft was the only company to debut major hardware at the show.
Normally when a company announces a brand new console and 22 exclusive titles, as Microsoft just did on Sunday night, you’d be hard-pressed to declare it a loser. The sheer number of announcements Microsoft made is astounding, but shock and awe couldn’t save the company from a reaming by fans.
There’s one major reason Microsoft is being perceived as a loser despite all the news it dropped in one of the longest press events of the E3: It’s got no games. Both Nintendo and Sony left fans freaking with announcements of major exclusive games coming soon, titles like the much anticipated Super Mario Odyssey and Xenoblade Saga 2 for Nintendo, and Spider-Man, Detroit, and a new Uncharted game from Sony.
Microsoft, meanwhile, had a new Forza car racing game and...actually that’s it. The majority of its “exclusives,” the games you buy a console for because it is the only place to experience the game, are either “Microsoft” exclusive, which means they can be played on a PC as well, or they’re “timed” exclusives, like 2015's Rise of the Tomb Raider. That means that for a short period of time the title will only be available for Xbox One. Later it will be available on Windows, PS4, and in rare cases, Nintendo Switch.
With its tiny, tiny bench of exclusive games to lure people in, Microsoft is going to need some other way of enticing consumers, and it needs it desperately. Last night Sony announced it has sold over 60.4 million PS4s to date. Nintendo hasn’t made it’s numbers available, but as it just went on sale in March, the estimated 2.74 million units sold is impressive. Microsoft hasn’t made it’s own numbers available either, but in January SuperData estimated the total consoles sold between its launch back in 2013 and January 2017 to be around 26 million.
Microsoft is losing.
Personally I thought Microsoft might use the crazy power of its new console to produce the best VR solution we’d seen yet as a way of wooing consumers. Yet, as expounded by Wired and Polygon, that is not the case. “Our primary focus is making our mixed reality experiences a success on Windows 10 PCs,” Alex Kipman, technical fellow at Microsoft, told Polygon last week.
Instead, Microsoft seems to hope that the sheer power of its console will be enough to get people to drop $500 on the new Xbox One X. Xbox chief Phil Spencer told Eurogamer in an interview published earlier today that the “Xbox One X is for the customer who’s looking for the most powerful console that’s going to run every game they’re going to play better than any other console.”
Which is great, for the power-hungry console gamer, the Xbox One X could certainly be an answer, but power-hungry gamers don’t normally go to consoles. They seek out PCs they can build themselves. Spencer boasted during the Microsoft event that the Xbox One X can do 6 teraflop calculations—admittedly a lot of processing power. Still, the guy sitting next to me muttered, “my computer does 8 teraflops.” As Gizmodo noted Sunday, a high-end graphics card, like Nvidia’s 1080Ti, does 11.3.
So while the Xbox One X is certainly powerful, people in dire need of that power can get something nearly twice as fast by building it themselves, and because so many of the Xbox’s “exclusives” are Microsoft exclusives, those computer gamers won’t even be penalized for their PCs.
Which makes it seem like Microsoft has really boxed itself into a corner. The Xbox One X might be the fastest console out there, but it isn’t the fastest game machine by any means, nor does it have cool exclusives like Nintendo, or cool exclusives and VR like Sony. A lot could happen in the next year as the Xbox One X, and games optimized for its insane performance, come to market. It might turn out that what people really crave from a console is insane graphics, and that the console turns everything around for Microsoft. But right now, it kind of feels like the company that gave us the Xbox 360, one of the most popular consoles of all time, is headed for last place.