Microsoft sets clear message for Xbox One X launch: Power
"With great power comes great responsibility"
Almost four years ago, Microsoft's third console the Xbox One launched under a cloud of mixed messaging, unclear target market and the removed threat of 'always online' requirements.
Microsoft was confident, perhaps bordering on cocky, when it unveiled the Xbox One. The Xbox 360 was the clear console of choice for core gamers* of the previous generation, the biggest multi-platform titles tended to perform better on the console and the Xbox Live gaming network was a better social experience than it's rivals.
* It is an often forgotten fact of console wars that Nintendo's Wii, released as part of the same generation actually won the generation as it outsold both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 by at least 20 million units, despite being seen as a less powerful 'casual' console.
Microsoft assumed that the core gamers would follow them blindly to the new generation and that they would only need to work to attract new markets. A public unveiling before E3 was infamously lampooned for it's "TV, TV, TV, NFL, TV, TV, Call of Duty, TV, TV" message. This overshadowed a strong E3 2013 presentation with many exclusive AAA titles like Forza Motorsport 5, Halo 5, Dead Rising 3, Sunset Overdrive and Ryse among others on show for Xbox One.
Combined with an always-online requirement, complicated game licencing and a bundled Kinect, Microsoft was on the back foot from the start.
Sony's PlayStation 4 launched a few weeks earlier and €100 cheaper than it's rival and has never looked back, its message was simple: The PS4 was "For the Gamers".
On the back foot, Microsoft retreated on some of their vision for Xbox One: The Always-on requirement was the first to go; Xbox chief Don Mattrick was the next; within a year the Kinect went from compulsory to optional, to practically non-existent. But, PS4 had built up a healthy lead and the pre-launch confusion continued to mire the Xbox One.
At E3 2016, Microsoft announced two new Xbox One consoles, the One S would be smaller than the launch model and the One X (then called Project Scorpio, due in 2017) would be more than four times more powerful.
Many were confused by this: Why announce a new console model at the start of the show, only to supersede it ninety minutes later? Was this Microsoft's confused messaging revisited? Surely Scorpio would dissuade people from buying the One S.
As it turns out the Xbox One S prompted a revival of the Xbox One fortune: significantly smaller than it's bulky predecessor, 4K Video output, Ultra HD BluRay support all brought much-needed features to the market and all of your previous games and peripherals continued to work.
Over the course of the next year, Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One X and it became clear that there was a single, clear, unified theme for this console: Power
There was no unveiling show, trying to make numbers and features sound sexy. Technical boffins and professional pixel-counters, Digital Foundry, were given exclusive access to the engineering and development teams. Their coverage showed off the specifications and technical prowess of the console, lending credence to the claim from 2016 that this console would be a "Monster".
Follow up press exclusives talked of how easy it was for developers to port their game engines to work with the Xbox One X and how the 'X' would run multiplatform games and backwards compatible games better even without optimisation work by the developers.
Now, with a little over two weeks to launch, Microsoft is making their final marketing push and the message remains the same as the E3 2016 reveal: Xbox One X is the most powerful console, ever.
The "Feel More Power" campaign stresses the powerful features and the difference that this will make for your games, but it also encourages gamers to feel the difference - with beautiful vistas and key moments from movies and sport that invoke an emotional response - the powerful Xenomorph threatening the formidable Ripley in Alien 3, a touchdown in American Football and a goal in proper football that warrant rewinding the video just to check whether they are in-game footage or from a real-life match.
This is not about raw numbers, it is about the feelings that this raw power makes possible: Fear, excitement, awe, passion and 4K.
Features like backwards compatibility, reaching through almost 20 years of Xbox history and improving on display and performance of older games that you already own for no additional cost to the gamer, help bring gamers invested in the Xbox ecosystem forward into the latest generation and beyond.
Whether the strategy works out for Microsoft remains to be seen, there are plenty of doubters about the likely business success for the plan.
One thing is for sure, Microsoft has certainly regained some of its confidence and swagger after a bruising start to this generation. While they may never catch up to Sony in terms of raw numbers for the original Xbox One / PS4 generation.
With the Xbox One X, Microsoft look to issue in consoles without generations and playing the longer game, Xbox will certainly look to become the default choice for gamers wanting the best console version of a game, knowing that they be able to play it now and into future where "no one gets left behind".
Xbox One X launches worldwide on 7. November 2017 priced €499