Time to Upgrade: Is Microsoft Finished With Console Generations?

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XBox Generations

Console generations have always been defined by their leaps in power and functionality. When a new generation was coming, you knew it would be accompanied by better graphics, bigger games, and several years of hit titles. With the release of consoles like the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One X, all of that has changed.

The industry is redefining what it means to be a next-generation console. In a post Xbox One X world, does that term even matter? Will we never see a generational leap to the Xbox 2? It’s time to look at the evidence and find out!

Microsoft’s Vision For The Future: More Upgrades and Software

In an interesting post-E3 interview, Xbox’s head of global marketing, Mike Nichols, spoke with WIRED about other aspects of this bold step Microsoft has taken. Looking at the announcements, Microsoft pitched the Xbox One S, something we all expected, and the Xbox One X, something we didn’t, in the same conference.

From an outside perspective, it looked like they were shooting the Xbox One S in the foot before it could ever have an opportunity to shine. After all, why would they announce two consoles in direct competition with each other?

Microsoft doesn’t see it that way. Instead, they believe the consoles exist within the same family and give customers options between performance and functionality. The Xbox One S does offer 4K UHD Blu-Ray playback, so it’s great for those who want to use it for streaming. The Xbox One X, on the other hand, promises to be the most powerful console ever created.

When asked about the price point matching Xbox One at launch, Albert Penello said that he was afraid of the price point. He argued that the console business has worked within the generational cycle, but times are changing:

"If you look at the rate of technological change in the last 15 years, it’s probably greater than the 30 years that preceded it, and the console business is one of the ones that hasn’t evolved. In past generations, I don’t think you could have done something like this, but honestly, when I look at phones at $800 and graphics cards at $600, it shows that people are willing."

He goes on to argue that Microsoft isn’t trying to get people to “upgrade.” Instead they are seeking to offer a family of products at varying price points. Since Microsoft has made it completely clear that this an extension of the current generation, the conversation inevitably turned to the question of when the next generation would come.

Several years ago, if you had pitched the specs of Xbox One X to someone, they would tell you it’s a next generation console. Given the horsepower it’s boasting, where should Microsoft go from here?

"I don’t know what the next thing is going to be, I don’t know what the future is going to hold. A lot of it has to do with when technology intersects with price, and when consumers feel that they’re stretching the limits."

Using the phone industry as an example, Albert Penello, described the way that we currently upgrade our phones when we feel like it. It’s about factors like the price, or the screen not being good enough, and you feel it is time to switch to the newer version.

He reiterates that he doesn’t feel console generations are going away, but there’s going to be a bigger focus on software, rather than the device itself. He describes it as less “fits-and-starts” than we’ve seen in the past. The industry needs to evolve and change into something more dynamic.

They briefly touch upon the concept of modular consoles that you can upgrade, but Penello doesn’t seem too keen on the idea as he wants to ensure that the console concept is not broken. He also specifies that a console every year would not be ideal for the customer or the industry.

At this stage, Microsoft is breaking new ground and pushing boundaries with how we think of console and generations of gaming. The future for them right now is all speculation, because they’re waiting to see how this new idea evolves, and how the industry receives it.

The Xbox 2 is still a distinct possibility, but as it stands, Microsoft is trying to extend the current generation, offer options, and ultimately created a more fluid and dynamic upgrade cycle, as opposed to the hard barriers between generations.

If it works, gamers will have more options than ever before, and if it doesn’t, they can always release an Xbox Two and resume the normal cycle of things. In either case, change can create innovation that benefits everyone involved.

Now that we’ve seen the facts, let’s talk about the opinions surrounding this bold new step for Microsoft.

The Xbox One X: Do We Really Need It?

Now that we’ve seen Microsoft’s vision, the big question is, do we really need it? This was the subject of an article by Keith Stuart where he asked that very question.

When Mike Ybarra, Xbox director of program management, was asked about the sudden focus on 4K, he responded by saying: “Last year, 4K TVs were the number two holiday gift in the US.” Microsoft had been watching 4K for about 5 years to see how it evolved. While it seems like 4K was the main focus, Xbox boss Phil Spencer insists that the desire for the Xbox One X came from developers:

"Developers were building games on Windows, and seeing the capabilities at 4K and at a higher spec. Obviously, because we’re Microsoft, we would see the PC roadmap, and we said, there’s an interesting opportunity for us to build to console that may not have the same capabilities as your highest-end PC, but allows developers to take the games that they’re targeting with a native 4K frame buffer on PC and bring them to console."

According to Ybarra, Microsoft also made it easy for developers to port over their high-end PC code to the Xbox One X. The idea was to use the work the developer already put into the PC version and allow them to transfer that quickly to the console. It would save them time and make the console more appealing to developers.

Really what it comes down to, is how games look and play on the platform. You can look at spreadsheets and specs all day, but until the controller is in your hands, you won’t know for sure. While 4K is indeed a growing aspect of the industry, Microsoft will need to convince gamers to jump on board with more than just a bump in resolution.

Xbox One X certainly has the power to do that, but it remains to be seen how developers will embrace and harness that power. Among gamers, there are those who want the best and most powerful option, but there are also those who just want the cheapest option that will play the games they love.

Considering this, there is an argument for both the S and the X models. Even so, wouldn’t it have been easier to just make another generation to push experiences forward and boost sales? Microsoft doesn’t think so, but only time will tell how this new iterative console fares.

What do you think? Should Microsoft continue with these upgrades inside the same generation, or are we just wasting time that could be spent on the Xbox 2? Let us know in the comments!

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