Microsoft has announced it will take the lid off Scorpio at its E3 conference on June 11, four years after the Xbox One got taken apart by Sony during E3 2013. Scorpio, in many ways, is Microsoft’s first real chance to clean up the Xbox One baggage the company has been dragging around for nearly four years.
Microsoft’s early plans for the Xbox One were vastly different from what Sony offered with the PlayStation 4. Where Sony went simple and focused on the “It plays games,” message, Microsoft went broad. The Xbox One was a multimedia system where you could watch TV and game (despite lacking a DVR). It’s Kinect 2 camera was almost as expensive as the console itself, and Redmond was investing in creative partnerships to create custom Xbox One content, enhanced apps that took advantage of Kinect 2, and a live-action Halo TV series helmed by Steven Spielberg (Microsoft insists this is still happening, but the show is now 18 months behind schedule and Phil Spencer has taken to given single-word updates on it via Twitter). It would offer an easily-shared game library, but physical game media would be phased out as a consequence. Consumers revolted and Microsoft eventually reversed course, but the damage was done. The PS4 / PS4 Pro have outsold the Xbox One by nearly 2:1 (an estimated 28.1 million Xbox’s have shipped, compared with 54.4 million PS4s).
Glad we cleared that up
28.1 million consoles is no small number and there’s no sign the Xbox One ecosystem is failing to thrive or missing key titles as a result, but Microsoft obviously wants to redeem itself and close the gap. Here’s what we’d like to see the platform do, and where it might steal a march on Sony. Our predictions for its hardware specs and capabilities are here. In no particular order:
Offer UHD Blu-ray support: It was surprising when Sony, which drove development on the Blu-ray standard, opted not to include 4K Blu-ray playback in the PS4 Pro. Microsoft has added this capability to its Xbox One S refresh, but it needs to retain the option in at least one Xbox Scorpio SKU (assuming it offers more than one). Most people don’t buy a game console just for its media playback capabilities, but plenty of people who buy consoles enjoy having the option.
Make the leap to SSDs: It’s technically possible to add an SSD to either system and the load time improvements can be substantial. Why not take this a step further and actually optimize for solid state storage? NAND flash prices have fallen enough to make a 480GB SSD a real option in a higher-end console SKU, and the Xbox One’s existing support for external drives would let users save SSD space for games that really benefit from it, while transferring other titles to larger but slower magnetic media.
Give 1080p gamers a reason to upgrade: Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro has suffered from a confusing and sometimes contradictory upgrade situation. At launch, Sony positioned the platform as primarily benefiting gamers with 4K, HDR-capable televisions. The company’s Boost Mode now offers additional performance gains in some titles, but this should have been a launch feature, not something patched in later. The best way for Microsoft to steal a march on Sony is to launch a console that offers something for every type of player, not just those who are planning to upgrade their TVs at the same time.
Nail backwards compatibility out of the gate: This could prove tricky, depending on how Microsoft designs the Xbox Scorpio. Sony chose to build a system that required devs to specifically update their software to take advantage of the PS4 Pro‘s capabilities. Phil Spencer has stated Scorpio will be fully backwards-compatible with the Xbox One / One S and that game developers will be required to support both platforms, but he hasn’t shared any details on how this is accomplished. This could be significant, since the Xbox Scorpio is supposedly a much greater leap over the Xbox One than the PS4 Pro is over the PS4. Sony has had some hiccups on this front — Microsoft has an opportunity to use its software expertise to nail the point.
One thing Microsoft probably shouldn’t do is try to play the “next-generation” card prematurely. Thomas Mahler, developer of Ori and the Blind Forest, caused a recent stir on NeoGaf when he wrote the following:
The problem with arguing about console generations is the gaps between each generation has been shrinking for a long time. Early in the Xbox One / PlayStation 4 cycle it was still possible to compare the latest games directly with their Xbox 360 / PS3 counterparts. The general conclusion of these comparisons was the gap was noticeable, but not as large as it used to be. Console developers have to target multiple platforms and capabilities, so the chances we see games with vastly better textures and visual effects on Scorpio than any other system are remote. Scorpio’s biggest improvements are likely to be better frame rates, more consistent frame rates, and faster load speeds, along with some modest bumps to graphics fidelity. It’s a much smarter move to focus on being faster, more consistent, and somewhat prettier than the PS4 Pro, as opposed to trying to argue Microsoft has launched a new generation of console.
That’s our wish list. What’s yours?