The next Xbox is a powerful machine. As Digital Foundry revealed today in a lengthy rundown of specs, Project Scorpio — the codename for the next Xbox One — will be both faster and more powerful than its predecessor and its console competitor, capable of running games in native 4K. Even older Xbox One titles will see an improvement, in some cases with smoother performance, improved textures, and the ability to play at a higher resolution. These are all great additions that will surely improve the Xbox experience. But all the talk of better processors and GPUs doesn’t solve the Xbox One’s fundamental issue: it needs more and better games.
The reason the PlayStation 4 is handily outselling the Xbox One has little to do with technical specifications. It’s because Sony has curated a formidable lineup of console exclusives and exclusive content for multiplatform games. In 2017 alone, a year already rife with potential game-of-the-year candidates, the PS4 has seen notable titles like Persona 5 and Horizon Zero Dawn that aren’t available on Microsoft’s platform. And it’s a trend that looks to continue: much-anticipated multiplatform game Destiny 2 will feature PlayStation-exclusive content for the first year after it launches. Meanwhile, the comparatively underpowered Nintendo Switch has been riding a wave of goodwill largely on the back of one excellent game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Microsoft currently doesn’t have that advantage. While there are some interesting Xbox One games in the works, including titles like the long-delayed Crackdown 3 and Sea of Thieves, their numbers are small, and there’s nothing that, at this moment, could be considered a system-seller on the level of Breath of the Wild. There’s little reason to believe that a spec bump for Project Scorpio will do much to change that and encourage developers to focus more on Xbox. In fact, a recent survey from the Game Developers Conference suggests that game creators aren’t especially interested in either Scorpio or Sony’s similar PS4 Pro. Only 18 percent of those surveyed thought the new hardware was a good thing for the industry. “Most of them don’t really know what to make of it,” said GDC general manager Meggan Scavio.
Of course, this only counts the games we know about. An important thing to note is the timing of today’s Scorpio reveal, which is just a few short months ahead of E3 in Los Angeles, where Microsoft has said it will talk more about the console. (Including, presumably, what it will look like and how much it will cost.) It’s possible that Microsoft is getting the nitty-gritty technical details out of the way now so that it can focus on games at E3. Refocusing its efforts on games has been a talking point for the Xbox team ever since the disastrous Xbox One launch, where Forza and Halo took a backseat to partnerships with the NFL and Comcast. It’s something the company has been trying to fix ever since.
The changes and upgrades at the heart of Project Scorpio all bear this game-centric focus in mind. They’re features meant to improve the experience of playing Xbox games, whether it’s making them look better, run smoother, or adding features like better GameDVR. This isn’t another attempt to turn the Xbox into the all-encompassing center of your living room entertainment experience. It’s about games — and now it just needs some new ones.