It’s been nearly a year since Microsoft confirmed the existence of Project Scorpio. This new console isn’t even really a ‘new console’—it’s a mid-gen upgrade to the original Xbox One, which is just a little over three years old at this point. The Scorpio is impressive on paper, but that’s just the thing: is Microsoft playing its new trump card too soon?
This generation has been strange to say the least; it arguably started off a bit strange. The PS4 and Xbox One were released just a week after one another, seven and eight years after their predecessors (respectively). Even though a new generation had began, it didn’t really feel all that new. The PS4 and Xbox One are basically beefier versions of their predecessors; there’s nothing totally new and amazing about them aside from the prettier graphics. Fast-forward to now and we’re going through a similar process, albeit with a different set of circumstances: we’re not getting ‘new’ systems, we’re getting more powerful versions of systems that aren’t even five years old yet.
Both Sony and Microsoft have just so happened to have the same, unorthodox idea. The reason being is that 4K is slowly starting to become the new industry standard (although it’s still not at that level yet), and there’s also VR which is still trying to find a real voice. Sony’s PS4 Pro has been out for a few months now, and although it hasn’t made a huge splash, the improvements that it has brought to the table has impressed gamers for the most part. Meanwhile, Microsoft has been continuously promising that the Scorpio will be able to do even more. The specs have been finalized, and Microsoft isn’t lying—the Scorpio really is a powerful machine. But, that just might be the problem.
There’s a saying: ‘bigger is better’. Many people have chased after that claim by trying to obtain lavish things like sweet rides, big houses, and the finest clothing. While ‘glimmer and glamour’ is nice and all, it’s not necessarily the ‘best’. Sometimes, modesty is just fine. When it comes to technology, that argument goes in all sorts of directions. Some people enjoy knowing that they have the best on the market. That’s why you have folks with monster PC rigs: an insane amount of RAM, SSDs on everything, dual GPUs, the most chill cooling system ever, and RGB lights that make the sun look like a firefly. As great as all of that is, it comes at a very hefty expense—that’s why the average person doesn’t have anything nearly as complex as something like that. There have been beefy consoles too over the years, but those haven’t been the ones to do the best.
The Scorpio is mighty, but is that what it needs to succeed?
Because the average console lasts multiple years, the hardware within has always been built with longevity in mind (at least four years). As developers’ needs become greater and the hardware gets older, eventually the console generation comes to an end in order to make room for the next, and then the cycle keeps on continuing. This has been the pattern for a long time; but now we have the Pro and Scorpio. Both of these ‘new’ systems have completely flipped the script on that aforementioned pattern. For the first time ever, the console market has fragmentation—just like PCs. Usually, it’s only been during generational transitions that gamers would have to deal with something like this, but now it looks like it’s going to become the new standard with having a ‘basic’ and ‘premium’ version of a single system in one generation.
The PS4 Pro can obviously do things that the original PS4 can’t, but the difference isn’t huge like comparing the PS4 to the PS3. Sony has taken a pretty conservative approach with the Pro: it’s got enough power to handle 4K gaming to a degree, and also it also gives the PSVR a slight boost in performance. It’s a modest upgrade, so much so that it only costs as much as the original PS4 did when it launched back in 2013. So if the Pro is the modest option, then what’s the Scorpio? Well, here’s where the aforementioned ‘glimmer-and-glamour’ comes in.
Microsoft started off the generation on a bad foot. Not even counting the really terrible factors of always-online policies, forced Kinect-integration, and over-abundant attention on TV that plagued the Xbox One early in its life, there’s the main fact that it’s less powerful than the PS4. The 360 was also less powerful than the PS3, but there was a catch: accessing its extra power basically required you to have a PhD in computer coding. As a result, the 360 was actually the preferred system since developers didn’t have to lose sleep to get their games running on it. Sony acknowledged this problem and did a complete-180 with the PS4. Not only is the system easier to develop for, but it has enough power to give devs a decent amount of room to let their ideas run wild. The Xbox One isn’t too far behind, but it’s reduced power is enough to force most multi-platform games to run at a lower resolution than the PS4 version. Like Sony did with the PS4, Microsoft has decided to pull up its socks and turn the ship around with the Scorpio.
PS4 has been giving the Xbox One a strong run for its money since day one.
The Scorpio is Microsoft’s nuke.
Project Scorpio is no ‘modest upgrade’, it’s almost like the system belongs in a new generation. Microsoft promised from the get-go that all titles will run on both Scorpio and Xbox One, but you really have to wonder what the differences will be like. The PS4 alone is roughly 50 percent more powerful than the XBO (GPU performance); likewise, the Scorpio is 50 percent more powerful than the PS4 Pro. This is good news for developers, but the question is—are people going to be swayed by it?
The PS4 is the first console in history to be the most powerful and also sell the most units. The system has sold 50+ million units, while the Xbox One is hovering somewhere in the 30 million range. Microsoft’s fumbles at the beginning of the console’s life pretty much gave Sony the ability to win right then-and-there. Even if the Scorpio is a spec-beast, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee that it will sell well.
We don’t know the price of the system, but there’s no way it’s going to be close to that of the PS4 Pro. There’s a chance that Microsoft could have already released it by now, just like the Pro, but maybe it was deliberately stalled in order to try and keep the price as fair as possible. It’s not unrealistic at all to imagine the system costing at least $500. Xbox One’s are currently going for as low as $250, and yet, it’s still lagging behind the PS4. With the Scorpio being a part of the Xbox One family, it’s not likely that it will be able to push the platform closer to its rival.
The gap between the PS4 and Xbox One platforms is massive.
Scorpio is going to need more than just powerful specs to catch up.
In my opinion, Microsoft should have waited at least another year or two more, and simply release the Scorpio as an all-new system. The Xbox One would be at the usual age of replacement, and then, all developers would have to do is follow the usual pattern of slowly transitioning from the old hardware to the newer one, with the consumer base gradually making the shift. So then, why did they choose now?
My theory is that the PS3 and 360 lasted longer than they should have, meaning that this current generation technically started late. If we got the PS4/XBO back in 2012 or 2013, then right now would be the usual time for new systems to release. Because things got started late, developers have most likely began to start hitting the limits of the original PS4 and XBO. With 4K and VR slowly rising, the old hardware is not adequate enough to properly make use of the new technology. So, developers probably urged both Sony and Microsoft to upgrade their systems in order to keep up. Sony decided to take a more conservative approach, while Microsoft seems to have seen this as an opportunity to turn the tables around and have the bragging rights of being the ones with the “most powerful console in the world”. But, alas, the PlayStation empire probably won’t even flinch.
The only way Microsoft can truly push the Xbox One is by releasing a multitude of solid exclusives. There are a few in the pipeline, but that’s likely not enough. The PS4 has been enjoying having the prettier versions multi-platform games along with a number of great exclusives, whereas the Xbox One has had to settle of having the lesser versions of those multi-plats and fewer exclusives this year. The Scorpio’s added power may be able to produce the best-looking visuals, but unless there are a solid number of experiences that can’t be had anywhere else, people simply won’t be interested. Because its specs are so beefy, the price will reflect that, which is going to alienate even more people. The timing just isn’t right.