2020 has been filled with uncertainty and nothing in gaming is more uncertain than current state of the Xbox brand. Ever since the announcement of the Xbox Series X, Microsoft has made a lot of bad decisions, some are outright confusing. I’ve listed them out for easier reading and some of these points even mix with other points.
The Xbox Series X name.
Microsoft already got off on a bad foot with their atrocious name. There is nothing here that jumps out at you. When you say Nintendo Switch you know it as the Switch, when you talk about the Playstation 5, you know it as the PS5. The Xbox Series X fails to distinguish itself. Its already easy to confuse the name with their similarly named Xbox One X. The grandma on Christmas trying to get an Xbox for little Timmy isn’t going to know the difference between a One X and a Series X as they use the same suffix. Microsoft has attempted the alleviate this by stopping production on the Xbox One X, but that doesn’t mean that the console isn’t going to be on store shelves come the holidays.
With the Playstation you know the difference between a PS4 and a PS5. We’ve already seen this happen in the last decade with the Wii-U’s poor sales, as the name completely failed to distinguish the console. If this name is kept, the Series X will suffer the same fate. This is destined to only get worse with the release of the Xbox Series S, where the suffixes of the two consoles are very similar sounding. I can already see little Timmy asking for an Xbox Series X and his grandma getting him an Xbox Series S because the two letters sound the same. The development names weren’t that great in Scarlett and Lockhart, but Xbox Scarlett and Xbox Lockhart sound not only distinct from each other but also from previous Xboxes. At this stage almost anything would’ve been better. Halo Infinite was a launch title? Xbox Infinite. Boom, better than the Series X already. The new Xbox looks like a Fridge? Xbox Fridge and Xbox Minifridge.
Failure of the May showcase.
The May showcase promised us gameplay from the Xbox Series X and some gameplay from Halo Infinite. Immediately before the show, they confirmed that it was going to be third-party games only, with some exclusives. In the show we saw a bunch of pre-rendered trailers that did nothing to show off the power of Xbox Series X and very few of the games there were interesting. The notable titles were Second Extinction, The Medium and Scorn, all 3 of which were Xbox Exclusives. The showcase did absolutely nothing to hype anyone up and there was a lot of backlash. Microsoft apologized, promised that the July showcase would be better and promised gameplay there.
In the two months before the July showcase, Phil Spencer and Aaron Greenberg hyped up the showcase, promising it to blow us away, and that they were confident in their line-up. They even said that for those who were disappointed in the lack of Japanese games on Xbox they will be pleasantly surprised. As July passed, news of the showcase seemed to be absent until we finally got a date of the 23rd July. As this point the extended wait from the last showcase only served to make the player-base more anxious and expectations were high.
Failure of the July showcase.
I won’t call the July showcase an outright failure, at least no way near the extent of the Xbox E3 2013 Conference, or even the Xbox May showcase. The July showcase showed off some Halo Infinite gameplay, revealed a slew of new first party and third-party exclusives, and some multiplatform games from both first party and third party. The pre-show showed off Dragon Quest IX and Balan Wonderworld as the Japanese games at were promised from Phil Spencer. The problem was that it was not enough. After being forced to wait for two months, Microsoft confidently stated that 9 out of their 15 studios were being shown off that day, deliberately omitting 6 to save for a later date.
The biggest issue with this showcase was the Halo Infinite gameplay, not only was it not on Xbox Series X, it was an older demo that showed horribly dated graphics that are trounced by Halo Reach from 10 years ago. Considering that Halo Infinite was set to release in a few months it brought the confidence of the game to an all-time low and many questions were directed towards Microsoft who for some reason saw that demo as fit for showcasing. Despite seeing a dozen or so new games, having such a weak opener killed their hype train and Microsoft drawing attention to their missing games did not help. In addition, despite their promises, there was no gameplay from the Xbox Series X, with the few games that had gameplay using a PC.
Omission of games from the July showcase.
Based on the studios that weren’t shown off and the games that were announced but weren’t in either showcase these were what I noticed were missing:
Microsoft Flight Simulator (Xbox Series X port)
Gears Tactics (Xbox One / Xbox Series X port)
Battletoads (First Party Console Exclusive, Day One on Game Pass, Play Anywhere, First shown off in E3 2019)
Age of Empires IV (First Party Console Exclusive, First shown off in E3 2019)
Wasteland 3 (First Party Studio, Multiplatform Release, Day One on Game Pass)
New Super Lucky’s Tale (Originally an Xbox Console Exclusive, Day One on Game Pass, Play Anywhere)
Yakuza: Like a Dragon (Next-Gen Console Exclusive)
Untitled Game from The Initiative (Nothing is known about this)
Project: Mara (Little is known about this)
Hellblade 2: Senua’s Saga (Nothing substantial is known except that its based on I C E L A N D)
At the time it was assumed that these games would be shown off at the August showcase, so their omission wasn’t a failure yet. The cancellation of the “August” event, and the release of some of these games without a showcase did draw attention to the failure of these omissions as time passed. What was the reason for their omission?
Ori and the Will of the Wisps got a trailer for the Xbox Series X version, so why was New Super Lucky’s Tale left out? Destiny 2 is a third party, multiplatform game that came out in 2017 that doesn’t use Play Anywhere but its DLC is coming to Game Pass, why not include New Super Lucky’s Tale that fits all those criteria and uses Play Anywhere?
Psychonauts 2 was from a first party studio with a multiplatform release, so for the same reason why wasn’t Wasteland 3 shown off?
Balan Wonderworld is a multiplatform Japanese release, so why not also include Yakuza which actually is an exclusive?
Gears Tactics was a critical success on PC so why not have a trailer for the inevitable Xbox One version?
Avowed was completely unknown before the showcase and we got a trailer for it, so why not show off Project: Mara which we do know about?
Why slow drip feed us news about the who joined The Initiative if you’re not going to show what they’re working on? The rumour here is that its Perfect Dark. Even if a trailer could not be put together, Hellblade 2 didn’t have a trailer, just the developers telling us that they really love Iceland. If Hellblade 2 could have an inclusion with such paltry information, why not tell us about The Initiative’s game?
The worst instance was with Battletoads, which dropped a trailer just two weeks after the showcase with a full release just two weeks after that. Which begs the question, why was this not in the July showcase if it was going to be released so soon after? Tell Me Why was featured and it was coming out in just a month, so why not include other games that were coming out at that time?
Second Extinction is also worth mentioning. It had a trailer drop about a week after the showcase. While it was in the May showcase, so was The Medium and that got shown off in the July showcase. Why not include Second Extinction?
Cancellation of the “August” showcase.
It was originally promised that every month would see some form of news about the Xbox Series X leading up to its release. After saying that 9 out of their 15 studios will be shown off at the July showcase with the remaining 6 to be shown off at a later date, the promise by Phil Spencer that the July showcase will only show off games and more specifics were to be shown off on a later date, and lack of a price or release date for the Xbox Series X, it was assumed that August will see another showcase to neatly wrap up the pre-launch.
During August 2020, Microsoft announced that they were cancelling plans for any monthly content drop along with a big postponement. What this essentially meant was that there would be no drop in August and Microsoft did not give any clue as to when we would get any more details. Gamescom has come and gone and we’re still in dark about the console. This was a huge failure by Microsoft to communicate with its customers.
Omission of XCloud from the July showcase.
XCloud is a great service if you live in a country where its available and you can get fast and reliable internet. The world isn’t going to have poor internet forever and Microsoft plans to expand XCloud to other regions, so this service is destined to become one of the most promising parts of the Xbox brand. Microsoft dropped a nice trailer showing off the service, the games you can play and the peripherals to use for it and included that it would be bundled with Game Pass Ultimate for no further cost.
The problem with this trailer? It was released just a week after the July showcase. This begs the question, why didn’t Microsoft put this in the July showcase when all eyes were on them? There was no reason not to aside from the flimsy statement that July’s showcase was to only feature games. I’m certain there would be no Xbox fan that would’ve been disappointed with its inclusion in the showcase. Leaving it out only served to ensure that only the hardcore gaming fans know about it for now and none of the general public is talking about it as much as they should.
Postponing of Halo Infinite.
This game was supposed to be the bread and butter of the Xbox Series X, the launch title that will help the console leave its mark on the generation. It was in development for 5 years, cost $500 million to make and boasts the new Slipspace engine. Come the July showcase, we see an unfinished demo for a game that’s only a few months from release and this attracts a lot of negative press. The game is then delayed until 2021, leaving the Xbox without a proper launch title. Apparently, the game is such a mess that a Halo veteran writer had to be brought in to fix the story and its rumoured that Halo Infinite will be delayed until 2022. While Microsoft has come out to say that its still on track for 2021, considering how unreliable their previous statements have been, I took it with a grain of salt.
Its borderline baffling that a company can take so long to make a game, flub its demo so badly and be forced to delay the game. That demo was apparently from January 2020, meaning that COVID was never to blame for the game’s poor state. It was always going to get delayed. Microsoft’s failure on their part was keeping a company that had one underwhelming game and two fully botched games, allowing them to do whatever they want for 5 years and give them all the funding in the world. There was no excuse for that delay aside from a complete and utter failure on 343 Industries’ part and Microsoft failing to reign them in on their part. At this point, Halo Infinite is like another Scalebound.
Glut of games in August and the lack of launch titles.
In the last month from the July showcase we saw the following releases:
Microsoft Flight Simulator
New Super Lucky’s Tale
Tell Me Why
4 of these were from Xbox Game Studios and 2 were published by a third party and developed by a first party studio. All 6 games were released Day One on Game Pass.
Remember that point I made about the omission of games from the July showcase? The release of Battletoads, Microsoft Flight Simulator, New Super Lucky’s Tale and Wasteland 3 in August without being showed off in either showcase was a huge missed opportunity. Its baffling why they were excluded, considering all these games were available Day One on Game Pass and would be released before any August or September showcase. Microsoft’s decision not to showcase games that were coming just a few weeks after is baffling. It honestly makes no sense to have two showcases and you aren’t even going to show off your own upcoming games, excluding them for no reason.
The Xbox Series X is lacking a big launch title with the postponement of Halo Infinite. While all these August games can be played on the Series X, the general gaming public is still stuck in the mindset of “launch titles”. They want a brand-new shiny game to play on their brand-new shiny console. The Series X being fully backwards compatible is feature, but not a selling point. The general public does not care for it as much as Microsoft thinks that they do. Case in point, both the Switch and PS4 have no backwards compatibility and they both outsold the Xbox One. To the general public, it won’t be appealing to play a game from last gen that launched in August on their new next-gen console in November. Considering the year that we’re in, won’t it have been a better move to delay Grounded, Battletoads and Tell Me Why to November to give the illusion of launch exclusives? It is rumoured that Flight Simulator’s console version is going to be a launch title, but that game has nowhere near the appeal of Spider-Man or Halo Infinite. If it was going to be a launch title, then why not release the PC version at the same time? Microsoft’s decision to dump so many of their games in August shows a complete lack of understanding of the minds of their prospective customers.
I also want to add in the huge gap in the game releases. Most of the bigger games we saw in the July showcase were to be released on Series X only, indicating a minimum of two years’ wait. Once we get through the August glut of games, the few launch titles then Halo Infinite, there is nothing big from Xbox Game Studios until around 2022. If there was anything big in between, Microsoft has kept us in the dark about it. It makes no sense to show off games from 2022 at earliest and completely leave out games coming out in just a few weeks.
Lack of information about the console.
Say whatever you want about Xbox’s E3 2013 showcase, but we knew about the console a solid 5 months before its release. We knew about its features, we saw gameplay, we knew the release date and we knew the price. With the cancellation of E3 this year, companies have taken up the opportunity to have their own showcases and gradually drip feed us information, leeching as much as they can from no longer being tied down to one big event. It’s a big win for the company, but a huge loss for the consumer as we’re kept in the dark on purpose.
There has been news in the pipeline about the Xbox Series S, but we have yet to get any official information about the console. There are rumours that the consoles are priced at $600/$300 for the X and S respectively, but we just don’t know. There are rumours that the consoles are releasing in November, but again we have no idea. Microsoft stopped production on the Xbox One X, which has similar specs to the leaked information of Series S, but its been over a month since they stopped production and there is no word about the reason for this decision.
But worst part about the lack of information is the lack of gameplay from the Xbox Series X. All gameplay we have seen thus far have been from Xbox One or PC. Nothing from the actual console. Microsoft promised us gameplay twice and failed on both occasions.
Removal of 12-month Xbox Live Gold Subscriptions.
Right before the July showcase, 12-month Gold subscriptions were removed from the marketplace, leaving 3-month as the maximum that could be purchased. Considering it was the end of July, and the assumed release of the Series X at beginning of November, players assumed that this meant that Xbox Live Gold would be removed for the next gen and Microsoft was removing the option to buy these subscriptions that they would no longer offer. It was expected that this would be elaborated on in the July showcase, but it was not. Then it was expected to be elaborated on the August showcase and that was cancelled. We’re still in the dark about this. Microsoft recently revealed that there were to be no changes to Xbox Live at this time which further adds to the confusion surrounding the decision to remove the 12-month subscription in the first place. All this has done is effectively made it more expensive to get a year of Gold.
This change only served to bring attention to Xbox’s greatest shortcoming. Free-to-play games still require Gold when no other platform does. This is huge downside to even buying the console when you consider most of the biggest games right now: Fortnite, Apex Legends, Warzone are all free to play with Halo Infinite’s multiplayer also planned to be free to play, as well as Destiny 2 being free-to-play and was shown off by Microsoft. If you need to pay to play online, there’s no plans to remove the paid requirement to play multiplayer and a year of your subscription is more than the competition ($100 for Gold vs $60 for PS+ and $20 for Nintendo Online) why would I ever buy your console?
In addition, Games with Gold has been suffering this year. There are very few AAA titles being given out now, and the one title that seemed certain for some reason was excluded this year, Forza Horizon 3. The lack of quality titles on the service has led many to believe that Microsoft plans to discontinue Gold soon. If they don’t, then why has the service gotten so poor recently?
It is a very frustrating time to be an Xbox fan. Microsoft has made a variety of questionable decisions and I’m purposefully being kept in the dark about a product I want to purchase. The last year has seen Microsoft repeatedly fail to communicate with their customers, overestimate their products and fail to deliver. They come off as a company that is horribly out of touch with not only their fans, but the general gaming public as a whole. The Xbox Series X is set to be released in November and Microsoft has two months to correct their course or I can easily see them losing another generation.
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