Microsoft’s Xbox One launched on November 22nd, 2013, eight years to the day after the launch of its predecessor, the Xbox 360. It only had one SKU priced at $499.99, one hundred dollars more than its competitor, Sony’s Playstation 4. From the beginning, the PS4 managed to outsell the Xbox One by a wide margin, mostly because of this price difference, but also because early buzz by online gaming and technical blogs saying Microsoft had skimped on the hardware this time around, and that the PS4 was far more powerful than the Xbox One in that regard. Microsoft’s bungled original reveal of the system, which was set to feature draconian DRM measures that prevented traditional resale or even loaning of game discs, also gave the system a bad reputation, even though Microsoft backpedaled on all of those after an unprecedented gamer backlash.
It’s now nine months later, and Microsoft’s direction with the Xbox One has changed even more since launch. Titanfall, the system’s main exclusive, failed to live up to expectations in either gameplay or sales, hurt by the lack of a single player campaign. The console’s launch exclusives Dead Rising 3 and Ryse: Son of Rome also failed to meet sales target, and have since been released or announced for the PC.
Microsoft’s console continues to be outsold by the PS4 on a month-by-month basis, especially after it has become increasingly apparent that the early analysis by the tech blogs was correct, and that the PS4 has a graphical edge over the Xbox One, whose games typically run at a lower resolution and lower framerates. Assassin’s Creed IV, Battlefield 4, Metal Gear Solid V and Watch Dogs all run at a lower resolution oin the Xbox One.
In May, Microsoft announced a new SKU without Kinect 2.0. This version of the Xbox One would sell for $399.99. Previously, Microsoft had stated that a Kinect-less SKU would never be sold. Reversing this position paid off, causing an increase in sales, with numbers for June doubling those of the previous month. Microsoft also modified its Xbox Live policies to allow for the use of video apps without an Xbox Live subscription. It also started giving away free Xbox One games to Xbox Live Gold subscribers, as well as game discounts. Industry observers noted that these changes were designed to mimic Sony’s Playstation Plus program, which has been a big success for the company. Microsoft has also stepped up its System Software update releases, improving functionality of the console. The October relese adds booting straight to TV or Xbox Live Home, as well as threaded messaging and improved Snap. Better interface control for owners of the Kinect-less SKU has also been added (remember, the Xbox One was originally designed to be controlled by voice commands.)
All of this has led to Worldwide sales of 5 million Xbox One, about half of the sales numbers for the PS4. The system recently launched in Japan (with a resounding thud, but that’s a topic for another time) and excitement for the system in China seems to be surprisingly high, with customers lining up for the system, iPhone-launch-style.
With upcoming games like “Halo: the Master Chief Collection” and a timed exclusive for “Rise of the Tomb Raider”, Microsoft is trying to make the console attractive to gamers, though at present the system suffers from a marked lack of games when compared to the PS4. Though a lot of mayor titles on both platforms have been delayed to 2015, Sony has managed to fill the gap with many Indie game releases and the occasional Japanese import. In that sense, Microsoft is reaping the bad karma from former Xbox boss (and Douchebag Supreme) Don Mattrick’s systematic firing and dismantling of its first-party developers.
Microsoft has its work cut out for it in the current console generation. Its attempts to salvage the Xbox One, while commendable, may be a little too late, given the unprecedented Worldwide success of the PS4.