The launch of the Xbox One X approaches, and when any console is about to release, console warriors and naysayers start circling over it like vultures, trying their hardest to put down the new challenger before it steps into the ring. This is the petty nature of console wars, and we’re pretty much all used to it.
Of course, room for criticism does exist, since no vision behind any product is perfect, or fits everyone’s taste and needs. Yet with the Xbox One X, I’ve seen a level of bashing that simply defies logic and common sense. Some of the things I’ve read step right down into the kindergarten of childish mudslinging and set my palm and my face in an unstoppable collision course.
So, let’s talk about it.
First of all, we will examine what the Xbox One X isn’t. It isn’t some sort of smart bomb aimed to suddenly reverse the fortunes of the console war. Secret weapons like the Messerschmitt Me 262 didn’t win World War II, and the Xbox One X won’t place Xbox at the top of the food chain on its own. The difference here is that Microsoft is fully aware of that. They are positioning the console as a premium product via specs, pricing and promotion, and premium products aren’t designed to win over massive slices of market share: a Ford GT won’t sell more than a Focus.
What Microsoft is trying to do with Xbox One X isn’t winning the console war, and it’s perfectly in line with what they have done over the past year and change: it’s offering their customer base a diverse range of options to play games.
For now, Microsoft offers a low-price, low-performance option with the Xbox One S. On top of that, they have Windows 10, which is its own animal: it works with a wide array of price points and options. It can be very cheap, or go all the way up to the high-end.
The Windows 10 market only partly overlaps the Xbox One market, as it offers very different features that many console users may find superfluous, and that attract a different kind of crowd that wants a more customizable experience that can go beyond gaming. While Windows 10 can satisfy part of the high-end crowd, it doesn’t embrace it all.
To this end, they’re adding Xbox One X, which retains the streamlined console experience of the Xbox One S, but leans more towards the high-end of power and price, aimed at a different kind of customer compared to the other two options.
Microsoft’s aim isn’t to wield an ultimate console war-winning weapon, but simply to increase the Xbox market share by offering a wider variety of options that can satisfy a diverse range of customers, and it’s rather likely that they will succeed. By how much? We’d need a crystal ball to know, but the way I see it, the odds aren’t bad at all.
Let’s add the competition to this equation.
The standard PS4 offers pretty much the same features as the Xbox One S. There are small differences in power and oscillating discrepancies in pricing, but they occupy without a doubt a similar niche. The PS4 Pro offers a sizable but limited performance increase, accompanied by a sizable but limited price hike.
The Nintendo Switch actually places itself lower in terms of power compared to the PS4 and Xbox One S, but makes it up with portability, differentiating itself enough that it only partially overlaps the target of Sony’s and Microsoft’s consoles, pretty much like PC does.
The Xbox One X places itself at the high end of power and price, occupying a completely different niche compared to PS4 and Xbox One S, and only partially overlapping the PS4 Pro. It also doeson’t overlap with Windows 10, not only because of the large difference in features and options, but also because at the Xbox One X price range, PCs are still on the low end of power for games.
Let us try to visualize this all with a diagram.
Of course, this is rather empirical, but it provides a pretty decent idea.
By making less compromises with the hardware, and selling at a much higher price, the Xbox One X only partly overlaps with the same target as the PS4 Pro, with a portion of its designed customer base being gamers who want even more power and are willing to pay more cold hard cash for it. It also occupies a niche that Windows 10 doesn’t serve well, because at $499.99 you’re not even into the same planet of 4K-capable gaming PCs.
While the PS4 Pro and the standard PS4 have targets that overlap quite heavily due to the fact that their difference in power and price isn’t enormous (with the result being that the PS4 Pro has a relatively low market share within the whole PS4 family), the Xbox One X aims at a rather different target user compared to the Xbox One S, because it comes with much higher power at twice the price point.
The result of this is that the Xbox One X is placed pretty much in the best possible market niche that Microsoft could find for it. It’s positioned nicely within the Xbox/Windows 10 range of products, competing as little as possible with Xbox One S and PC, and it also steers as clear as possible from the competition. It doesn’t really compete with the Switch, its target is very different from the standard PS4, and the overlap with PS4 Pro is only partial, as the new console looks to tempt even more demanding customers, with more disposable income to spend in entertainment.
If Microsoft made more compromises with the hardware to achieve a lower price point, the Xbox One X would have cannibalized the Xbox One S market more heavily, and would have competed more directly against the PS4 Pro. If the company pushed the pedal to the metal to place even more horsepower under the hood, the higher price would have led the console more into the high-end PC realm, which would have been less desirable as well.
Of course, the question is how big is that niche of consumers willing to spend $499.99 for a console, and we won’t be able to fully assess that until the Holiday season. That being said, all signals indicate that 4K TV adoption will receive a big boost this fall, taking up a vast majority of TV set purchases, at least in North America.
It’s probably safe to infer that a sizable percentage of those who are able to afford the switch to 4K also have the income required to invest on an Xbox One X. But regardless of this variable, Microsoft did its homework well in positioning the console on the market, minimizing target overlaps with all other players, including itself.
Now let us move to another relevant point: in hardware, there is no such thing as too much power. I certainly don’t know many developers that would scoff at additional teraFLOPS, or gigabytes of RAM. Why? Simply because it makes their job easier.
The PS4 Pro is a wonderful machine, and in a way it’s a smarter solution compared to the Xbox One X. It achieves a boost in performance by pushing less on the raw power, shifting part of the burden of the improvement on clever technical solutions adopted by developers. That being said, the byproduct of that is that truly taking advantage of the console is more complex.
On the other hand, the Xbox One X could be considered a less refined solution, as it simply throws a lot more power into the equation. The boost in performance is achieved by using higher-end components. The result of this is a higher price, but the boost in power is larger, and simpler to achieve for developers. Studios can more easily bump up resolution, frame rate, textures and all that jazz without having to resort to complex technical acrobatics, and the fact that many reported to have been able to port their games to the new console very quickly is evidence of that.
While Sony’s best studios are masters of squeezing every bit of juice out of the console by using all kinds of technical wizardry, very possibly limiting the effects of the power gap, your average developer — especially among third-parties — is less likely to have those kinds of resources, time, and technical competence.
We should also consider the fact that technical voodoo is hardware-agnostic, so given the competence, will and resources, similar advanced techniques can be applied to the Xbox One X as well, further boosting its capabilities.
I have zero doubts that the strongest players in Sony’s development camp like Naughty Dog or Guerrilla Games will make their games look so good that the power gap between PS4 Pro and Xbox One X will appear less relevant, but I also can see that less technically masterful studios – and especially third-parties – will mostly stick to implementations requiring less bespoke workload, resulting in visible differences in graphical fidelity.
Increasing the pixel count, the texture resolution, and the overall level of detail is a relatively simple task in the multiplatform realm, with games developed on PC to begin with, and visual parameters already exposed and scalable for the Windows version.
That’s probably where the Xbox One X will shine the most. We have seen a relevant example recently with Rise of the Tomb Raider, and we’ll probably see many more over the next few months. I have witnessed plenty of examples myself at Gamescom, running on shiny screens right in front of my eyes, and I was definitely impressed.
Considering how relevant sales of third-party blockbusters tend to be nowadays, that’s definitely not an irrelevant advantage.
Too often I hear that Xbox One X doesn’t have a place in the market, because one may as well buy a PC at that price to achieve that kind of performance, but that’s a ludicrous notion. It’s rather common to see articles and videos trying to sell this or that PC fabled build with a console-like price as equivalent in performance.
That kind of content is as misleading and as worthless as it can be. While those builds (I honestly can’t even bring myself to call them “gaming rigs”) are indeed cheap, and they have similar specs to consoles on paper, they don’t partake in the performance advantages granted by having a very limited set of configurations, and won’t come even close to their console counterparts in the capability of running the games smoothly, especially not consistently among a wide range of games. A common trick for this kind of content is to cherry pick a couple of games that support the narrative, conveniently ignoring the fact that most other titles won’t achieve the same results.
To that, you should add the fact that those builds are achieved by using the cheapest components on the market, skimping on elements like motherboards, cooling, power sources and more. These kinds of components have no place in a rig that would safely withstand the stress delivered by gaming over an extended period of time, and there are a few things worse than the damage that a faulty, cheap power source can deliver to your system.
So no, you’re not better off buying a gaming PC if you want to stay into the $500 budget; even more so if you prefer the streamlined and simplified experience provided by console gaming, and don’t want to deal with complexities like drivers, operating systems, and more.
If you want a gaming PC that will consistently deliver a performance similar to Xbox One X across the board and on most games, you’re looking more towards an investment of $1,000 or more. Of course, if the perks offered by PC gaming like customization, modding and many non-gaming additional features are attractive for you (and as a PC gamer, I can certainly relate), then yes, the PC route may be better for you, provided that you’re willing to put in the higher initial investment. Yet, this definitely doesn’t invalidate the Xbox One X option, because there are millions of people out there that can’t care the less for the additional features offered by PC gaming, and often find them to be a liability more than an additional value.
Those gamers, who want a streamlined, console-like experience coupled with high-end performance for a price that is more or less in the middle between standard console gaming and PC gaming, are the Xbox One X’s main target. If that’s not what you’re looking for, then you simply aren’t part of that target, and it’s perfectly fine. The good news is that with the arrival of the Xbox One X, there are plenty options in the market for pretty much every need in terms of power, price and experience.
With PS4, Xbox One S, PS4 Pro, Xbox One X, the massive variety of Windows 10 machines, and Nintendo Switch, the gaming market has never been this rich and diverse, offering suitable options for every kind of gamer and for every budget. There is simply no way for this to be logically construed as a bad thing.
Xbox One X pre-orders have been made available on August 20th, and they sold out almost everywhere really quickly. Luckily, a second wave will be coming soon. The console will cost $499, and will launch on November 7th. If you want to read more about Microsoft’s strategy, you can check out our recent interview with Xbox Games Marketing General Manager Aaron Greenberg.