Xbox One X – Can it thrive without backing from Japan?

Gaming maestro Matt Lambourne discusses the future of the XBOX One X...

The Xbox One has had a chequered history so far; from its astoundingly shoddy launch and initial vision under Don Mattrick, to a bold attempt to recover the brand with the ditching of Kinect and launching the Xbox One S under Phil Spencer’s leadership. Microsoft’s latest attempt to dominate the console market launches on 7 November 2017 with the Xbox One X (formerly Project Scorpio). However, the concern from many is that Japan’s hardware and software giants will stifle the console before it even has a chance to draw its first breath.

Xbox has been a massive thorn in the side of the traditional console hardware giants since its unceremonious arrival in the early 2000’s, effectively squeezing Sega out of the game, robbing Nintendo of talented development team RARE, and facilitating the Americanisation of the console gaming market by solidly positioning itself around online gaming, first person shooters and a mass of sports titles.

It certainly goes without saying that whilst the Playstation 3 did a good job of catching up by the end of the seventh console generation, the Xbox 360 ran away with the contest – if you exclude the Nintendo Wii from the equation as more of a family entertainment device. Yes, Microsoft’s powerful gaming PC in a box massively upset the competition, even surviving the Red Ring of Death fiasco to prevail at the end of Gen-7; and they certainly expected the same (and more) from the 360’s sequel.

As a project, Xbox One was somewhat doomed to fail from the off. By digging their heels in over the DRM drama, bundling Kinect thus inflating the price of the console at launch, and failing to match PS4 for brute strength, the Xbox One had given away all of its hard-earned lead in the console market gained via the 360. A portion of the blame for the console’s relative lack of success could be directed towards former head Don Mattrick who just didn’t seem to “get” gaming. The reigns have now been passed to Phil Spencer to rejuvenate Xbox.

Luckily, Phil Spencer is very much a gamer’s gamer, and sales for Xbox have increased significantly since he steered the ship into safe waters and oversaw development of the superior Xbox One S. But Microsoft still needed more. PS4 have released their Slim Console, PS-VR and the PS4 Pro in the same time frame that Xbox was recovering from its disastrous early missteps. That’s when Phil Spencer delivered news of the Xbox One X at E3 2016 (under codename Project Scorpio) and officially announced it at E3 2017.

Xbox One X is Microsoft’s last roll of the dice to outdo Sony on many fronts. It will have enough power under the hood to drive virtual reality experiences and 4K visual fidelity; both of which are the type of buzzwords that gamers cling to when trying to justify their affinity to a particular side. For pure specs, the Xbox One X is now undoubtedly the industry leader. But if there is one thing that being a follower of gaming over thirty years has taught me, it’s that the games, not the specs, will determine a system’s overall success.

And this is where Microsoft has its biggest issue: where are the games that will force gamers to hand over the £449 for a One X? Much of the industry press cling to Sony’s greater range of exclusive games. However, this doesn’t do much to persuade me. Much of this generation’s best games are cross-platform and they certainly aren’t going to be convinced to go Sony’s way for yet another Uncharted sequel (aka Dude Raider), or to Nintendo for yet another Zelda/Mario Kart-athon.

What Sony in particular have over Microsoft is the backing of Japan in general. Whilst the United States is the most lucrative gaming market and has been the majority focus of brand Xbox, Japan has never slipped into insignificance, especially from a Software perspective. And it’s the software coming out of Japan that might just sway the console way for this generation.

Games like Shenmue 3, Death Stranding, Sega’s Yakuza series, a Secret of Mana remake, and lower budget titles like Windjammers, are all exclusive to Sony and Nintendo, who are apparently unwilling to share their Eastern quirkiness with America’s own-flavour of console in the Xbox. These are the biggest concerns for an Xbox gamer. Not the in-house exclusives at Sony and Nintendo, such as Gran Turismo, Uncharted, Mario/Zelda/Pokemon, but the other great games with origins in Japan that are simply not being shared outside of the Japanese sphere of influence.

I certainly don’t feel there is an agreement between Nintendo, Sony and the many Japanese game developers out there, but it’s almost appears to an outsider that there is an unwritten rule and code of honour amongst them to not hand over their industry to a foreign power. This has been a big problem for Microsoft who haven’t necessarily earned true love from their followers and have had to throw money hand over fist to establish a foothold (albeit never in Japan). The Xbox brand simply has never taken off there in three generations of consoles.

Lifetime sales as of Jan 2017 – Source

I’m not suggesting that Microsoft has to sell big numbers in Japan to succeed (although every little helps), but what it must do is convince Japanese developers to bring their IP’s over to the Xbox platform to help diversify its appeal. Xbox’s in-house exclusives (Forza, Gears, Halo) are not the system pushers that they used to be. Xbox must find a genuine killer-app in-house and bring more exciting third parties to its door to give gamers all the excuse they need to invest in that powerful new box coming out in November.

Competition breeds innovation and Xbox has certainly helped bring that out of the industry during its spell as a main player. If they fail to diversify their offerings and rely solely upon being the most powerful console on the market, then this might be the last time we see Microsoft release a console, which would be a disaster for all gamers, regardless of your console preference.

Have an opinion on whether XBOX One X will succeed? We’d love to hear it, join the debate in the comments section and on social media.

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