5 lessons Microsoft can learn from the PS4 Pro and use for Project Scorpio
Can the suped-up Xbox find lightning in a bottle?
With the PlayStation 4 Pro now having been on the market for several months, you can bet hardware rival Microsoft has played close attention to customer reactions to the product. If recent sales numbers are anything to go by, it seems that Sony has seen a substantial amount of success with their mid-generation upgrade. 6.4 million PS4 units were sold over the holiday season bringing the systems cumulative lifetime sales to 53.4 million. For comparison, Sony sold around 5.7 million systems in the same period a year prior.
It’s unclear exactly how the sale numbers were broken up, which units sold were the recently redesigned slimmer model or the beefed up Pro, Sony is happy with those numbers, especially after Xbox One enjoyed several months on top. But the cat’s out of the bag, and it’s unlikely Sony will have any new hardware in production for a few years now. Microsoft still has one ace up its sleeve: Project Scorpio. And they plan to play it this fall. It’s Microsoft’s game to lose, but as long as they build upon the groundwork Sony has laid then they should be in good shape. How will they do that? I’m glad you asked!
Give us the details
I love how games look on my PS4 Pro. I’m a terribly visual person that craves the best-looking image on their screen. The Pro is built for someone like me who doesn’t want to deal with the headaches of PC gaming and whose friends mostly play on consoles. However, I’d like to know exactly what my system is doing and how the game's visuals are improved. This is why Rise of the Tomb Raider is my go-to show off game for the Pro. It offers several graphics options: 1080p at 60fps, 1080p with improved textures, and 4K at 30fps. I know exactly the improvements the system offers for this game, as well as being able to see the immediate results. However, not every gaming experience is like this.
Some games have more nondescript options, such as Final Fantasy XV’s Lite and High settings which offer lower-res/higher-fps and higher-res/lower-fps respectively. However, what these frame rates and resolutions are I have no idea and the menu to access them is not an overlay so you are unable to see the switch happen. And finally, some games don’t offer options and don’t tell you what improvements are being made.
You might think that this is overkill, but if you’re purchasing a more expensive system I imagine you’d want to know exactly what you’re getting for your money. Scorpio enabled games should make it clear what improvements are being made, whilst offering a live view of those enhancements.
Offer minimal hardware customizations
The PS4 Pro is a half-measure toward PC gaming but is still very much a living room console. In fact, the only reason we compare it to PCs is because it offers 4K gaming, which would have almost certainly been the standard by PlayStation 5. Other than the fact that the disparity between systems offers graphical variety, the Pro shares nothing in common with a PC. Whilst Steam Machines are PCs disguised as consoles, Scorpio should be a console disguised as a PC. It should be modular like Google’s Project Ara; you don’t have to open up the unit and fiddle with the internals but rather have external attachments.
Whilst consoles have dabbled with hardware features like this in the past, it’s clear the market was never ready. The field has matured greatly since the Sega-CD 32 X for the Genesis or the Nintendo 64 Expansion Pak, and any hardware peripherals would be launched alongside the console rather than released later. We’re not talking gimmicky peripherals: a more powerful GPU or a liquid cooling system. These are hardware additions that improve the system as a whole and not just the games that you play.
Don’t push the envelope with pricing
Sony’s pricing model is maybe the smartest move they’ve made with the Pro and why I think they have found success with the console. You can currently purchase a Slim for $300 or pick up a future-proofed system for only an extra Benjamin. Granted, the Slim comes with a copy of Uncharted 4 and is often discounted to $250, but the price disparity between the two isn’t great. Price will determine the life or death of Scorpio: something Microsoft already knows painfully well with the initial Xbox One release.
With the console supposedly a substantial upgrade over even the PS4 Pro, it might be able to retail at $500 and find success. However, I worry that a penny more will be a nail in a coffin for Scorpio, especially if the PS4 Pro gets a $50 dollar price cut this fall (something Sony might do to stagnate Scorpio sales). This is where those hardware customizations come in: if you want to spend upwards of $600-$800 dollars on a console you can go right ahead, but we’d be foolish to believe the average consumer would pay that price.
I know this is a system more skewed to hardcore gamers, but if Microsoft wants Scorpio to be a success they’re going to need to nab a portion of the average consumer market.
Give it a generic as hell name
Look, I get it. Project Scorpio sounds cool. It sounds like the latest training program in a Jason Bourne film. But that’s also why it’s kind of lame, and will not play well with, again, those pesky average consumers. PS4 Pro, which I so desperately wanted to retail as Neo, is pretty much the perfect name. It tells you right away exactly what the product is: a better PS4.
If Microsoft was smart, they’d just call this new system the Xbox One Elite. That’s already a thing, you say! Well, not anymore. Although their Elite controller is most definitely still a thing, and you can almost guarantee that will be the controller packaged with the system. Even take it a step further and label it the Xbox Elite with the S getting a name change to simply Xbox.
Make the box stand out
The PS4 Pro looks almost identical to the slimmer model with only an extra layer to the cake. It’s up in the air as to whether this was a good idea or not, but something sure else as hell was: the Xbox One S design. The matte white, or Robot White as Microsoft calls it, is gorgeous and the system looks amazing in a home entertainment center. Some subscribe to the idea that “Oh, it’s just going to sit under the TV. What does it matter?” But I’m not one of those people.
I would want my Scorpio to stand out. Nothing quite as ludicrous as the early Xbox prototype, but maybe something similar to HP’s Omen X. I mean, look at that thing! It’s only a cube turned on its side, but god damn is it different. It automatically draws my interest. Hell, make it a cube sitting flat! Just anything other than a rectangle.
I am deeply intrigued as to exactly what Microsoft plans to release this fall, but I feel like these are a few ingredients to mix into the recipe for their success. What do you guys think?