Coming off of the relative disaster that was the PlayStation 3 and the huge success of the Xbox 360, Microsoft was poised to tighten their grip on the console gaming market coming into this generation. Nintendo, also coming off of a disappointing generation with the Wii U, was not seen as much of a threat either. But right from go this generation, it was obvious that Microsoft had shot themselves in the foot. Gamers, many of which were longtime Microsoft loyalists, were choosing the PlayStation 4 for not only exclusive games, but also for multiplatform titles. Here are a few reasons I feel Microsoft has tripped over themselves so horribly this generation.
At the console reveal, the focus was on everything but games
When the Xbox One was revealed, Microsoft spent a shockingly long amount of time on talk about movies, music, sports, and other aspects of entertainment that weren’t video games. It was an event for the hardcore gamer, but gaming was given the backseat treatment. I remember sitting there dumbfounded as mandatory Kinect integration, restrictions on used games, and other forms of entertainment (TV, music, movies, etc.), served the main focal points. The Internet reaction was rough, and the Xbox One started out its time in the light as being painted anti-consumer, confusing, and confused.
It took Microsoft a long time to shake the stigma that the Xbox One was an entertainment box first and a gaming console second, especially given how…
The PlayStation 4 was unveiled as a gamers first console
When the PlayStation 4 was unveiled, gamers and video games were the prime considerations. With architecture that looked to reduce load times, install times, and make getting into your games as quickly as possible, the PlayStation 4 was seen as a gaming device first and foremost. Yes, the PS4 had adequate entertainment functions, but gaming was king. More powerful than the Xbox One, cheaper, and no restrictive DRM on used games (something that forced Microsoft to beckpedal and fall in line) made the PS4 an emotional favorite. Microsoft had a huge disadvantage with mindshare leading up to launch.
Kinect was a disaster, and the Xbox experience revolved around it
I had a Day One edition of the Xbox One. Despite my reservations about the direction Microsoft was heading, I was going to be along for the ride. The heavy-handed Kinect integration really didn’t fly well with me, however. The dashboard was (and still is) a chore to navigate with a controller, which seemingly was designed to urge users to use Kinect’s voice commands. I tried it for a while, but Kinect was not accurate at all. At best, it was a 60% accuracy rate for me, and I was often repeatedly shouting unsuccessful commands at my console. Everything from launching a game to forming a party was a hassle. It was irritating to use the Xbox One.
Over time, I completely stopped buying games on the Xbox One if they were available for PC or PS4. I just couldn’t be bothered to deal with the annoying, slow, and confusing Xbox One interface. I found that I wasn’t alone. Many gamers were frustrated with the Xbox One user experience, and Microsoft was painfully slow addressing concerns.
Exclusives are few and have underperformed
While Sony was securing a good bunch of exclusives, Microsoft was slowing down internal development and hardly securing any quality 3rd party exclusives. Microsoft’s biggest early exclusives had rough edges at launch as well. The Halo: Master Chief Collection killed a lot of good will and just left people irked. Sunset Overdrive, a pretty fun game, didn’t sell enough to see anything more come from that franchise and Microsoft seemingly doesn’t have a lot of interest in keeping it relevant. Crackdown 3 keeps getting delayed and excitement has been waning for that title.
On top of fewer exclusives, Microsoft keeps returning to the Forza well a bit too often. With not enough tent pole franchises to go around, Microsoft is pushing what they do have out at a scary high rate. Franchise fatigue is setting in. Across the generation, Sony, and lately Nintendo, have shown so many more reasons to gravitate toward their exclusive offerings.
Looking ahead in 2018, Microsoft still has a pretty bare release schedule when it comes to exclusives.
Microsoft has done little to reassure gamers
Even when upcoming releases are slim, companies usually give some sort of indication that they’re working to improve things. Across this entire generation, Microsoft has done very little to make gamers believe that the Xbox One library is going to see many exclusives added to the mix. Aside from Forza and Halo, very little is ever being teased. The vast majority of focus in Xbox One marketing and sizzle reels is on 3rd party offerings, which are also available on competing platforms. Even current “big wins,” such as PUBG on the Xbox One are not expected to remain exclusive.
While there are a handful of exclusives coming, confidence in the Xbox One’s release schedule isn’t much better than what it has ever been.
Microsoft needs to get back to basics
The Xbox One X is a beast, and it is a true leap forward into the 4k gaming realm, but big specs and flashy features will always take a back seat to game library. The Nintendo Switch has been a runaway success, and the majority of that success has been driven by its library that relies heavily on internally developed exclusives mixed with interesting 3rd party efforts. Microsoft has shuttered a lot of their internal development studios, and we’re seeing them overcompensate by thumping their chest about console specs instead. Specs are great, but it’s time to secure some games.
The Xbox One interface also needs to move back to something closer to what the Xbox 360 had with its blades dashboard. The current interface feels like a poorly designed streaming media box with gaming added on. Browsing for and launching games, setting up chat with friends, and installing new games should always be the easiest thing to do on a console. The Xbox One could be a lot better here, which would make the console overall much more enjoyable to use. If I didn’t always feel like the Xbox One process was so convoluted, I would be far more open to using it daily.
Microsoft should look to regain momentum before the next generation
The PS4 Pro and the Xbox One X are probably going to extend the life of this generation a little bit, but a new generation of consoles is closer than many might think. While the Xbox 360 was the clear winner last time around, Sony managed to reverse the narrative of “the PS3 has no games” enough to have a good finish to the generation and give gamers a reason to hope for better with the PS4. Microsoft has time to improve their reputation, but they have to have a good showing in 2018 and 2019. If they can’t get the games out the door, they at least have to show that their development pipeline is showing improvement.
We’ll have to wait and see if Microsoft is willing to reverse direction on a lot of their decisions with the Xbox One in order to re-position the console as a true games-first experience. Microsoft doesn’t need to shove the entertainment stuff off of the platform, but it should be given a backseat to video games. The gesture, along with some added exclusives, would go a long way toward rebuilding reputation with gamers.