It’s been a difficult few years for Microsoft on the games side of things. Though Xbox One sales have certainly not been shabby, the console has failed to top the massively successful PlayStation 4.
All of that changed this year. The firm claimed the hardware top spots in the UK for two key months. It has strong momentum going into the end of the year, and – as UK marketing chief Harvey Eagle says: “the brand has its mojo back”.
“It’s been a really good year so far, both in terms of sales and the reception to our new products – both consoles and games,” Eagle says.
“We’re really pleased... I think we’ll look back in 2016 as a tipping point for Xbox One.”
He continues: “The reception to our games line-up has been great, and two of the recent big launches in Forza Horizon 3 and Gears 4 have both received really strong reviews, they performed really well in terms of sales.
“When you look at some of the outstanding third-party titles like FIFA 17, Battlefield 1, coupled with some really original ID@Xbox titles, We Happy Few, Inside, I would call out, there’s a lot of great games to choose from.”
Perhaps the biggest news to come out of Xbox this year was its new, slimmer and – more importantly – cheaper Xbox One S console. Announced on-stage at E3 by Phil Spencer, the hardware hit shelves in September, topping the UK hardware charts for that month and October.
“Well, we couldn’t be happier with how it’s gone so far,” Eagle says.
“Since launch, Xbox One S has been Britain’s best-selling console in 2016. It’s a great product with great design, 4K capabilities have been resonating really strongly. We have a great selection of console bundles for those who have been buying for the first time. FIFA, Minecraft, Battlefield... whichever one you want with your console is a very strong option for consumers. We have some great exclusive games that are only playable on Xbox One. Lastly, the price point for Xbox One S is more attractive than ever families and gamers.”
This success was not a surprise for Eagle and Xbox. As he puts it: “We knew we had a great product. That was clear as soon as we saw it. Of course, you never know how something is going to land in the market until you put it out there. Certainly, we were thrilled that the product teams back in Redmond had really built a great product for us. We were clear how we wanted to position it in the market, and certainly talk to its 4K capabilities. That gave us confidence that it would land really well.”
But that isn’t the only new hardware announcement made by Xbox this year. While the firm’s E3 conference opened with the reveal of Xbox One S, it closed with the announcement that the platform holder had another machine in the works.
Dubbed ‘Project Scorpio’, this is a super-powered version of the Xbox One that boasts six teraflops of computing power, making it the most powerful games console ever made. The strategy of releasing a more powerful machine mid-way through a console cycle is not a unique one, as Sony has just released PS4 Pro.
“Technology obviously advances at a very rapid rate, and there are new graphics capabilities coming on the market that can deliver enhanced gaming experiences – things like true 4K gaming, high-fidelty VR,” Eagle explains.
“At Xbox, we want to give the very best that gaming can offer. At the same time, it’s important to reassure that no-one is going to be left behind and that games and accessories you buy now are going to work with Xbox hardware in the future. Our thinking behind these mid-gen upgrades is that we want to offer a breadth of choice on Xbox One console options, and then gamers can choose the right option for them whether that’s at the entry level with Xbox One S or at the premium level with tomorrow’s Project Scorpio?”
"Since launch, Xbox One S has been Britain’s best-selling console in 2016. 4K capabilities have been resonating really strongly."
Harvey Eagle, Xbox
It seems that marketing these new mid-gen upgrades is a challenge. You need to effectively communicate to consumers that this is a powerful machine, one that works with existing software and accessories.
“Our job is just to make sure people clearly understand what is the best Xbox One console option for them,” Eagle says.
“Therefore, our job is to clearly articulate the value proposition for each member of the Xbox One console family, help consumers make informed choices and that they know that all the games and accessories will work with any console in the family.“
Heading into 2017, Eagle is keen to maintain the momentum that Xbox has gained this year as it readies to launch Scorpio.
“For us, it’s now important to build on the strong foundation we have established this year,” he says.
“Momentum is very important in this industry, it gives confidence to retailers, to publishers, to consumers that they are making the right choice. That gives us a great platform for next year. We’re excited to see what 2017 will bring. We have Scorpio coming. There are more opportunities for gamers to play on both PC and console through our Xbox Play Anywhere feature, more great games coming out including Halo Wars 2, Scalebound and Sea of Thieves. There’s a lot for gamers to look forward to next year with Xbox.”