Astrologers believe a Scorpio’s strength is resourcefulness. Despite being ruled by desire, they can control those urges until they can act on them. This is obviously a load of old codswallop, but it certainly chimes with Microsoft’s new console, which is both strong and resourceful, and Microsoft’s teasing launch strategy looks to be controlling gamers’ desires with a pretty solid plan.
Microsoft’s latest console is yet to officially receive the Xbox mantle, instead going under the codename ‘Project Scorpio’. Most codenames are only whispered outside company meeting rooms, and only discovered via leaked documents. By comparison, Microsoft has given its codename the full branding treatment. A styled-up logo and a huge ‘unveiling’ of the concept at last year’s E3 demonstrates just how excited Microsoft is about its new hardware, and just how unconventional it’s willing to be in its launch.
Recently, Microsoft went one step further, releasing detailed technical specifications for its new console weeks before its official unveiling. It’s hard to judge this strategy. Is Microsoft trying to hype up the new console before E3 by giving out these figures, or is it maybe getting the technical nitty-gritty out of the way before the big reveal?
That reveal will now be squarely based around the name, the price, the design of the outer casing and supported games. Unless Microsoft has some additional surprise, such as tying Xbox closer than ever to the Windows gaming platform, or making an alliance with one of the PC VR platforms.
NAMING THE BEAST
The name of any console is key to its success. It’s the pillar around which all marketing activity is built, and even more so when said console is not a straight replacement for the current device. The Wii U name, for instance, maybe didn’t make it clear enough to consumers about the new device’s relationship to the Wii.
“It’s unthinkable Microsoft would veer away from the Xbox brand at this point, although doing so would certainly make a big statement about the ‘newness’ of its console,” Actionacy’s games marketing consultant Christian-Peter Heimbach tells us.
“Maybe we’ll see them dropping the numbers as a halfway house,” he continues. “They haven’t had the clear-cut progression Sony opted for with PS2, PS3 and PS4. Microsoft went from Xbox to Xbox 360 to Xbox One.” This would then suggest a name along the lines of Xbox Scorpio, though that exact name seems very unlikely.
“So, there isn’t necessarily a clear step for them to take here, but I’d expect them to rightly cash in on the Xbox brand identity while looking for a suffix that balances the emphasis on power with the idea of a product that is new and all-encompassing,” Heimbach concludes.
"It’s unthinkable Microsoft would veer away from the
Xbox brand at this point"
Lots of thoughts there, but it’s still hard to pick an obvious direction for the naming strategy. Garry Williams of Sold Out opines: “It should be very clear that it’s a different product. If people see the Xbox One S and Scorpio in store next to each other, it should be clear that Xbox One S is not just cheaper but different. So one thing they shouldn’t do is use the word ‘One’ again.”
On that, at least, we can all agree. Sadly, Williams says rumours have pointed the other way: “‘Xbox One X’ is being touted as a complement to the current Xbox One S. Another possibility is Xbox One Elite, to match Microsoft’s successful high-end games controller, which would at least give it some recognition among the gamers it’s trying to reach.”
CROSS MY PALM WITH SILVER
Heimbach picks up on the Elite connection when it comes to discussing price: “I think the console will be €499 (£418) with a game – probably the new Forza. It is a perfect price. The console is focused on a hardcore market and they are willing to spend more as long as it’s a quality product. The fact that the Elite controller sold very well, at €149 (£120) shows that people are willing to buy products at a premium price.”
All good points, but Heimbach’s use of Euros is more than simply habit. At present, the price of the console over in Europe is far easier to predict than it is here in the UK, with the pound being at its most unpredictable in years.
Williams is also aware of the Brexit effect on pricing: “The specs suggest a £449 level – this is perceived as a higher tier machine. But with Brexit as an excuse to go higher, migrating console pricing towards the level of a higher end PC must be one goal, so maybe even £499.”
Soedesco’s Hans van Brakel is optimistic that Microsoft is going to nail it, saying it would have undoubtedly taken pricing into account when designing the hardware in order to get to “a reasonable price.”
YOU HAVE A DEEP CONNECTION
Microsoft is obviously keen to bring its Windows and Xbox gaming brands closer strategically, though it’s still unclear what the killer app will be for consumers. This is led by its ‘Play Anywhere’ initiative, but even that looks like a nice idea, rather than a must-have for the vast majority of gamers. Project Scorpio looks likely to be the next step in Microsoft’s efforts to cross-promote its gaming, or maybe something even more concrete.
Chris Poole, senior account manager at GfK, thinks: “It certainly feels like moving closer to PC gaming resolutions satisfies Microsoft’s aim to bring PC and Xbox under the one brand.”
Van Brakel agrees: “If you want to bring PC gaming and console gaming together you need to sync up the quality of the products. They must have decided that streaming is not ready to take on that job, since their newly announced Xbox Game Pass is a download service, so doing that with a stronger console makes a lot of sense.”
"It certainly feels like moving closer to PC gaming resolutions
satisfies Microsoft’s aim"
Williams also makes the PC comparison and wonders if it could tempt PC gamers to the console: “I would look to see how many of my hardcore PC gaming friends are willing to accept it as a base for their core gaming needs,” he says. Likewise, Poole thinks it might help justify a higher price: “Pitching it against PC gaming rigs could make it look better value.”
THE END OF DAYS
While the PS4 Pro looks to be simply an updated version of the current console, and one that will be retired alongside its sibling, that situation is far less clear for Project Scorpio. Is the console another step toward the end of the console generation and a change to the upgrade cycle? Microsoft certainly seems to think so, but that alone won’t make it a reality, even if it is a break from the tradition of long hardware generations.
Heinbach says: “Conventional wisdom within the industry suggests [an end to console generations], and not just for Microsoft. Aaron Greenberg certainly expressed that sentiment in mid-2016, and we live in an age where incremental updates are the norm for so much of the technology we use. Xbox One S and PS4 Pro already lay down a marker for mid-generation refreshes, and it does seem to be the direction preferred by the manufacturers.
“Time will tell, though. There has been resistance from players to this kind of approach. Not everyone loves the idea of their shiny new console being outdated within a couple of years of buying it, no matter what kind of marketing spin manufacturers put on it.”
Williams reckons it ties into the company’s wider goals: “It’s more of an aim from [Microsoft] to deliver to gamers, ‘whatever you want to play, wherever and however.’ As we change our phones every couple of years, we may be persuaded to change our gaming choices just as often. More so if we can migrate more of our ‘history of gaming’ easily.” This is key, as regular hardware changes will be far easier to sell once consumers are reassured that their games, saves and content are coming with them.
AN AUSPICIOUS TIME?
The final question is whether the stars are aligned for the age of Scorpio? Are gamers crying out for more powerful hardware and will the new device land with a splash, or scuttle under a nearby rock?
Van Brakel is cautious: “It depends. The potential difference between Scorpio and Xbox One is huge. Not just an upgrade, but a whole new console generation, comparable from when we moved from Xbox to Xbox 360. The only question is, are we going to see that in the games? Forza alone is a start but not enough to let people buy a new console.”
"Microsoft are releasing their Godzilla!"
Heimbach is optimistic: “I think they’re being quite smart in terms of spreading the message that players are getting a whole new level of power. Within the industry, we can see where these advances might just bring parity with a PC, but from the outside the average gamer who is looking to bag the latest FIFA or Call of Duty wants to know they’re doing it on the latest and greatest system – and if Microsoft can convince them they need Scorpio for that then they will have done their job.”
Poole, meanwhile isn’t sure there’s a clear advantage: “Project Scorpio is a difficult subject as the benefits are not easy to qualify beyond the tech specs. Convincing consumers that the native 4K difference between PS4 Pro and Scorpio is a big factor, and might be hard. Also, hailing it just as the most powerful games console might not be enough, even though it looks very impressive on paper.”
Williams concludes that sales figures will tell that story, but he’s enthusiastic about the machine itself, saying that recent consoles have simply been revisions and that “Microsoft are releasing their Godzilla!” Let’s just hope it’s not too much of a monster for most wallets to handle.