Xbox One X & PSVR: A Failure to Sell

E3 2017 has been a bit underwhelming this year. Virtually all of EA’s titles were known prior to their press conference and nothing outside of Janina Gavankar’s pure charisma really stood out. Bethesda stuck to their guns, only showing off titles from this year, even if it meant having a content-starved press conference. Hell, even Nintendo arguably “won” E3 by tempering expectations beforehand with news that their Spotlight video was only going to be 25 minutes and would focus on titles in 2017.

The biggest disappointment of all, however, probably comes from the two big console manufacturers themselves. With Xbox poised to attack PlayStations firm grasp on marketshare with their hot new 4K console and Sony’s lineup of quality titles– many of which, having been announced at least a year prior, one would assume would release in 2017– the question going into E3 was how well Microsoft was going to sell their new console, and how well Sony would counter.

After all the press conferences were over, however, I’m not sure either happened at all.

Microsoft was on stage first, and they started off strong touting the new Xbox One X’s power. Maybe Forza wasn’t the exact game to show that off, but car games have a long history of showing off a console’s technical prowess. More than the technical aspect, Phil Spencer touted that they were showing off 42 titles in total for Xbox One X, 22 of which would be exclusives.

But the next hour and a half of games didn’t do that much to explain why Xbox One X was necessary to play them. Of those 22 exclusives, only 3– Super Lucky’s TaleSea of Thieves, and State of Decay 2– are hard exclusives. In part, this is a result of Microsoft’s decision to release virtually all exclusive titles cross-platform between Xbox and Windows– a decision which raised the question if whether they had just convinced many players to not buy Xbox in favor of a PC and PS4 for the best of both worlds.

Furthermore of the 19 other “exclusive” titles– 12 to be available on PC as well and another 7 likely to release on other consoles at a later date– the only AAA or first party titles of note were Forza and Crackdown. The rest were all smaller or indie games that, besides something like Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, really aren’t going to sell your console to a whole bunch of people– no matter how cool Cuphead and Ori are.

But the killer moment might have been when they announced the price that everyone was hoping Geoff Keighley was wrong about. $500 is a lot for a console, especially when the competition is putting out must-have, exclusive software like Nintendo and Sony have been.

So with that, it seemed like Sony was in a prime position to maximize on its strengths and spike the free ball Microsoft had sent their way. And to an extent, they tried. They showed off an extensive list of exclusive content including Uncharted: The Lost LegacyHorizon: Zero Dawn DLC, Days Gone, a Shadow of the Colossus remake, God of WarDetroit: Become Human, and Spider-Man. Only one problem: Only the first two are coming this year, with only God of War with anything close to a defined release window.

Sony’s entire press conference could be described as a dud. The biggest surprises were a new Monster Hunter game and a remake of a PS2 classic, and they essentially had the opposite of Xbox’s problem: a lot of good-looking (outside of Days Gone) first party and AAA exclusive content, but nothing coming out soon. The stale nature of the press conference was further emphasized by Sony’s own inability to sell their own hardware.

One of the biggest questions going into E3 for Sony was how well they could convince consumers that VR was worth paying $400 for a headset. The year prior, they had focused on big-name publisher titles, which had mainly resulted in a bunch of small VR “experiences” rather than full-fledged games for the platform. The two notable exceptions was their first-party title Farpoint and Resident Evil VII– both of which are now two of the biggest, must-have games for the platform.

In their 8 minute pitch this year, Sony started by walking out Skyrim VR, to pair with Bethesda’s upcoming VR version of Fallout 4, which, while a large game fully playable in VR, isn’t exactly a new title made for the game. They did what I thought was a good move in giving attention to smaller titles from VR-focused developers in Moss and Star Child, but the trailers they showed didn’t do a good job explaining why those games are unique and work better because they’re in VR. And, of course, they just couldn’t help sneaking in a fishing VR experience for Final Fantasy XV from Square Enix.

Worst of all, the two games that should have been the highlight from their first party studio, Supermassive games, barely even registered. One was a shooter that looked like the most generic video game ever created, and the other, while a horror game like Supermassive’s well-received Until Dawn, joins an already crowded genre on VR.

In both cases, they suffer from the same problem: not enough exclusive, must-have titles, or titles that demonstrate why the novelty or added features are worth the cost of admission.

To Sony, this is less of a necessity. They have experience supporting secondary hardware, finding success with extensive first party support for several years on PSP, and failing to sell Vita worldwide without it. In both cases, it was less of an issue because their home console was selling and they could focus on that instead. The same is the case for PSVR. If that console loses support and doesn’t sell, they can continue to focus on the PS4 like they’ve done.

That isn’t as easy a task for Xbox. The issues that plague the Xbox One X affect the entire family of consoles, albeit to a lesser extent. While the entire family has to deal with a lack of exclusives and a sharing of the ones they do with PC, the Xbox One S is still in a fairly good position to sell due to its low price of $200 in comparison to the X at $500. This fact, alongside PlayStation’s inability to match the amount of exclusives Xbox has coming specifically in the latter half of this year, gives Xbox an opportunity to plant more of a foothold before those heavy hitters from Sony finally land.

Meanwhile, in Nintendoland, the Switch is getting a quality exclusive title every month, including what will likely be two game of the year candidates in Zelda and Mario, and the Switch is still selling out 4 months in with no end in sight. Probably unrelated.

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