Editorial: Microsoft’s Growing Xboner

PlayStation 4 vs Xbox One
Two months in and Sony is coming out on top, so far.

One could easily be forgiven for thinking that the Xbox One has skated through its first two months without a hitch. Although sales figures have it trailing the Wii U and PS4, shipping over three million consoles in sixty days is nothing to sneeze at. The gap in sales between the Xbox One and the PS4 sits at 1.5 million units, a sizable gap this early in the generation, but not insurmountable. But these sales numbers only serve as propaganda for Microsoft to spew bullshit about how successful their console is, but the truth is that the Xbone’s first sixty days of life, just like the months after its announcement, have been anything but problem free.

The lead up to the release of the Xbox One was loaded with u-turns from Microsoft as they desperately tried to make their new console more appealing to the public. Despite all these reversals, there was one thing they could do little to change, the discrepancy in hardware power between the Xbox One and the PS4. Before the release of the Xbox One, Microsoft insisted that their new console was on par in terms of hardware power with the PS4, but all their insisting was contradicted by the fact that most Xbone games run at resolutions of 900p and lower and at frame rates of 30-45 fps. The recent fiasco with the Xbox One version of Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition shows that the power gap could very well remain a hindrance for the Xbox One for the conceivable future.

Microsoft has tried to explain away the performance issues blaming things like poor drivers or insisting that the Xbox One games still “look great” despite the lower resolutions. Even if Microsoft does not feel that 1080p resolutions and 60 fps are a big deal, the gaming public does. If this lack of performance was merely a driver issue, I find it a bit inconceivable that Microsoft would not work their asses off so that they could flaunt the same resolutions and framerates as the PS4. For now, Microsoft will have to be content with defending resolution differences, but their job will get a lot harder when effects are reduced and/or removed entirely from the Xbone version of games.

The Elder Scrolls Online
Microsoft hides a lot of content behind its Xbox Live paywall and The Elder Scrolls Online is just the latest example.

Not all of the Xbox One’s issues stem from its lack of power, though, as Xbox Live Gold is becoming a growing albatross for the console. Microsoft has used Xbox Live Gold as a paywall that effectively cuts off nearly everything their vaunted “All-in-One” console offers. This paywall was a bit easier to stomach during the early days of the 360 as many the features were exclusive to the 360, but many of the Xbox One’s most important apps are also available on the PS4, but without the need to subscribe to PlayStation Plus. Microsoft’s paywall also means that free-to-play games still require a subscription to Xbox Live Gold to play online. To further pile-on, Xboners will need Xbox Live Gold to play the upcoming MMO, The Elder Scrolls Online, while Sony went the opposite way and decided that gamers will not need PlayStation Plus to play TES Online.

Microsoft has added other features, like the “Games for Gold” program, to their Xbox Live service in an attempt to give the illusion that the service is a bargain. The problem is that Microsoft appears to be extremely reluctant to do anything to the service that will reveal what a shitty scheme Xbox Live Gold is. The “Games for Gold” program attempts to emulate Sony’s “Instant Game Collection”, but Microsoft offers two games a month to Sony’s six games. Sony’s offerings are usually more recent releases, but Microsoft does have over Sony, a game downloaded through this service remains available even if one’s Gold subscription expires. As this generation unfolds, I would not be shocked to see Microsoft ease back a bit on what a Gold subscription “offers” but I would also not be surprised if Microsoft continued to stand by the “value” of a Gold subscription unlocking all of the features of the Xbone.

These issues with the Xbox One, along with many others, have left the console lagging behind its competitors to kick off this generation. As I said earlier, the current sales gap is not a chasm in terms of numbers, but that all changes when one realizes that the PS4 will soon launch in its home country. Since the release of first Xbox, Microsoft has only managed to sell 2.1 million units combined of the Xbox and the 360. With so few units shifted in the country, Microsoft directed their energy towards the European and North American markets, a move that left the few Japanese Xbox fans feeling abandoned. This feeling of abandonment, along with the Xbox One’s more Western focused feature list (Kinect is better suited for larger rooms, many of the Xbone’s video apps and TV features will not work in Japan), does not incite visions of domination for Microsoft in Japan.

Things are not looking good for the Xbone early on. It has already lost ground to Sony in both the North American and European markets, and Japan is not going to be pretty. Microsoft’s bumbling with the initial version of the Xbox One left a sour taste in the mouths of many gamers and the problems since release are not helping matters. After years of the 360 besting the PS3, Microsoft has found themselves in unfamiliar territory, but they seem unsure of how to handle the situation. It is still quite early, but Microsoft could spend this generation on the bottom looking up.

One comment

  1. As I understand it, Xbone sales have been disappointing, which is what has led to their decide to iterate on the console within the first few months of its launch.

    Maybe this will change after Titanfall, but I don’t see why it should, honestly.

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