The video game industry has hit a standstill due to the impact of COVID-19. Many of the industry’s biggest games have been postponed and even huge conventions like E3 are taking the year off. One company that isn’t worried, though, is Microsoft, as the upcoming launch of the new Xbox Series X is still slated for this holiday season. Despite the Xbox’s controversial start to the previous console generation and the current state of affairs, the Series X is going full-steam ahead to drop in 2020.
In an interview with IGN, Microsoft’s Xbox division head Phil Spencer stated that the company is still on track for a holiday launch. The launch is subject to change as the company is taking things one day at a time, but he adds that the Xbox Series X won’t be delayed for the sake of a single game. The Series X already lacks exclusive launch titles, and with the delay of other high-profile games, it’s a risk to suggest that the console might release without the games to back it up. With all that said, Microsoft should consider delaying the Series X until more games are available.
Great games will certainly arrive with the Series X eventually, but most of them are either older titles or ones that can be purchased for other consoles. Games like Cyberpunk 2077, Outriders and Watch Dogs: Legion will be available on Series X, but these aren’t exclusive have already be delayed. It has high-profile exclusives, like Hellblade 2, but that won’t drop until after the console’s launch. The only confirmed launch title the Xbox Series X has is Halo: Infinite, and while the franchise has always been a heavy-hitter, it doesn’t have a set release date. One game probably isn’t enough to sway customers from the competition, either. And yet, Spencer claims Microsoft probably won’t delay the launch for games.
This is a bold approach for Microsoft to take, given their recent history. The Xbox One had a disastrous few months in the lead-up to its initial release, with Microsoft walking back several features after community backlash. In addition to their rough PR, the system didn’t have many exclusive launch titles and it was more expensive than the PlayStation 4. While the Xbox One and its successors certainly never “failed” among gamers, the console did take a backseat to the PS4 and the unprecedented success of the Nintendo Switch.
Later in the same interview, Phil Spencer says the company is focused on perfecting the Xbox Series X’s launch platform in an effort to avoid the mistakes of the Xbox One. He also places an emphasis on transparency, another criticism of the One’s launch. That sounds like the attention that the console could have used, but now, it seems too little, too late. The company has several obstacles to face this time around that have little to do with the system itself.
Although the Xbox Series X hasn’t stirred up as much controversy as its predecessor, the hardware capabilities are comparable to the new PS5. They aren’t an exact match, but the hardware for both systems are equally impressive. This means the only thing that will sell the new console– besides the price, of course– is a solid lineup of games. Games are everything, especially if the new devices have similar specs. The PlayStation has always had an attractive lineup of exclusives, and if the PS4 is anything to go by, the console will likely retain the interest of developers looking to make first-party games. If Microsoft wants a shot at winning the next console war, it should tread lightly and prioritize games over launching a system that appears on-par with the competition.
These aren’t the only factors working against Microsoft, either. Many of the upcoming blockbuster releases will be cross-generational, launching for both the next-gen systems and current ones. This is business-as-usual during transitional periods in the video game industry, but considering the financial issues caused by COVID-19, this is something Microsoft should worry about. Not everyone is willing to drop hundreds of dollars on a new console, especially when money is tight. If the few desirable Xbox launch titles are available on systems everyone already owns, then consumers have even less incentive to buy the system.
The Xbox Series X is set to launch holiday 2020 with Halo: Infinite at its side, but if Microsoft won’t wait for great launch titles, the company better be sure that Halo: Infinite is the killer app the console needs to fly off shelves. If Microsoft believes that Series X can launch on time and without a hitch — even without many games — that’s perfectly fine. However, the cards are stacked against it. With a looming financial recession, tech so evenly matched and the apparent lack of winning launch titles, the Xbox Series X may not be the hot-ticket item it could’ve been. Maybe the company has an ace up its sleeve, like a launch title it hasn’t announced or a gimmick that will break new ground. If not, then Microsoft could be looking at another messy launch and another loss in the industry’s console wars.
If Microsoft wants to win the console war with its new Xbox Series X, it should prioritize releasing good games.