The Ball is in Microsoft’s Court Now

With Sony’s PS5 presentation in the books, the ball is back in Microsoft’s court and they will have no choice but to stick the landing.   Luckily, the presentation isn’t until July, so they have a month or so to make adjustments to maximize this opportunity.   In short, Sony’s overall presentation was solid.  They revealed a number of games that practically spoke to every genre and to top it all off, they finally revealed the PS5 console.  While the price and release date have yet to be unveiled, the presentation was a success.

As it stands right now, Sony sits comfortably atop the gaming industry.  It may take more than a generation for Microsoft to recover any ground, but the Xbox Series X is where it starts.  Microsoft has already done great job with their Game Pass service, which provides incredible value, they still significantly lack in exclusives.   Their over-reliance on their big three, Forza, Halo, and Gears, has honestly been to their detriment.  While other titles such as Sea of Thieves, Ori, Quantum Break, and ReCore are nice additions, they have not had a lasting impact.

Microsoft’s strategy thus far has been on the creation and sustainment of a connected ecosystem in which all of their platforms can share games.  That’s fine if you want to create and expand a service, but it doesn’t make sense in the development and launch of a new product line.  What’s even more puzzling is that there won’t be any true exclusives to the Xbox Series X for a year or two after launch.   This feels like a missed opportunity knowing that consoles are differentiated for their exclusive content.  If Halo Infinite is going to be on Game Pass for all platforms, why would I pay 5-600 dollars for a console, when my PC or Xbox One can play it?

It goes without saying that it is imperative for Microsoft to successfully generate hype for the Series X in July.  When the Xbox One began to lag behind the PS4 it was a wrap.  Sony took the ball and ran out of the stadium with it.  What’s even more embarrassing is that Nintendo shows up in the middle of the generation and outpaces Microsoft with ease.  For Microsoft to get back into the conversation, its going to take a lot more than stating that your console is the most powerful on the market.  The Switch is far and away the weakest of the three consoles and it hasn’t affected Nintendo one bit either hardware or software sales.  Which is crazy considering their pricing strategy.

Halo Infinite (2)

The key for Microsoft at this July event is simple.   Show your work.  They have acquired 15 studios in the past few years and its time to show what everyone has been working on.  A diverse catalog of exclusives will do well in drawing an audience.   Consumers aren’t going to want to see the same games they saw last generation, show something new and interesting that will entice early adopters and long-term investors.   We already know what the Game Pass offers, consumers will want to see what new experiences they’ll have to look forward too.

My biggest concern for Microsoft is that they may overemphasize their big three. A new Forza is probably in the works and it’ll be the counter to PS5’s Gran Turismo 7, but there hasn’t been a racing game released that has been considered a system seller.  Halo Infinite is probably going to take up a lot of time, but in all honesty, it shouldn’t.  While 343 Studios has done a solid job with Halo 4 and 5, they didn’t do a great job of capturing what made the original trilogy or Reach outstanding.   They will have a difficult time recapturing that greatness and unlike Call of Duty and Battlefield, which change with every iteration, there is still a jumbled narrative regarding Cortana that has to be concluded.  There isn’t a lot of wiggle room unless they do a soft reboot like God of War.

What is interesting is that Microsoft’s actions in July will have an impact on the overall interest of the Series X moving forward.  This doesn’t just apply to its launch in Holiday 2020 but extends to next year and beyond.  As a service, I have no doubt that the Game Pass will remain popular and be a steady stream of revenue as it currently stands as the best value on the market.  But in regard to console sales, it really feels like the strategy for the Series X is being treated like the Xbox One X, meaning that it’s there if you want it.  Remember, the Xbox One X was branded and hyped as the strongest console on the market and Microsoft didn’t even provide a single exclusive for it.

Even though Microsoft is doing its part to market the Series X publicly, some of these interviews with different executives don’t inspire confidence.  Let’s be clear, when Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft are all operating and executing at a high level, it is great for the consumer.   It would ultimately suck to see Microsoft botch the July event and the Series X launch.  I don’t want them to just become a service provider, I want them at the top of their game and pushing Sony and Nintendo to do their best.  Show your work Microsoft, it’s the only path forward.

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