Don’t Underestimate the Scorpio

Posted April 6, 2017 by Sean Capri in Video Games

Here we go again. Microsoft reveals the technical specifications of Project Scorpio (via Eurogamer and Digital Foundry) and the internet’s natural response is to collectively consume and regurgitate piles of unthoughtful, overly-simplistic criticisms and doomsday prophesies.

Aside from wanting peace and harmony for all, I’m equally concerned and intrigued by the general response to Scorpio’s technical reveal this morning. Concerned because it seems the streak of internet negativity and mob mentality continues. Intrigued because I believe the internet marginalizes the Scorpio naively.

In the past four years or so, particularly at the launch of Xbox One and PlayStation 4, a few key themes have been tossed around in the gaming echo-chamber. First, the argument of power and how embarrassing it was to be an Xbox One owner because of how easily it was outclassed by the PS4 in side-by-side video comparisons (please note the italics for sarcastic hyperbole). In many cases, it was (and continues to be) quite difficult for the average consumer to spot the visual differences between the two. If the labels were removed – a la the Pepsi Challenge – I’d argue most gamers would actually fail at identifying which footage belonged to each console.

Obligatory tech image

Luckily for those so inclined, technical specs were widely available to make up for the lack of notable differences. Bruh, that’s only 900p – I can’t believe how shameful it is to have 180 fewer p’s.

The trolls were out in full-force and they had the facts and figures to back up their claims. They may have represented the vocal minority but the focus on visual comparisons significantly impacted the value proposition of each product. I mean, how can you argue that nine hundred p’s refreshed at forty-five frames per second isn’t objectively worse than one thousand and eighty lines of resolution refreshed sixty times per second? You can’t! The specs speak for themselves.

These specs, coupled with a lower price point, strong marketing focused on the gamer, and an arguably sexier form factor led the PS4 to dominate the current console generation. Oh, and we cannot forget the third party support. PlayStation was (is?) the greatest place to play cross-platform games because of its technical prowess. Games ran faster and with higher resolution than Xbox. At the time, neither console had particularly great first-party games – at least not to the level of The Last of Us or…let’s face it; you can’t put anything next to that game (which actually might be the crux of this entire discussion…).

But consider this. When a console runs third-party games better than its competition, the first-party developers are under far less pressure to get their games shipped. Surely, Sony gave Naughty Dog every moment that team needed to make Uncharted 4 as great as it was. Even second-party arrangements are made easier when your platform outperforms the competition. Nobody appreciates how important it is to be on the positive side of a technical comparison than the team sitting on the negative side. It’s like a white privilege thing (KIDDING, relax).

Xbox One under-powered third-party giants like Call of Duty and Destiny. So that’s a loss . So the importance of exclusives are weighted more heavily in Microsoft’s case because those games have to make up for the lack of power. There was a time when Xbox had a slew of very good-to-great exclusives. Remember the greatest line-up in Xbox history? Well, that didn’t matter because it was a Hail Mary that didn’t connect (just like the Kinect – yes that was intentional).

I wouldn’t suggest that any of those games felt rushed but do you think Microsoft would’ve felt as compelled to ship such a monumental first-party effort in such a small window if Xbox One hadn’t fallen behind? In my opinion, Microsoft would have taken Sony’s approach – let the third party games do the heavy lifting. The games might not be exclusive but their visual fidelity sure was.

So to recap, power helped propel PS4 to the top. Exclusives didn’t help Xbox compete. Therefore, the first three-to-four years of the current generation have been defined by the importance of power, how it lends to third-party dominance, and that first-party exclusives don’t matter all that much.

That was the story until quite recently. Suddenly out of nowhere, the PS4 is overflowing with great exclusives (both first- and second-party). Nioh, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Nier: Automata, Persona 5…

Today, Xbox revealed a console that is objectively more powerful than any console available. It will surely dominate the video comparisons because of all the p’s and fps’ people can objectively count. But now the narrative has shifted. Only games matter. More specifically, only exclusive games matter.

Exclusives should be the lifeblood of the console not the life support.

I’m not here to say one is more important than the other. Of course, there is a lot at play here. Value proposition, Brand attachment, preference of controllers, etc.  The entire situation is far more complicated than anyone could ever express in 140 characters. I believe power matters. I think it matters more than most gamers want to admit. Not on its own and not in any immediate way but power undeniably alters the landscape. I also believe first-party exclusives matter but not in a vacuum either. Exclusives have the potential to define the console. Exclusives should be the lifeblood of the console not the life support.

Of course, it’s far too early to predict how Xbox will fare with its new powerhouse. On the other hand, it’s the perfect time to contemplate how easily the internet can be swayed by third-party, cross-platform video comparisons featuring barely-discernible differences. The point: don’t marginalize the importance of Scorpio. It will surely disrupt the console landscape more than we expect.

About the Author

Sean Capri

I am a beady-eyed Canadian. I play video games and feed/walk my three dogs.