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Xbox's Path to Success Might Look More Ambiguous in This Console Generation

Now that Xbox has decided to change up the typical formula, measuring the console and brand's success might be a little ambiguous this time.

August 4, 2020

Anyone with a brain can point out that the Xbox One was in a losing battle against the PlayStation 4. The Xbox One launch is up there with one of the worst announcements of any piece of tech. That announcement now lives in infamy and set forth a chain reaction that left Microsoft with the least desirable console to many gamers at the beginning of this console generation. It being $100 dollars more at launch showed me and many others that those in charge of pricing at Microsoft certainly didn’t pay attention to mistakes made with the launch of the PS3. However, the damage was done. Microsoft has tried to backtrack many of those critical mistakes since the Xbox One launched, but even then, it was too late

That leads us to today: the PS4 has absolutely walloped the Xbox One in terms of consoles sold. In fact, Sony has outsold Microsoft in every console generation, even when Sony was on their high horse because 150 million people bought a PS2 (many of those I believe were just for a DVD player). They launched the PS3 at $600 with an architecture nobody wanted to develop for, and yet it still eventually outsold the widely popular Xbox 360. It took Sony a while to get there as it happened very very late in the generation, but it still eventually happened.

All you guys still living in 2009 and believe in defending to your death whatever console you own, you might want to plug your ears. Based on the sales trends of each previous console generation, it’s probably safe to say that the PS5 will outsell the Xbox Series X. While yes, Microsoft would love to throw the marketing phrase “the best-selling console” around, it’s just not going to happen unless the PS5 has some major marketing blunder or a terrible hardware bug.

“…it’s probably safe to say that the PS5 will outsell the Xbox Series X.”

With all that said though, Microsoft has to know this now. They know that going head-to-head with just a box and games will not hold a candle to whatever Sony puts out. They have had three opportunities but haven’t outsold their competitors one time. That’s no slap in the face to Xbox; I still think that each Xbox console has been fantastic with some great exclusives. I personally have always leaned more on the Xbox side when purchasing third-party games, and I think they have always put out the better-feeling controller. But the PlayStation consoles will always sell well based on history.

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Now, what if I told you that the Xbox brand could be more successful than PlayStation in the next generation without selling more consoles? How would that happen, you say? The simple answer is that this has led Microsoft to create new and innovative avenues on how to broaden its audience in two important ways: Game Pass and xCloud.

Over the last few years, the Xbox brand has really morphed into something else rather than just being a console. Sure, players can still pick up a box from Best Buy, put on a headset, and listen to a twelve-year-old curse you out just like the good ole Halo 3 days. But now, the Xbox brand is on your Xbox, your PC, and even your phone. Rather than just a box, the Xbox brand is an entire ecosystem.

People love to throw around sales figures of consoles to say who “won” a generation. Yet, those hardware sales aren’t that profitable or good measures of “success” for Sony, Microsoft, or even Nintendo. In fact, Microsoft has almost never made a profit on Xbox systems, and I doubt that will change with the Series X. These companies make their real money in selling software. Microsoft seems to be more aware of this, and Sony seems to be opening up to the idea now that Horizon Zero Dawn and Death Stranding have come to PC.

Microsoft has largely moved away from exclusive Xbox One games years ago, and that was a calculated move; they would like a wider audience to have the opportunity to purchase their games. And let’s not forget, those PCs that are downloading Xbox Game Studios games are doing so on the Windows Store, which is owned by Microsoft, so it’s not like they are missing out on potential sales. They have even opened up to the idea of releasing on Steam as well recently.

With all that said, the “success” of the Xbox brand is going to look much different this generation compared to the last. This time around it won’t be as cut and dry as comparing pure sales figures of the Xbox Series X and PS5. Hypothetically, it is totally possible that there will be 10 million Xbox Series X consoles sold by the end of December with 25 million players playing Halo Infinite, since players will be able to play it on their PC, Android device, Series X, and even Xbox One.

Hell, just for the sake of it, let’s say that a game comes to only the Series X and PS5, and no PC version was created. Say there are 10 million PS5 consoles sold and 5 million Series X consoles sold. It is possible that there can be 7 million players playing on the PS5 and 9 million players playing through the Xbox brand, whether that is on the console itself or xCloud. This strategy gives Microsoft the opportunity to sell more games than there are even consoles in the wild.

xCloud allows anyone with a screen in front of their face the opportunity to jump into the Xbox brand; but more importantly to Microsoft, it’s the opportunity for them to make money. The recent news of the cloud streaming system being included in your Game Pass subscription was a big deal that I don’t think many people recognized. There are going to be plenty of people out there playing games through Game Pass and paying $15 a month without even owning either an Xbox or a PC.

On top of that, Xbox just wants people to be ingrained into the Game Pass ecosystem. There is a reason that it was so prominently shown during the Xbox Games Showcase event earlier this month. There is a reason that every game shown was announced to be coming to the subscription service. It is because it works and makes Microsoft a whole lot of mullah.

“… the “success” of the Xbox brand is going to look much different this generation compared to the last couple of times.”

Microsoft has had to adapt to the current market. They know they cannot compete with Sony by going head-to-head. They know that Sony has plenty more quality exclusive developers, though I was really intrigued by Avowed from Obsidian and plenty of other titles shown off during the Xbox Showcase. However, all of theses games will still need to wow us though when they eventually release. That is why they have morphed their strategy into something we haven’t seen before.

We might need to stop focusing so much on the statistics of consoles sold to measure success in this upcoming generation, because it seems like Microsoft doesn’t mind not selling as many consoles. What they want is for you to get ingrained into their Xbox ecosystem, whether that is buying a console, playing their published games on your PC, using your Game Pass subscription on your Xbox or PC, or even just buying a controller and playing Game Pass titles on your phone through xCloud. All that matters to Microsoft right now is that people are playing their games or using their services in any form they want to.

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Grant Huff

Grant Huff is a writer at DualShockers located out of Houston. He is a computer science graduate from Texas State University. When he is not playing or covering video games, he is most likely eating pizza.

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