Xbox One S, Project Scorpio And How Microsoft Are Finally Controlling The Message

Game on.

Taken all in one go, Microsoft’s plans for gaming are convoluted and confusing. There’s new hardware coming out right now, there’s the promise of much more powerful hardware in the future, and there’s always the looming presence of PC gaming and Xbox exclusives on Windows 10. That’s a problem, but believe it or not, Microsoft are finally getting to control the message and dictate the pace of this console generation.

The Xbox One S is a long overdue redesign of the Xbox One hardware, slimming the machine down, letting you prop it up in a vertical position, and improving certain parts of the specification where it can, with HDR and support for 4K video output. Not only that, but at £249 and with an Ultra HD Blu-Ray drive, it’s the best priced UHD box by far – however niche that market is – pulling the same trick that the PlayStation managed over the years, with cost effective CD, DVD and Blu-ray playback.

It’s also been used as an opportunity to cement Microsoft’s 180º turn after some of the disastrous decisions made when designing the original hardware. Phil Spencer said, shortly after taking over as head of Xbox, that they would focus on gaming going forward, instead of general entertainment, and you can see that in the removal of a dedicated Kinect port on the S’ hardware – there’s a USB adapter available for free to those upgrading, though.

But over the past half year, much to the chagrin of certain corners of the internet, that renewed focus on games has also meant a deemphasis on the Xbox One console itself. After well over a decade of trying, Microsoft are finally mastering the art of having Windows as a premier gaming platform to call their own. PC gaming has always been a rich and diverse market, but that stood at odds with the countless Microsoft games that remained trapped on consoles.

Now those borders are being broken down further with the Xbox Play Anywhere programme which, similar to PlayStation’s Cross-Buy, lets you buy a game once on Xbox or Windows 10 and own a copy on the other side of the fence as well. That really started with Quantum Break earlier this year, but Gears of War 4, Forza Horizon 3, Ark: Survival Evolved and a good handful of indie games are embracing it over the coming months. Forza Horizon 3 even goes as far as to feature seamless cross-platform multiplayer.

MSMessage-ForzaHorizon

Certainly, there’s questions over why you’d want the game on both Xbox and Windows 10, if you own a capable gaming PC that can outstrip an Xbox One, but it’s a nice and generous move from Microsoft, regardless. In some ways, it feels like it’s actually more of a workaround, and that Microsoft would love to unite Xbox and Windows gaming under a single banner and a single market place.

Perhaps that’s the goal for the future, but that future might not actually be all that far away. Project Scorpio is real, and alongside the PlayStation 4 “Neo”, it looks set to shatter the notion of fixed console hardware. Coming at the end of 2017, it’s a long way off, but it’s also a beast of a machine.

With 6 TFLOPS – trillion floating operating points per second – of processing power that will seriously ramp up the specifications of the 8 core CPU and GPU, Microsoft are going to make 4K and virtual reality gaming a possibility for the living room. The current hardware for both Xbox and PlayStation struggles, at times, to even manage 1080p, so quadrupling the resolution and doing so without compromise is a hugely ambitious goal.

MSMessage-1070

To put all of that into perspective, there are only half a dozen GPUs currently on the market that have more than 6 TFLOPS of computing power, and the cheapest of those, NVidia’s GTX 1070, is $380 on its own – these GPUs, it should be said, still struggle to hit 4K at 60fps in benchmark tests. Microsoft are looking a generation of GPU hardware into the future, certainly, but this is going to be an eminently powerful games console and it’s going to have a price point to match, even accounting for the rate at which technology prices can drop.

It’s a spoiler, of sorts, for the One S announcement, though. A number of people have questioned the need for the One S and whether it will sell, but the important thing is to realise that the slimmer console is still a very attractive package and can gain traction with a strong marketing campaign – which I’m pretty sure will do little to emphasise Project Scorpio’s future existence.

Even so, why would Microsoft announce Scorpio now? Control. They are now firmly in control of the message and path of this mid-generation hardware upgrade. Sony completely and utterly failed to keep a lid on the “Neo” rumours, right down to the point where leaks have said it will be roughly 2.3x as powerful, at around 4.2 TFLOPS, and Andrew House stated at the end of last week that the console would not make an appearance at this year’s E3.

And so Microsoft have been able to set out their stall and tell us what we should expect these hardware upgrades to be able to do. Or to put it another way: Game on, Sony.

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I'm probably wearing toe shoes, and there's nothing you can do to stop me!

34 Comments

  1. So they release an Xbox one, then slim they just make those 2 irrelevant with the release of Scorpio, well I’m no business man but…. Hi Starman

    • Are they going to be irrelevant? All games will be compatible with both Xbox One and Scorpio, and many of those with PC as well.

      • Ok irrelevant is a bit harsh but why should I buy Scorpio if I can get the other 2 cheaper? ( I know the price ain’t been announced but guessing it will be 349£)

      • With the kind of specs being boasted for Scorpio and Neo, and the approach towards games going forward, I’m imagining them to be premium edition packages (with a price to match), with the standard consoles being affordable and with the same games library.

        Also if MS really want ‘true’ 4K gaming, we may not be looking at that much of a big gap graphically, with a lot of the grunt going into 4K resolutions and VR performance.

      • It’s really up to you and what you want. The One S is there as an affordable entry point, the Scorpio will be there as a big step up and high end machine (£349 sounds optimistic to me at its launch), which will suit some people more than others.

        And to be honest, Microsoft are happy if people buy either.

      • Unless MS are willing to make a loss on each console sold, surely the Scorpio will have to be sold around $450-$500 with those kind of specs?

      • That’s not strictly true Stefan. All Xbox One games will be compatible with both systems. You could still end up with Scorpio only games though, which will alienate those who don’t buy into it.

        http://www.gamespot.com/articles/some-games-could-be-exclusive-to-new-xbox-scorpio-/1100-6440815/

      • Just to be clear, I’m referring to “All games will be compatible with both Xbox One and Scorpio”.

      • Greenberg’s tweet clears things a little in that regard.

        https://twitter.com/aarongreenberg/status/742514933322027008

        ‘no scorpio exclusives, so no one gets left behind’

      • Greenbergs tweet soothes my anxiety a little at least.

      • I though they were pretty clear on that point. All games will support both, and all Microsoft exclusives will have the Xbox Play Anywhere to PC, as well.

      • I would assume it will like PC, with a mid range and high end version. The same games run on both, but with different graphics settings for each.. Should be pretty simple to implement from a dev point of view as they already do it for the PC.

  2. I’m curious as to whether the Xbox One S’ APU is slightly different and a has lower production process. I’m guessing so with 4K, HDR support and better size so it might be Microsoft’s move to keep the XB1 alive if it’s true AMD are no longer doing the 28nm chips.

    The UHD drive will be a massive factor for future sales I’m sure. That with the bonus of exclusives and still prominent TV support makes for a competitive product at that price range.

    I’m surprised at people’s reactions to Scorpio. Microsoft made it clear that XB1 is not getting left behind much in the same way as Neo and PS4, so it’s a mutual move in a direction that’s happening whether we like it or not. I think we all knew about Scorpio/Neo anyway, irrespect of who announced what. Announcing Scorpio early will allow more devs to get on board and more exposure.

    • That’s quite an interesting point. Certainly something has been re-engineered – Microsoft refer to the Xbox One and Xbox One S as two separate machines – but I’d be surprised if the chip had moved down to 28nm. It could be a revision of the design with a new scalar chip that helps to enable HDR and HDMI 2.0.

      • The PS4’s PCB has been redesigned at least once. Among other things the memory chips on the launch PS4 were on both sides of the PCB, now they are only on the side that has the APU.

  3. I think their show was very good. (Ok, I’m not impressed by many of their games, GoW and Forza looked lame to me, but that probably is just my taste, as the crowd cheered and fans will like them.)
    MS are really doing everything they can to make up for an utterly disastrous console launch. I don’t think playability on a PC matters much in reality, it’s another one of these mostly unused features. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a good marketing message, as people are willing to pay for stuff they don’t use, and in reality they constantly do so, and it even makes them feel better.
    I really hope MS can catch up this gen, but it’s quite late in the cycle, and I’m not sure how much it’ll pay off. But they’re definitely still in the game chasing Sony, and that is a good thing.

    • I think Forza Horizon 3 looked brilliant! Horizon 2 is one of my absolute favorite racing games the past decade, so I’m very excited for the new one.

      I’m guessing the current Xbone will be faced out shortly, in favour of the S. And I’m definitely interested in upgrading to a Scorpio next year. I’m just curious how many games released prior will benefit from it, if any. Forza 7 should be quite something on it.

  4. I quite like the look of the S. Do we know if they’ve done away with the clicky clicky bumper buttons on the re-designed control pad?

  5. Whether or not the Scorpio ends up more powerful than Neo makes no odds to me, I’ll more than likely side with the Neo as I think I’ve only ever been interested in one Xbox One exclusive, as opposed to a long list of PS exclusives.

    Also, judging with what Naughty Dog managed to pull off with Uncharted 4 tells me a lot of these studios need to hone their coding skills, as ND managed to produce a game that looks and plays a hell of a lot better than a lot of games on far superior, more powerful PCs. So in that respect, the extra power the Scorpio may produce may only be noticeable in multi-platform titles. Or like some are saying, it may take all that power just to run what we’ve already got at 4k.

  6. I was flabergasted when the lady on stage said you can save your game on xbox one and then take it on the move with your PC. Seriously, they do realise a PC is not a mobile piece of kit dont they?

    And as for all this “buy and get both copies milarky” im betting that only goes for the overpriced digital copies right.

    Oh and MS, we get that you now care about PC gamers after years of treating them like 2nd class citizens, but did we really need a reminder after every game reveal thats its exclusive to Xbox one and Windows 10.

    • Well, there’s this newfangled thing called “laptops”. :-P

  7. Whilst i agree that they are taking a lead role with the Scorpio – and i’m fine with that, they’ve been on the downfoot for far too long and the balance was always bound to shift again – i also think that Sony deliberately decided not to show their hand with Neo. It could be that they didn’t want it overshadowed by the Scorpio and so will wait a few months more before giving detailed info, or possibly they are going back to the drawing board.

    • Can Sony afford to go back to the drawing board though? It all depends on how far down the line they were with the Neo. If they were thinking they could get a headstart by launching Q4 year, it might be too late to make any serious changes. Microsoft have thrown down the gauntlet and the ball is almost certainly in Sony’s court to see what happens for the second half of this generation.

      • I vaguely remember some news on TSA about AMD getting at least two new contracts which seemed to indicate two parties (the first speculated to be Sony I think) were being provided with new equipment.

        I highly doubt Sony will go back to the drawing board in so little time. Chances are they’ve got a good package if the rumours are true. Whilst comparatively underpowered, the specs sound efficient and affordable (with tech derived from the PS4), meaning the Neo could be drastically cheaper and smaller than Scorpio. It depends what MS have got up their sleeve.

      • AMD got three new contracts, one of which is presumably for Nintendo’s NX, one for Scorpio and one for Neo.

        However, it takes a long time to go back and overhaul a chip design. Neo, to be at the dev kit stage, has been in development for the last year or two already, and to go back to the drawing board to change it in any significant way would seriously delay any potential new hardware release. Digital Foundry speculate that they might be able to tweak certain things, like ratchet up the clock speeds on both CPU and GPU, as we saw MS do with the Xbox One a little before release.

    • I was thinking it’s probably too late for a complete redesign too but i remember some talk of how they had two chip options for Neo and chose the one which would be cheaper for the consumer, so i wondered if they would be driven enough to want go with the more expensive chip just to keep their edge over Microsoft. But as pointed out it would probably be too late in the day for a redesign.
      Anyway they are in a good place with PS4, and it makes sense to hold off speaking about Neo until later on.

  8. As an aside, the new controller are going to be very welcome, it should knock the socks off my unreliable wireless DS4 setup.

  9. They risk upsetting their fanbase. Splintering themselves across three consoles in two years.

    The more I think about it the more you see they are chasing the iPhone business model.

    Glad Sony didn’t do this. They just said. We know what you want and here it is. 4K is becoming widely available so the upgrade is an optional extra.

    I think the hardcore fans of the green team might buy into it. The rest may jump ship. I think Microsofts decision may backfire.

    Sonys aim. Here’s all the games we know you want and more. Microsoft are trying to emulate the PS4s launch.

    • I believe they’re going to drop the current Xbone once the S is out. Keep it to two systems.

      There’s no point in manufacturing the current model when the S is out.

      • But the transition will be a hop, skip and a jump through ultimately three consoles.

  10. MS announcing Scorpio reminds me of the media trick Sony pulled on Sega when they were busy talking up the Dreamcast and it’s games, basically just causally annouce you too have new hardware in development and make sure it’s tech specs dwarf that of your rivals.

    So far all Scorpio really is, is a shopping list of future PC tech MS intend to fight into a console box, they’ve yet to figure out most efficient way of cooling everything, working out how much of a hit to take on cost of producing it, remember original Xbox specs downgraded before release and Kinect lost it’s on board CPU, so if MS don’t see Neo as a threat in 12 months time, we might see some downgrades here..

    It’s a P.R exercise designed to draw attention away from Neo, PSVR and build some hype before Nintendo annouce full details on NX.

    It’s swings and roundabouts, again, Sony had the high ground with 1080P and for a while Neo, now MS coming back to the light, soon eyes will be on Nintendo once more.

    PlayStation was weaker than N64,PS2 weaker than xbox and Gamecube, so I’m sure Sony won’t be feeling need to do much with Neo and by time Scorpio lands, sure there will be PS5 details leaked to the press and the whole circus begins again..

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