A lot of the game developers out there are being courted to take up building titles for Sony's new mid-gen refresh, the PS4 Pro. Well, in order not to be left behind, Microsoft also has a mid-gen refresh, but their reasons for making it have finally become clear.
In a detailed write-up by Eurogamer, they managed to get in time with Microsoft's upcoming Xbox Scorpio and check out the specs, while also being able to talk with corporate vice president of the Xbox and Windows platforms, Mike Ybarra, who explained to Digital Foundry's Richard Leadbetter exactly what the main goal was of Project Scorpio and why they decided to build it, saying...
With Xbox 360 we had the absolute best platform for developers, [with Xbox One] we sort of lost that in a two-year time-frame, so we said how do we win the mind-share of those developers back? We want the best games running on our box and there are tools, devkits and some arrows like that to win the developers back. So that was a big priority for us as we approached this product.
This is not a dissimilar tactic used by Microsoft's other competitors as well. Nintendo also did the same thing with the Nintendo Switch, upping the graphics capabilities and making it easier for developers to code to the metal for their system. This also tied in engine support for Unreal Engine 4 and Unity, and much faster pipelines to port games from the other platforms to the Switch. It was all in a bid to win back support from the developers.
In this case, Microsoft was gunning for more power than simple accessibility. The Scorpio had to be something that stood head and shoulders above the competition, especially after they got absolutely trounced in the specs, software, accessibility and QOL department when the PS4 and Xbox One were first announced back in 2013. It was a huge blow coming off the amazing ecosystem they had designed for the Xbox 360, which allowed developers a lot of leeway and freedom in how they were able to design games for the seventh-gen system.
Unfortunately, Microsoft spent the remainder of 2013 with a damaged reputation and running all sorts of damage control for a system that had far too many limitations, a lot of anti-consumer policies built in, and more expensive hardware to boot. They also had plenty of other stipulations for developers that made it difficult for indie devs to get their game on Microsoft's system without either adding costs to development or inconveniencing themselves with platform parity for the release dates.
Phil Spencer, the head of the Xbox division, spent a majority of 2014 and 2015 simply reversing the policies put forward by former Microsoft executive Don Mattrick, and then spent most of 2016 trying to sell the Xbox brand back to consumers as something worthwhile. Apparently, that only works when you have developers on board, and they lost a heck of a lot of them during the debacles throughout 2013 and 2014.
Well, with the Xbox Scorpio they're promising development studios all the ease and accessibility from the Xbox 360 era, but with the power and performance oftentimes found in high-end gaming PCs. They've decided to put gaming back as the centerpiece of attention and the focal point of the Xbox brand with the Scorpio, and they seem to have the specs to prove it.
It's funny seeing both Nintendo and Microsoft desperately trying to court development studios again, but from two wildly different perspectives. Nintendo is gunning for a hybrid mobile/home console approach, and Microsoft is going for a full-powered, muscled-up hardware approach. It'll be interesting to see, throughout the year, how developers embrace the hardware and if they'll start abandoning Sony at any point to exclusively make games for systems like the Scorpio.