Microsoft laid out its vision for the next generation of its Xbox gaming platform with no shortage of confidence at its E3 2019 briefing, revealing its new Xbox console, codenamed Project Scarlett, and more details on its cloud gaming service.
Microsoft extolled the virtues of shorter loading times due to the inclusion of a solid-state drive (SSD) for Project Scarlett, plus the ability to run 120fps and vastly superior graphical capabilities. The new console will launch in late 2020.
Project xCloud, meanwhile, will launch in October this year and while there was no announcement of pricing, Microsoft made its case for both its existing Xbox One consoles and upcoming cloud gaming service with a conference jam-packed with new games.
While Project Scarlett will take the headlines, Xbox’s aim was to show the depth and breadth of its upcoming games catalogue after a relatively lean few years in terms of exclusives. The message was clear enough; particularly in a cloud gaming future, content really will be king. And Xbox showed that it is looking to pack its own offering, bolstered by its recent splurge on acquiring studios (including new addition Double Fine). While the term ‘exclusive’ has altered meaning, Xbox showcased 14 of its own Xbox Game Studios titles, as well as 30 games that will be released on its Xbox Game Pass subscription service at their launch.
The briefing kicked off with the reveal of Cambridge-based Ninja Theory’s first game under the Xbox Game Studios banner, Bleeding Edge, a four-player, hero-based melee multiplayer game. As well as Halo Infinite’s reveal as a Project Scarlett launch game, we also saw more of Gears 5 and a slew of newly announced games.
It was an impressively diverse line-up too, from the explosive blockbusters that have become synonymous with gaming to inventive independent games like 12 Minutes and family-friendly titles like Spiritfarer and the hand-sketched Riptime. After Google Stadia’s fairly underwhelming and unclear list of games, assuming that Game Pass will form the catalogue of xCloud, Microsoft’s offering across its platforms looks significantly more substantial.
With Sony absent from this year’s conference, there was the sense that this was Xbox’s E3. But in the event, Xbox’s lavish briefing was as much about teamwork as it was competition.
As swathes of the gaming industry queued in the blazing sun outside the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles, fresh rumours of Nintendo’s involvement began to swirl. The Japanese gaming giant and Xbox’s new best friend was including on Microsoft’s ‘Where to Watch’ Xbox schedule, while there was talk of industry legend and Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto appearing on stage. That turned out to be false, though an excitable audience were treated to a showstopping cameo by Keanu Reeves announcing his role in the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077.
Nevertheless, the Nintendo connection will not go away. And any open-platform approach brought on by the advent of cloud gaming and subscription models will be significantly disruptive to the traditional video game market. For players, that should mean a broader selection of games and less boundaries to play them.
As part of Microsoft’s continuing platform agnosticity, the company revealed that the Game Pass service for PC will begin in beta today. It said that it was curating specific games for PC including Football Manager 2019. As part of a drive for subscriptions, a future of gaming that Microsoft is clearly invested in, the company announced that it would be offering a one-price-fits-all premium subscription for Game Pass on both PC and console.
Could the console war era be over then? At the very least it seems the existing gaming goliaths are forming an uneasy peace to counter the looming threat of Google Stadia and Amazon’s reported interest in the sector. Microsoft appears to be taking the lead on this new era of cooperation, supplying cloud servers for PlayStation’s own next-generation streaming service.
The goal for Xbox is to become a boundary-free service spread over multiple platforms, with technology driven by Project Scarlett. While the announcement of the next-generation console shows that hardware remains an integral part of gaming, particularly for those looking for the highest performance, it may no longer be the priority.
Quite where it leaves Sony and the PlayStation 5 remains to be seen But with Google trying to muscle in, Amazon apparently on its way and Apple taking the sector more seriously with its Arcade service, the traditional gaming companies will need to adapt and make sure they are offering a compelling selection of games. On this evidence Microsoft seems to be doing just that.
Are you excited for the launch of Project Scarlett? And what do you want to see from Xbox One's successor?