Xbox One X — Will it Sell?

New console launches are always exciting, and the next one is a beast. After spending this entire console generation trailing Sony’s PlayStation lineup in power (and sales) Microsoft is puffing out its chest and releasing the Xbox One X. When it launches later this year, the X will be, by far, the most powerful gaming console ever released to the public. If we measure by teraflops, whatever they are, Xbox One X will boast roughly the same output as a base PlayStation 4 and a PS4 Pro, combined.

It’s impressive, and it’s exciting, but is it a good move for Microsoft? Xbox One X launches at $500, twice the price of the Xbox One S, and offers no noticeable improvements aside from graphical upgrades. There are no additional exclusives and it won’t fix Xbox One’s weird tile-based interface.

Xbox One’s User Interface; Rev. 7.3

Most fans are probably already invested in this console generation, and the ones who aren’t probably won’t spend $500 to get top of the line graphics. Even if they would, you can’t even get 4K gaming without a 4K TV, which puts the total investment for these graphics well into four figures. The consensus of most analysts is: it’s great, but who’s gonna buy it? The answer, I think, is a lot of people.

I agree with every bit of logic in the predictions that XBX won’t sell well. I can’t understand why I would buy one in my current situation, or in any situation, really. But I’m not everyone, and consumers have shown a surprising willingness to spend on premium products. Is a Ferrari really 5 times better than a Corvette? Is Johnnie Walker Blue really worth the extra $150? Does anything on Say Yes to the Dress make any sense? Consumers have shown they’re willing to pay extra for the best because its the best, even if the objective differences seem minimal.

This extends into the gaming market, and Microsoft has seen it first hand. Two years ago Microsoft introduced their Elite Controller. For $150, two and a half times the normal price, you can have a few redundant buttons, shorter trigger pulls, and a satellite dish for a D-pad. It’s cool, but… who would buy it? As it turns out, a lot of people. Microsoft couldn’t keep them in stock initially, produced their 1 millionth Elite Controller less than a year after launch, and continue to see healthy sales growth for a product that logically shouldn’t have much of a market. I think Xbox One X will have a similar story.

Early indicators suggest interest in the Xbox One X is strong. Microsoft gave a feel-good statement about record setting preorders (but didn’t offer actual numbers) and as of this writing Xbox One X has outsold the PS4 Pro on Amazon for all of 2017, despite being available for preorder for only a few days.

Even if the positive indicators weren’t there, Microsoft’s hand is sort of forced here. I think this is the best path Microsoft can realistically take to stay competitive this generation. Their big problem is lack of exclusives, but I’m becoming increasingly convinced the reason they’re not solving that problem is that they can’t. Halo and Forza are great, I loved Sunset Overdrive, and they’ve found a gem in Moon Studios (Ori and the Blind Forest), but they don’t have anyone who can sit at the table with Naughty Dog, or at the same restaurant as Nintendo. Pulling together that kind of talent takes time, and some amount of luck. In the meantime, Microsoft is working to be the best place to play multi-platform titles to supplement the exclusives they do have; I think that’s the right move.

Sure, you don’t have to look far to see where this could go wrong. Xbox One was originally bundled with the Kinect sensor and priced at $500, and VR seems to be on it’s 8th life, but there’s a key difference in those instances: they weren’t better, they were just different. Kinect is really neat, but it’s not really better than a console that doesn’t have it. VR changes the way gaming is experienced… which is different than simply making the gaming experience better. Xbox One X isn’t an experiment, it’s just a roid-rage version of the consoles everyone already likes.

The price point will probably keep it from selling on par with the base model S, and for that reason the real success or failure depends on how much of an investment Microsoft had to put into the X to make it happen — which I don’t think is a generation defining amount. It’s tough to back a console that costs as much as a refurbished version of its own base model ($199) and the hottest console on the market (Switch at $299), but I think Xbox One X will sell well enough to be seen as a success, especially as a supplement to, not a replacement of, the Xbox One S.