Opinion

What We Already Know of Microsoft’s Strategy Could Give it an Advantage in the Next Generation

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Over a week has passed since Sony announced some of the technology that will ship with the PlayStation 5, and Microsoft has been mostly silent. Microsoft holding its cards close to its chest should come as no surprise seeing as E3 is less than two months away, and I am confident that the team has nothing to worry about. Since the conception of the Xbox One X, the company has been chasing the moniker of the “World’s Most Powerful Console,” and I doubt it desires to relinquish claims like that easily. Despite the beefy specs that will be found within the PS5, Microsoft should not feel threatened, as it has already expressed its intentions towards future hardware.

Although the company need not worry about its competition’s announcement at this moment, Microsoft should not ignore the features already presented. To be successful next generation and rival the next PlayStation, Microsoft will need to compete along the technological forefront, as well as discover what Sony did with the PS4 that made it successful.

In regard to the PS5’s specifications, Microsoft should strive for perfection in the categories where Sony will compromise. The desire to future-proof its hardware by implementing features that are not yet optimized for home entertainment will ultimately force Sony to prioritize visual fidelity over performance stability. While Sony believes that ray-tracing should be implemented for hyper-realism, it should not be a focus for Microsoft at the moment. Although ray-tracing will give developers more freedom for creativity and presentation, it can be extremely taxing on hardware performance. Therefore, this feature should not be a focus for the next Xbox console. Instead, Microsoft should double down on optimization to stand out from its competitors. The Xbox One X already proved a console can do 4K, and with the “Xbox Scarlett”, Microsoft needs to show that 4K 60fps is a standard going forward.

Before any further assumptions are to be made, Microsoft has expressed the desire to forego traditional console generations in favor of iterative hardware that will give consumers the opportunity to upgrade whenever they feel is best. Given this information, the company seems to be focusing on resources that will guarantee it has the most powerful hardware at any given time. Sony’s desire to implement numerous future technologies will come with a sacrifice, and history shows that performance always walks the plank. By approaching this problem from a different angle, Microsoft will still be able to produce the most powerful console consistently, because it will fully optimize every title, regardless of age.

This leads into my next controversial opinion in that Microsoft’s next system should initially ignore the race for 8K. However, Microsoft should not forgo the quest for 8K entirely, but rather understand when it can best, once again, gain an upper hand on PlayStation. Sony’s decision to double down on console generations ensures that the PS5 will be its flagship console for years to come. The PS5’s longevity can be deduced from its desire to implement 8K support, which will most likely be a checkerboarded resolution, and the likelihood that this is being done to prevent the need of a PS5 Pro.

When Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One X and its capability of producing native 4K resolutions, it consequently displayed the corners that Sony cut in its eagerness to hold on to the number one spot. Although the PS4 Pro’s checkerboard rendered 4K looks great to the naked eye, when held in comparison to the native resolution of the X, its faults become apparent. On top of resolution, the X proved its power was able to provide a more stable performance almost every time. Digital Foundry has consistently proven the Xbox One X’s prowess over the PS4 Pro during its technical comparisons, where titles on Microsoft’s machine surpass the competition 95% of the time. Microsoft has shown with the Xbox One X that the most powerful console is one that can provide the most complete experience from a technical standpoint.

I do not express my desire for Microsoft to ignore 8K out of shortsightedness, but rather for a longer-term advantage. As Sony did with the PS4 Pro’s rushed 4K implementation, it will most likely do the same thing with 8K, allowing Microsoft to release an incremental upgrade several years in the future with no compromise. At that point, 8K technology will be more available and affordable, guaranteeing Microsoft a win when it introduces a native implementation. With that trajectory, Sony will again find itself at a technological disadvantage, as it is now with the PS4 Pro.

Moreover, Sony’s expression of full PS4 compatibility with the PS5 comes at a relief to many—myself included—who feared the possibility of history repeating itself. Not only does backwards compatibility inflate launch titles and experiences, it also rewards players who invest in that company’s ecosystem. Microsoft has definitely led the charge this generation with its implementation of emulated backwards compatibility, as it serves as a perfect alternative to the issue. Additionally, Microsoft’s current trajectory is already ahead of what Sony is planning for the PS5. Currently, Xbox’s backwards compatibility features Xbox 360 and original Xbox titles. At its launch, the PS5 will reportedly only feature PS4 titles, but holds the possibility of original PlayStation and PS2 titles being implemented at some point in the future.

Xbox holds the advantage with regard to compatibility because it has already ensured the promise of future implementation. On the development front, Microsoft has a dedicated department that focuses on the compatibility of past software with the Xbox One and ensures the optimal performance and enhancements that titles may receive. I believe that this is another category that Microsoft can lead during the next generation by allocating resources to ensure that all previous titles can utilize and take advantage of current and future hardware.

By automatically enhancing all previous games, Microsoft further solidifies the next Xbox with the “Most Powerful Console” title. Mark Cerny has already showcased the PS4’s Marvel’s Spider-Man running better on PS5 hardware, however, that is a PlayStation exclusive title, and Sony’s best interest is to have it perform better. Microsoft has also enhanced previous first-party titles to take advantage of the Xbox One X hardware, but it has not excluded these advantages from numerous third-party titles to ensure they truly rival their PC counterparts.

Ultimately, Microsoft’s success next generation will not be fully dependent on its hardware innovations, but rather its development of first-party titles. At this point, Microsoft knows that it has underperformed in that category for a few years now, and with Sony’s stellar first-party lineup continuing to surprise consumers and critics, Microsoft will have to step up its game. Only time will tell how Microsoft chooses to tackle the issue of first-party support and exclusives, and with E3 around the corner, the industry will soon see what is up Xbox’s sleeve. Microsoft has everything to prove this year during E3 and, at the same time, nothing to lose since it has the entire stage to itself.

Daniel Pereira

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