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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.

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The Final Fantasy VII Remake Might Turn Away Fans Instead of Creating New Ones

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final fantasy vii

In 1997, Square Enix, then Square Soft, released a title that would change the role-playing genre forever. Until then, the genre only found popularity within smaller, niche communities. In January of that year, Square Soft released Final Fantasy VII,a classic that would hold a special place in gamers’s hearts for years to come.

Until my early teens, I had only heard of the marvel known as Final Fantasy VII. Before that point, I had never experienced the game or seen much of its offerings. For years, I searched stores for a copy until finally locating a version that broke my juvenile bank. I had finally earned a chance to experience a game I had, until then, only known through word of mouth and, after my first few hours with it, found love.

Final Fantasy VII gave me characters to care about and a cause worth fighting for. With a protagonist as gloomy as Cloud Strife, Final Fantasy VII’s extended cast of misfits needed to outshine the leading man and give players a reason to care. The lovable Aerith/Aeris, adamant Tifa, and strong-headed Barret are some examples of FFVII’s supporting cast that remains iconic into modern gaming.

At E3 2015, Square Enix surprised audiences with the announcement that Final Fantasy VII would be getting a full-fledged remake. Fans would ride an emotional high for a while before the title was announced to be broken into multiple parts. A multi-part release, along with some questionable visuals and character design, was enough to shift fan excitement to worry, until both the game and conversation faded out of the limelight.

During Sony’s State of Play stream, audiences were shown new gameplay for the Remake, which featured adjusted character models and the inclusion of more beloved characters. Once again, fans were left on an emotional high after the stream until confirmation came later that the title would still be chopped up into multiple releases.

Square Enix is advertising this game as being too large for a single launch window. For reference sake, the single-player experience of Red Dead Redemption 2 launched in full in October 2018. Given how grand the narrative is for Red Dead Redemption 2, the title still needed a separate disc for installation. Nonetheless this did not encourage Rockstar to split the title into multiple launches. What Square Enix is effectively stating here, is that the Final Fantasy VII Remake will be more expansive than Red Dead Redemption 2 – a title that is already one of the largest games to date. Either the Final Fantasy VII Remake will be groundbreaking for the industry, or this is an attempt by Square Enix to capitalize on the fandom surrounding this beloved title.

As a primary curiosity, fans want to know how the game will be divided. For now, all that is known around this subject is just rumors and speculation, but that does not eliminate the need to discuss such possibilities. For example, will the game be split into two parts or will the division be more akin to the three-disc original version? This version of the split would be more faithful to the original, but then creates a new issue for fans.

The more parts Final Fantasy VII Remake finds itself in, the more expensive the overall experience will be for the players. Square Enix has not yet explained how it will charge for this remake. Given past trends within the industry, the potential for monetization comes via DLCs, expansions, or season passes. For example, Square’s previous entry into the Final Fantasy series – Final Fantasy XV – saw numerous added content post launch, including a second season pass before being cancelled. Additionally, the title received mobile spin-offs and tie-ins full of micro-transactions. In a perfect world, Square Enix would release each part at a lower price point than a full title, allowing the consumer to experience the full game at a ‘normal’ price. Fans will have to wait a little longer to get details on the pricing models, seeing as a release window for the first part is still nonexistent.

One aspect Square Enix should keep in mind, however, is player retention. As with past episodic titles, the possibility always exists for the playerbase to die off during the down time between releases. A large player-base exists that wait until the full title is released before purchasing and playing the game. Since Final Fantasy fans are not used to this kind of launch, many of them may purchase the first part out of excitement and anticipation and become turned off by the required indefinite wait afterwards.

For Final Fantasy VII Remake, Square’s decision to release the game in parts may not be as beneficial as it initially believes. Since the game is a remake, fans will have a certain expectation for the quality of its execution and development. The expectation towards the Final Fantasy VII Remake will be exceedingly high due to the fact that a Final Fantasy VII revered by many already exists. Ultimately, some fans will be disappointed by the remake depending on how faithful the content is to the original, already placing Square at a disadvantage with this beloved IP.

Despite the negativity surrounding Square’s insistence on breaking up the title, excitement for the Final Fantasy VII Remake remains high as fans are once again discussing what it may have to offer. Despite the confirmation of an episodic release, the community will not have any concrete facts until the game’s next showing later this year. Until then, all one can do is speculate based on trends within the gaming industry. I am genuinely excited to see a title loved by many re-imagined for modern technology, but the potential of it turning away die-hard fans due to business decisions leaves me worried for the worst.

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