This has been a difficult video game generation for Microsoft. The Xbox One launched amidst a wave of bad buzz — much of it focused on the Kinect camera, back when “Kinect” was a thing serious-minded businesspeople believed in. Since its late 2013 launch, the Xbox One has lagged in the sales competition against Sony’s Playstation 4. Microsoft actually stopped releasing sales data on its console — leading some kremlinologists to openly theorize that the Xbox One might have sold half as many units as the competition.
But Microsoft ended its E3 press conference on Monday with a bold new vision of its future — and of a future “beyond generations.” After debuting a new Xbox One variant called the “Xbox One S,” the company promised an even bolder new piece of hardware. Codenamed “Project Scorpio,” the new equipment promises “true 4K gaming and hi-fidelity VR.” Microsoft’s Phil Spencer described it as, simply, “the most powerful console ever,” with eight CPU cores and six teraflops of power. That is quite impressive on a mathematical level, although “six teraflops” is unquestionably the funniest thing anyone has ever bragged about in a public setting.
Project Scorpio will launch in the holiday 2017 window. But Spencer purposefully underlined the fact that this ;isn’t the start of Microsoft’s next phase. Scorpio, the Xbox One, and the Xbox One S are seen as parts of a whole, with the potential to transfer your games across platforms (and onto other Microsoft devices, for that matter.)
Microsoft didn’t really have much to show from Scorpio. Spencer said they were announcing the hardware to allow their developers and partners to start working with Scorpio’s capabilities now. But it’s expedient for Microsoft to shift the conversation around the Xbox One going into E3 this week. Besides Scorpio, the conference also focused on anticipated sequels like Gears of War 4 and Dead Rising 4 alongside intriguing eccentricities like Sea of Thieves and We Happy Few. Gears will be huge — but how huge? It’s been half a decade since the last mainline Gears of War game — and the 2013 spinoff, Judgment, didn’t sell as well as its predecessors. Halo 5 sold fine, but it’s been dogged by the sense — maybe unjustified, unquestionably sticky — that it didn’t move the needle enough on Xbox One sales.
Microsoft needs something to look forward to. Project Scorpio could be it. In the same media briefing, Microsoft also debuted a bizarre video promising gamers the ability to design their own Xbox One controllers. This is a nifty new feature which also vibes helplessly as a rearranging of deckchairs. With Project Scorpio, Microsoft is betting on VR and the promise of increased hardware power. That’s a big bet — but it’s certainly more compelling than the image of a thousand colorful controllers for a console even Microsoft isn’t sure you want.