Why Microsoft should (and will) go big at Gamescom 2014

Xbox One (opens in new tab) is gaining momentum. While Sony has a significant headstart in this generation, thanks to a comparatively low price and a consistent PR campaign, people are starting to flock back to Microsoft’s console. Titanfall, the removal of Kinect, and some hefty price-cuts have seen Xbox regaining ground. Now, with Gamescom becoming an increasingly significant date in the gaming calendar, Microsoft is poised to win lapsed fans back once and for all.

Well, that’s certainly what should be happening.

Microsoft has worked hard to recover from the car-crash that was 2013. While the new Xbox hasn’t sold poorly, there’s no denying that PS4 is seen as the new-gen console of choice. The deepest wound–the fact that 360 devotees switched allegiances, en masse, to Sony in this latest generation–is starting to heal. And that makes the timing of this year’s Gamescom so delicious for console gamers.

While E3 was used as a blunt instrument to hammer home Microsoft’s message that ‘we’re all about the games’, Gamescom is where the company needs to both reiterate this sentiment AND show us what else it has. I wrote an editorial during E3 (opens in new tab) that praised Xbox One’s focus on games, but raised concerns about the short-sighted strategy that seemed to imply. Some of you agreed, others didn’t.

I’ll say it again: yes, loads of games will win over the hardcore crowd, and bring lapsed 360 owners back into the fold, but Microsoft needs more than this. It needs to show potential buyers that One has an exciting future. It needs to demonstrate that this new Xbox will evolve in fresh, exciting ways just like the 360 did. And Gamescom is the perfect platform to do that from.

So, what do I expect to see from Microsoft at their Showcase next week? Plenty of playable games: Halo: Master Chief Collection, Forza Horizon 2, Sunset Overdrive, as a bare minimum. New games? Well, maybe. Expect some indie announcements and exclusive DLC bits for sure. Trailers? Better believe it. Halo 5 should be there in some capacity, along with a bunch of other games for 2015.

More than this, though, Microsoft needs to bring on ideas that differentiate the One from PS4. A price cut would be great, but can Microsoft realistically shave more money off the console? They’ve already chopped £80 in a year. The Spanish version of Xbox.com has already either leaked or falsely reported on a price-cut (Microsoft denies it (opens in new tab)), which could see another €50 / £30 slashed from the price. £320 for an Xbox One? Now that’s tempting.

Apps and wider features need to play a bigger role too. Stuff like Snap and Skype are excellent features, but neither feels essential. Every device known to man can now run Netflix, so what else is in the bag? Proper sports and movie deals for Europe via Sky and BT? How about a streaming service that makes Sony’s PS Now look greedy and outdated (opens in new tab)? That’d certainly be a massive counter-punch for Xbox. With the PS Now Beta drawing criticism over its pricing, Microsoft needs to come in with an amazing, low-price streaming service. Will it do that? History says ‘No’, but circumstances say ‘Why the hell not?’.

Of course, wheeling in a great streaming service and saying ‘Hey, we’re going to give you these games for peanuts’ isn’t an easy thing to do. It requires planning and forethought. If Microsoft has really been listening to gamers, and it genuinely wants to recover lost ground against PS4, then it needs a big announcement like this. It needs to demonstrate that it’s no longer furiously back-peddling; it’s moving forward, and becoming an industry leader again.

I genuinely think that Microsoft has learned a big lesson with Xbox One. It’s the same issue Sony faced after the awful launch of PS3 back in 2006/7 where hubris sent millions of once loyal fans scurrying to a new gaming home. Microsoft has certainly addressed concerns much faster than Sony did, and will be keen to push forward again. But what if it doesn’t?

Well, the Xbox One is by no means a sales failure–it’s doing very well. However, you have a finite amount of time to capture certain sections of the gaming audience. There’s a limited number (but we’re talking tens-of-millions here) of hardcore gamers who will pay premium prices for consoles, and Microsoft needs more of them. Sure, some will buy two machines, but this is something that often occurs after several price cuts, and expensive exclusives. And with the ever diminishing number of exclusives (along with increasingly compelling competition from PCs), there are fewer and fewer reasons to have two boxes under your TV. No, Microsoft needs to bag those gamers still clinging on to last-gen machines.

With the Autumn / Winter silly season just around the corner, Gamescom is where the hearts and minds of many will be made up. You can bet good money that Sony is keen to remind everyone that it’s still in charge, so Microsoft needs to step up now. If it does, this could be one of the most exciting Gamescoms in years. I know Microsoft should be aiming to make that happen… and I strongly suspect it will.

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