Have you ever wondered why the Xbox One failed and did so poorly compared to the PlayStation 4 this generation? I’ve wanted to know myself so I researched the internet trying to find the reasons why.
Are you ready? Let’s get to it.
The Xbox One failed as the Xbox One reveal at E3 2013 was the worst in gaming history. Xbox One was not only $100 more expensive than the PS4 but also weaker. Microsoft had anti-gaming policies and never had a gaming library to ever compete with Sony. Xbox One never recovered.
The Xbox One suffered from a lack of game exclusives and was playable catchup PS4 for the entirety of the console War.
Now, this is a complicated topic that needs a lot more explanation.
I will go into detail with each point so you can best understand exactly why Playstation 4 won the console war against Xbox One, it’s quite interesting and I hope you enjoy it.
Xbox One Terrible E3 2013 Reveal
Before the Xbox One reveal in 2013 the rumours weren’t good, as the Xbox was supposed to have “always-online DRM”(requiring a constant internet connection) and even worse no game sharing policies, both practices that are so anti-consumer and exactly the opposite of what avid fans of the Xbox 360 would want for its successor.
Check out an interview in E3 2013 of Xbox’s head executive Don Mattrick responses to the infamous anti-gamer policies.
It doesn’t stop there as a Microsoft game exec named Adam Orth infamously supported the idea of constant online game connection and insulted people who messaged him on Twitter who didn’t like the idea where he posted a photo of Barack Obama that said: “deal with it”.
Crazy right! Xbox did not help themselves at the start of the generation and the game exec left the company a week later as you can see from the video below but the damage he did was already done.
The PS4 was looking more and more tempting for even the most avid Xbox 360 fans and that’s before the worst console reveal of all time.
The Xbox One was revealed in E3 2013 and one problem was the name as it could easily be confused with the original Xbox. Microsoft still has a problem with names as even the next-generation Xbox console, the Xbox series X doesn’t have the most distinguishing name and it could prove problematic with its marketing.
Regardless, the fears of Xbox fans everywhere was confirmed as the reveal stated the console would need to have a constant internet connection and worst still, a terrible gaming license policy.
Microsofts Terrible Game License Policy
Every game bought would always be related to a users Xbox Live account and although it had some benefits such as being accessible to access any purchased game from any other Xbox console, and the ability to play games without their disc once they’re installed and the ability to share games with to up to 10 different family members.
You could trade games in at “participating retailers” and even transfer a game to any Xbox Live friend for a month but only once. The problem was Microsoft required your console to be connected to the internet every 24 hours or else the games will be disabled until your console was reconnected to the internet.
However, the biggest dislike of this practice was it hurts a consumer’s physical sale rights to their games. I wrote about this in my post “physical vs digital games” (click here) but Microsofts attempted practice takes the power away from the consumer as no longer do you own the games you pay for, instead, you buy the license and you can’t even lend your games to your friends or sell them on sites like eBay after your done.
One thing that separates consoles over PC is the ability to have licenseless games, taking away the gamers right to a physical disc shifted Xbox into a Steam like business method, which console gamers wanted nothing to do with.
If Microsoft had their way when Xbox one servers eventually shut down every Xbox One game you ever bought would be unplayable, or if your internet stopped working. Contrast this to PS1 games being playable 25 years after the console was released, and you can see why gamers everywhere wanted Microsoft to fail.
Microsofts 24-Hour Online Check-In
The largest backlash Microsoft received by far was the 24-hour online check-in for your games to work.
How can ANYONE’S console be guaranteed to have an internet connection everyday? Maybe you’re having internet problems? Need to move house, or are travelling, or you in a country like Algeria or Bolivia that have terrible internet, or you don’t have internet altogether? Microsoft was just begging people with internet issues to buy a PS4.
If Microsoft’s servers stopped working? Then you’re expensive $499 at launch machine would useless. I know hindsight is 20/20 but it is genuinely baffling that Microsoft attempted to launch a console with these anti-consumer policies at the heart.
Microsofts Kinect Problem
The Kinect add on was foolishly forced on consumers causing the Xbox One launch price to be $499 a whole $100 more expensive than the more powerful PS4 which launched at $399. Forcing consumers to pay more for an inferior console at launch just for motion control & a camera that no one used was beyond stupid by Microsoft.
Worst still, having a constant camera constantly watching you with face recognition and the ability to monitor your heartbeat, was bad enough for gamers but even so Microsoft Yusuf Mehdi(Microsoft Senior VP declared Kinect will “continue to be integral” to the Xbox one ecosystem even when Xbox One without Kinect was released.
The Kinect didn’t do well on the Xbox 360 and ultimately the Xbox One version had worse motion controls than even the Wii, so forcing consumers to buy a product that had no point and barely any games was a ridiculous move by Microsoft. Check out this little documentary about what killed the Kinect if you want to know more.
Microsoft E3 Reveal Lacked Games
Even with all these terrible anti-consumer policies, Microsoft lacked the most important thing to encourage players to purchase a new games console; the games themselves! Call Of Duty: Ghosts was spoken about in length(a non-exclusive) and they mostly talked about the new improved dog graphics and no real innovation over the Xbox 360!
Even worse than Adam Orth, Don Mattrick a high ranking Microsoft executive said to Spike TV at E3 2013 about the 24/7 online controversy.
“Fortunately we have a product for people who aren’t able to get some form of connectivity. It’s called Xbox 360.”Don Mattrick President of the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft.
You don’t have to be a genius to understand what such a consumer alienating statement that was, even if you were a loyal Xbox fan for years and have poor/no internet why on Earth would you buy an Xbox One that not only is $100 more expensive but is a less powerful machine than the PS4 which can play games offline!
Switching consoles was a no-brainer and Xbox are still paying for this horrible mistake.
Sony’s Response To Xbox One E3 2013 Reveal
Now Microsoft made the mistakes but you have to give Sony credit for how well they handled Microsoft’s failures. Sony unveiled in E3 2013 how the PS4 didn’t fit all the anti-consumer policies of Xbox One such as 24-hour online verification and gaming licenses causing the crowd to applaud.
You can see this in one of the best E3 moments of all time down below. Just look at his smile!
Sony’s marketing was brilliant as they merely leveraged all of the anti-consumer policies of Microsoft and used it against Xbox. They posted on various social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook that the PS4 did not need a constant online connection and used games can be played normally.
Nowhere in this done better than PlayStations fantastic YouTube video on a guide of how to “share games on PS4” it’s so simple but so well done and its why the PS4 won the console war against Xbox One.
No matter how well Xbox One has done recently it was impossible to keep up with the PS4 after such a terrible start, as many pro Xbox fanboys/girls have already made the switch to the cheaper more powerful pro-consumer console.
E3 2013 Aftermath
After Microsoft was rightfully deemed anti-consumer like a Leopard it couldn’t change its spots, as Microsoft issued a large damage control campaign justifying the price of $499,.
There were even rumours that Microsoft was paying third party developers not to show PS4 games at E3!(link here). This was just another terrible decision after terrible decision by Microsoft.
They even paid the popular YouTube gaming channel Machinima and their partners to plug the Xbox One and mention only positive things about the console and its launch titles, which you can read here. Truly baffling decisions as once the leaks come out(which they did) it would make Microsoft look like it didn’t care about addressing the problem but instead using money to paper over the tracks.
Microsofts Attempts To Backtrack
Due to the massive gamer backlash of Microsoft’s ridiculous policies PS4 preorders were far higher than the Xbox One, which caused Microsoft to do an “Xbox 180″(haha get it?). They released the following statement.
“After a one-time system set-up with a new Xbox One, you can play any disc-based game without ever connecting online again,” Microsoft wrote. “There is no 24-hour connection requirement and you can take your Xbox One anywhere you want and play your games, just like on Xbox 360.”
Like on Xbox 360, “playing disc-based games will require that the disc is in the tray.”
The decision was a victory for gamers as all Xbox anti-gamer practises were stopped, and luckily Sony didn’t join Microsoft and instead leveraged standard gamer policies as a big advantage over Microsoft,;such fantastic marketing.
They went better in June 2014 and released a $399 Xbox One without Kinect and closed the distance between the Xbox One and PS4s price tag. Also, they stopped the ban on needing to use gold to use applications and introduced Games for Gold and Deals For Gold in June 2014.
The issue is whilst these are positive moves they are just making up for previous mistakes instead of gaining momentum against Sony. All these practises should never have been there in the first place.
Think to yourself, even if you were an Xbox fanboy like I was with the Xbox 360, why would you buy an inferior console that not only is less powerful but more expensive with a poorer line up of games with a proven track record of being anti-consumer? Buying a PS4 was a no-brainer.
Having a $399 Xbox One and not DRM practises or game licenses is good but it should have been the norm. Sony with the PS4 E3 2013 only looked so good because Microsoft looked so bad. It’s like Microsoft started a 100 m sprint 3 seconds late, they could never catch up no matter what.
The Years After E3 2013
PlayStation president Jim Ryan announced that PS4 has sold 106 million units in January 2020 making it the second most successful games console of all time behind the PS2 at around 150 million units.
The Xbox One?
Microsoft stopped publishing sales figures for the console from October 2015, clearly due to the terrible numbers compared to PS4. However, roughly by the end of 2018, the whole Xbox One family is predicted to have sold around 41 million units.
The sales were not terrible but this is after all the anti-consumer policies were removed, the console could have been the biggest gaming disaster of all time if Microsoft didn’t act quickly with back peddling the Xbox could have been discounted forever and Gaming is better for it with the Xbox still here.
Now, I will go into detail into more specific reasons why the Xbox One failed this generation but I believe E3 2013 was the biggest culprit is it’s so hard to do well when you start so bad.
Does all the controversy around the Xbox One game license policy, constant online verification, Microsoft’s stance on indie developers sound confusing?
Well, it was even Microsoft themselves seemed confused and interview after interview the waters got even muddier. Check out this post that has a diagram from different interview answers that highlights the confusion.
Contrast this to PlayStation 4 message that was always concise and to the point, without any major controversies about the device, it’s featured or it’s launch.
It is baffling that Microsoft a global juggernaut with a large Public relations department could make messages about the Xbox One so confusing and unhelpful, even making the console look worse. Regardless, lacking a concise message was a big reason why the Xbox One did so poorly initially.
The PS4 Was Cheaper & More Powerful
The specs were quite similar but the PS4 has a slightly better GPU with faster RAM which meant the PS4 always had a graphical advantage over the Xbox One. If you wanted the console that played games the best, PS4 was the clear winner.
Sony learned from the previous generation that the less powerful but cheaper Xbox 360 outperformed the PS3 in units sold, this made launching the Xbox One with a Kinect for an extra $100 that people didn’t even want even more foolish. Even if the console’s specs were the same it would have been stupid, but with the PS4 being objectively superior? It was beyond foolish even without all the anti-consumer policies the Xbox One was doomed to be at a disadvantage.
This started a downward spiral for the Xbox, as before everyone owned an Xbox 360 and most people played multiplatform games on the console, and the 360 had a lot of exclusive content such as getting Call Of Duty map packs first. This changed quickly with the current generation with everything exclusive going to the PS4 and Xbox getting nothing.
Lack Of Xbox One Exclusives
Now, I’ve written about this in detail here but a massive reason to get the PS4 is it’s critically acclaimed AAA exclusives such as God Of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, Blood Bourne etc. (Check out a list of the best PS4 games here). Every year since it’s release the PS4 library has just been getting bigger and bigger and Sony has an excellent track record of delivering what it’s customers want.
Whereas with Xbox One? The list of exclusives is pathetic in comparison. Halo 5 released in 2015, Gears 4 2016, Gears 5 2019 and Forza almost annually. The way Xbox reuses these IP’s has become somewhat of a meme and is used to poke fun of Xbox’s lack of exclusives.
These games are all solid, but Xbox has lacked a real narrative-driven cinematic AAA experience like a Last Of US or God Of War for a while and with such a lack of variety these games are sure to get stagnant.
Microsoft this generation just played it too safe, it’s difficult to get excited about another Gears game that didn’t change the formula too much and is too similar. Sony in comparison gives it’s developers complete freedom, who would have thought the developers of Kill Zone Guerrilla Games an FPS could produce an open world robot killing adventure in Horizon Zero Dawn?
Franchise fatigue for all entertainment, not just games is a very serious problem, look at series like BattleField or Call Of Duty who need to seriously shake up the formula to get people to buy. If Xbox relied on Halo, Gears, Forza this problem would only get worse.
Fortunately, Xbox has made phenomenal strides recently and acquired many first-party studies and now has 15 different studios the same as Sony and is looking to acquire more. I believe Xbox have learned from their previous mistakes and are trying to do everything right this time around.
Poor Project Management
Microsoft had several exclusives it desperately needed that suffered due to it’ terrible micromanagement. One game was Scalebound which started development in 2013 by PlatimumGames and was an open-world RPG a genre that is seriously lacking in the Xbox One’s library. Unfortunately, Platinum games were overwhelmed by Microsoft’s demands and in 2017 the project was cancelled.
Microsoft never gave its developers the time they needed, contrast this to Sony who allowed the developer dreams media molecule 5 years to develop and redraft their game, Microsoft lacking patience cost them deeply this generation.
Worst still, was Microsoft treatment of one of it’s beloved IP’s the Fable Series, which was massively popular on the Xbox & Xbox 360 and the developers Lionhead wanted to make Fable 4. Microsoft instead wanted to create Fable Legends a free-to-play RPG for Xbox One & PC but again development problems killed the title.
Microsoft didn’t just stop there, it closed Lionhead one of it’s most important studios of the last 2 generations rather than give the studio time to breath. If Microsoft gave time the developers needed they would have had Scalebound and Fable 4 and all of a sudden its exclusives wouldn’t have looked so bad.
They are entirely to blame for this failure as when you don’t take risks you don’t get any winners, and Microsoft played it too safe.
Whilst smaller titles such as Ori and the Blind Forest & Cuphead were critically acclaimed when Microsoft released AAA titles they lacked the quality and critical reception that Sony’s exclusives have.
Quantum Break is the perfect example from the talented studio Remedy Games. The gameplay premise was interesting, allowing players to bend time and manipulate objects very similar to the game the studio would later release Control(2019).
However, whilst the latter focused on the gameplay the former had lengthy cutscenes between chapters and was more focused on a TV narrative with performances from actors such as Aiden Gillen(Game of Thrones/The Wire) and Lance Reddick(Oz/The Wire) with episodes breaking up the gameplay.
Ultimately you can appreciate what Microsoft was trying to do but ultimately the game was a 77 on Metacritic and the zombie exclusive State Of Decay 2 getting a 69. These games were decent but nothing compared to Sony’s exclusive library of some of the best games in recent memory such as God Of War(94 Metacritic) and BloodBourne(92) just to name a few.
Sony has tons of games that are system sellers, and Microsoft simply does not, outside of diehard Halo, Gears, Forza fans this is in the process of changing but for this generation at least it’s a fact.
Emphasis on Home Entertainment
A big reason why the PS2 became the best console ever was it’s the ability to play DVDs despite being half the price of the cheapest DVD players. The Xbox 360 continued this trend as it could play games, DVD, stream Netflix and play music. This was fine but Microsoft took it way too far with the Xbox One.
In its E3 2013 reveal Microsoft spent most of the time unveiling non-gaming features, such as receiving a Cable TV signal and the ability to record live TV. You can see how often TV and “sports” are mentioned in E3 2013 in the video below.
Whilst all these features are welcome additions and sure some people would buy an Xbox more for its home entertainment qualities.But Microsoft alienated its true fans the actual gamers with the only reveal being a non-gameplay trailer of Quantum Break with the rest being the boring usual suspects: COD, Forza, Fifa.
When everyone realised that for a GAMING console GAMING was not a priority, the “home entertainment” didn’t spell good news for Xbox One sales. This philosophy looked even worse as no one cared about these features giving Sony a clear attack window to showcase the PS4 as being a console just for the gamers.
Death Of Japanese Support
Whilst Xbox likely will never be a success in Japan and the 360 only sold 1.5 million units between 2005 to 2011 the system still offered good Japanese game support for its global audience. Games such as Blue Dragon, Catherine, Lost Empire and more were all available; giving the 360 a nice variety of genres to choose from
Whereas with PS4 you are blessed with a massive collection of Japanese games such as Nier: Automata, Persona 5 and many more and they aren’t even exclusives. Microsoft just didn’t attempt to get these games on the system and they suffered harshly for this mistake giving you even less of a reason to buy an Xbox One over a PS4.
Uncertainty Surrounding The Platform
Now, this is a bold move from Microsoft and it might pay off big time, but due to Xbox’s play anywhere project the Xbox does not have any true exclusives are they are all playable on PC.
Exclusives can be system sellers in themselves, the best example is Nintendo. I wrote about this here but if you want to play a Mario or Zelda game you simply NEED to buy a Nintendo console otherwise you cannot play it.
Whereas the Xbox Play Anywhere initiative allows you to buy one game and play it on both your PC and Xbox with cross-play and cross-saving functionality. The Play Anywhere list is growing so, expect every new Gear, Halo and Forza to be playable on your Xbox and PC.
The problem is what incentive do you have to buy an Xbox Series X to play Halo Infinite if you already have a high-end gaming PC? It is ambitious from Microsoft but perhaps they want to leave console gaming altogether. Sony would never do this as console exclusives are why you would buy a PS5 in the first place.
How this ends for Microsoft will be very interesting but there’s no question Xbox console sales will suffer, at least in the short term.
Features That Did Not Reach Their Potential
During E3 2013 Microsoft stressed the Xbox One being a true multimedia device, but this TV functionality has slowly been removed from the Xbox One. Earlier, the Xbox One had a “snap” feature which allowed gamers to play whilst watching TV, this was removed! The TV guide feature which only works for the US is hidden in the Xbox ecosystem. and not readily available.
If you were of the few that enjoyed Microsofts 2013 home entertainment E3 reveal now Microsoft haven’t even kept their promises. They promised complete hands-free operation of the console with the Kinect, allowing you to change games and applications with needing a controller.
In practice, these features did not perform as advertised and when the Kinect was discontinued in 2017 these promised features look even worse.