The eighth console generation has been hard for Microsoft, and with the release of the Xbox One X things don't look much better. After starting out the seventh generation with a pretty solid lead over the PlayStation 3, the Xbox 360 ended up in a tie Sony's console in sales. Both Microsoft and Sony were standing on pretty solid ground on the eve of the launch of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. However, as we're coming up on the four-year mark of those consoles being on the market the PS4 has outsold the Xbox One at about a 2:1 ratio.
Why Microsoft is Losing
Looking at the reveal of the Xbox One, it's easy to see why Microsoft lost so much ground. That it was $100 more than the PlayStation 4 didn't help it at all, but the biggest factor was how much negative press the company caused itself with the way it tried to market the Xbox One. No one liked the "always online" requirement or the fact you had to use the Kinect at all times, and used games DRM managed to make gamers and retailers alike angry.
Of course, before release, those two stipulations were removed, but they turned a lot of people off. Furthermore, Microsoft REALLY wanted customers to view the Xbox One as an all-in-one entertainment device at the expense of attracting the loyal Xbox 360 audience that just wanted to use it for games. No one on the planet cared if you could power on the console by saying "Xbox turn on," or that you could watch your cable TV through it. People have cable boxes already.
So, when Sony concentrated its marketing and info drops for the PS4 just on gaming, it made Microsoft's presentations look like they were being given by a bunch of people who didn't actually know what a gaming console was. It didn't help that the Xbox One is technically inferior to the PS4 either. Using slower RAM and making the Xbox One more expensive did not help Microsoft win anyone over.
Xbox One X Could Have Been a Marketing Gold Mine
I've had an Xbox One for a few years now, and I can say it's my least played video game console I own. The most prominent reason is that it has so few exclusives, and if a game comes out for both PS4 and Xbox One, it's always been superior on PS4 and PS4 Pro. With the introduction of the Xbox One X though, everything is topsy-turvy now.
Since the PS4 and Xbox One released in 2013, it's always felt like Microsoft was chasing Sony when it came to tech. The Xbox One was always a little slower, had a bit worse resolution, had a few more bugs, and that feeling increased substantially when the PS4 Pro released last year.
Now it's the opposite. The Xbox One X can output native 4K, while the PS4 Pro can only hope to checkerboard. Microsoft put a 4K Blu-ray player in their uprated console, while inexplicably Sony decided not to install one even though the whole point of the Pro was 4K compatibility.
Also: Xbox One X Enhanced Games List: All 4K Enhanced Games Available at Launch and Upcoming in 2018
It feels like 2013 all over again with the pricing too. The Xbox One X matches the original price tag of the Xbox One at $499, and the PS4 Pro goes for $399. The difference this time is that the Xbox has the capabilities to match the extra $100 in value, enough so that it's utterly puzzling that they decided to market it in the same way Sony sold the PS4 Pro.
This console generation is the first we've seen with half-step upgrades. It may be because we're stuck in this weird transitional period between 1080p and 4K and Sony and Microsoft didn't want to wait until the ninth generation consoles come out to give their machines the capability to play games in the new standard. It could also be because the video game market is bigger than ever and they know that enthusiasts will drop the cash for a second version of a console they already have just for the extra boost in power.
The Xbox One X Should Have Kicked Off the Ninth-Generation of Consoles (or Destroyed the Concept of Console Generations Entirely)
With how poorly the Xbox One has performed in the market so far, Microsoft might have been better off just releasing the Xbox One X as a ninth-gen console with a new name and a fresh-start in branding. Nintendo did it, and it's working out great for them with the Switch. The Wii U was only around for about four years before it was discontinued, and it was the right decision for them.
Marketing the Xbox One X as a new console would have given Microsoft the ability to paint the PS4 as old tech too. Having it as just an upgrade to an existing platform is somewhat confusing for the regular Joe out there on the streets, but if you come on the TV with commercials saying something is, "The newest console on the market! Get your Xbox One 2 (or whatever), or get left behind."
I mean even just leaving it as the Xbox Scorpio would have helped. Mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa don't care if little Johnny wants a new Xbox One X for Christmas, he already has one, and it plays the same games just fine. It seems like a mistake to expect anyone besides gaming enthusiasts to know or care about the Xbox One X.
It wouldn't be far-fetched for a ninth-generation to have the type of specs the Xbox One X has either. It's significantly more powerful than the PlayStation 4 Pro and blows the Xbox One and Xbox One S out of the water. Microsoft could have even tooted its own horn by saying its latest console is backward compatible with every Xbox console ever made.* (*some restrictions apply).
Microsoft is Being Reactionary With its Marketing
We can rest assured Microsoft and Sony are working on their ninth-gen consoles right now. If Microsoft had released the Xbox One X as a new console, it could have waited to see what Sony releases, and come out an update of its "Xbox One 2" if Sony's new console overtook them technologically. If it didn't, Microsoft would save itself a lot of R&D time and money, and it could just keep cracking on a new console until it was ready to release it. Right now, it seems like the Xbox One X is just a reaction to the PS4 Pro, even though it had to have been in development long before Sony's upgraded console was announced. Even Microsoft doesn't think it'll do that well.
Of course, I'm not a market insider. So, maybe Microsoft has some far-reaching plan. Maybe "Xbox as a platform" will finally happen. I do know that I really enjoy the Xbox One X, but I'm running into the same problem a lot of other people probably are. Because the PlayStation 4 was the console to go with for the last four years, I haven't invested enough in the Xbox One ecosystem to have a ton to play. With a new console that's kind of a given, but having to go back and play games I've already played just to see them in 4K with better textures and framerates isn't going to happen. I wish Microsoft the best with the Xbox One X, but I really think it's a product with a confused purpose that hopefully becomes apparent in time.