The First Look Xbox Series X Gameplay stream was underwhelming, but it didn’t have to be

Whether it’s due to current events, or bad marketing, Sony and Microsoft have had issues generating hype for the PS5 and Xbox Series X. The First Look Xbox Series X Gameplay stream was the latest fumble in the run-up to the release of next-gen consoles. It seemed like Microsoft was taking the initiative when the stream was announced, and that we’d finally be seeing a host of gameplay reveals for Xbox Series X, including the first look at Assassin’s Creed Valhalla in action. However, what we got was massively underwhelming.

The big issue with the stream came from the framing. As the title suggests, it was touted as the first look at Xbox Series X gameplay from third-party studios. You’d think with the purpose of the stream spelled out that clearly, we’d have seen some gameplay. When I see the word “gameplay,” I think in-game, full HUD, playing on the actual console. Well, today’s stream didn’t meet any of those qualifiers.

Instead of seeing an actual first look of gameplay on the Xbox Series X, we saw a host of in-engine, scripted, cinematic trailers. Each of these was accompanied by a disclaimer stating, “Game and console in development; footage representative of expected Xbox Series X gameplay.” So, we didn’t get to see any actual gameplay, and the in-engine footage we saw is from either dev kits, or more likely, PC builds.

Breaking it down, the entirety of the title for the First Look Xbox Series X Gameplay stream is disingenuous. It seems odd that after facing controversy for years for misrepresenting console gameplay in trailers that studios are still up to these shenanigans. Microsoft could have easily gone with “Xbox Series X Global Partner Showcase” and set a proper level of expectations for viewers, but that doesn’t draw attention like the promise of getting a first look at games in action. It’s a shame too, because there were plenty of great-looking games shown (like The Medium by Bloober Team), but they were overshadowed by the promise of something that didn’t happen.

I’m sure one of you out there is chomping at the bit to comment, “BuT JasOn, ‘GaMeplay RevEAL’ ISn’T tHe SamE As a ‘GAmeplaY dEMo,'” right now. Just save your energy. No one who sees a trailer claiming to be a gameplay reveal takes that to mean, “In-engine cinematic that may present a facsimile of actual visual fidelity when playing.” The fact is, some studios use “gameplay reveal” to mean “engine reveal,” others use the term to indicate the first time they’re presenting actual unscripted gameplay on the hardware on which the title is intended to be released. This is the whole reason we saw controversies about the original Watch Dogs and the puddles in Spider-Man. These mixed signals continue to alienate fans and drive down hype for products.

Today’s Xbox stream is sitting at 14K dislikes to 11K likes currently, but they’re not the only company having communications issues with fans. Many thought that last month’s “The Road to PS5” stream covering technical details of the PlayStation 5 would be a full reveal due to how it was framed on social media. When Mark Cerny delivered a very informative, but relatively dry presentation about the nuances of the PS5’s architecture, many who tuned in were confused.

Between the two competitors, Microsoft has managed to gain the most momentum so far in its run-up to the release of Xbox Series X later this year. Sony has kept relatively mum about PS5 details, so the Xbox has more hype by default. However, today’s stream made it feel like Microsoft was grasping at straws just to have something to show.

The biggest hurdle that both Microsoft and Sony both have to face when marketing their new consoles is the immense change to daily life the world has seen in the last few months. With social distancing still in full effect, fans are going to be hyper-analyzing every move the two make. That means that making claims of “first look Xbox Series X gameplay reveals” shouldn’t be made lightly.