Opinions on Microsoft’s $499 price tag for the Xbox One X run the gamut. Some are balking at the cost, especially when juxtaposed against the PS4 Pro’s lower cost of entry and more robust software library. Enthusiasts, meanwhile, are wondering why anyone who puts stock in teraflops and frames per second would bother buying “the most powerful console” ever made when, ultimately, it’s still a console; for double or triple the cost, you could build a powerful gaming PC that still won’t have broken a sweat by the time Xbox One X and PS4 Pro are retired for the Next Big Thing.
My take on Xbox One X’s price seems closer to Microsoft’s tacit message: Whether you own any of its three Xbox One consoles or play Xbox games on your PC via Play Anywhere, you’re still spending and playing within its ecosystem. Today, more than ever, Microsoft has signaled that Xbox is a service and a brand more than a box you have to connect to your TV in order to use.
For all its greater memory bandwidth and extra gigabytes of DDR5 RAM, Xbox One X is a half-step console, just like PS4 Pro. Microsoft and Sony are encouraging developers to add all sorts of bells and whistles to games that run on their half-step machines, while at the same time forcing them to ensure that even the most cutting-edge title still runs on first-gen and slimmed-down offerings.
That approach is a double-edged sword. Developers may feel powerless to unleash the full potential of either upgraded system out of an obligation to target early adopters and price-conscious shoppers. On the bright side, this approach is more inclusive. You don’t have to feel duped for being the first in line to buy an Xbox One almost four years ago, or feel guilty for picking up an Xbox One S for half the price of an X. What matters is you’ll still able to play every game shown during Microsoft’s event, even if you won’t be able to run them in both 4K resolution and at a buttery-smooth 60 frames per second.
Unlike PS4 Pro, Xbox One X won’t force players to choose between a higher resolution or a higher framerate. Microsoft made a point to note that most titles shown during its rapid-fire series of announcements ran at both 60 fps and native 4K. That alone should be enough to sway enthusiast-grade consumers looking for the end-all-be-all gaming system for their living room.
But would such a knowledgeable consumer bother with an Xbox One X over a PC? Probably not. I won’t. The “most powerful console ever made” still amounts to a moderately high-end gaming PC, which is how I play multi-platform titles. Yet there’s still a large demographic that, despite dropping thousands on GPUs and VR headsets, finds the idea of a plug-and-play gaming box appealing.
Meanwhile, card-carrying members of the PC Master Race can turn their noses up at the X specs and still dip into the Windows 10 Store and enjoy Crackdown 3, Forza Motorsport 7, Gears of War, and other Xbox games through Play Anywhere, even—or perhaps especially—ones that take advantage of Xbox One X’s beefier hardware. After all, anything the X can do, a proper gaming PC can do better.
I’m willing to bet Microsoft knows that, and is fine with it. Console manufacturers don’t make money on hardware. Even at $499, Microsoft is still likely selling Xbox One X at a loss. But Microsoft’s deep pockets allow it to roll with those punches. Although still involved in an arms race with Sony, Microsoft has proven smarter by finding more ways to sell software to players. It doesn’t matter which Xbox One you own, or that you plan to hold off on buying a console until the X releases this November, or if, like me, you have zero interest in buying any of the three Xbox One packages on tap.
As long as you want to play a first- or third-party game within Microsoft’s ecosystem, the publisher gets a cut of your money, and you get to choose from a huge selection of titles. Everyone wins.
Miss any of the trailers from Microsoft's E3 2017 conference? Watch all the trailers right here on Shacknews, and be sure to check back tonight at 9pm PT / 12am ET as we react live to Bethesda's E3 showcase.