Heading Into Second Holiday Season, Microsoft Seeks a Win for Xbox One

Heading Into Second Holiday Season, Microsoft Seeks a Win for Xbox One

Making lemonade

It's been a tough first year for Xbox One. On the one hand, the console has handily outsold its two predecessors during its first year in the market, a fact that Microsoft is right to trumpet. But those sales pale in comparison to those of its chief rival, Sony's PlayStation 4. With the PS4 consistently outselling Xbox One every month over the past year, Microsoft is in desperate need of a win.

Indeed, Xbox One's first year could be seen as a series of concessions aimed first at undoing the PR damage of the console's disastrous mid-2013 launch and second at making up ground against the PS4, which has only extended its lead over time.

There's little need to retread the ugly events from last year, but if I were to pick one moment that encapsulated the problems, it would be when then Xbox honcho Dan Mattrick suggested that the Xbox One might not be ideal for those on nuclear submarines because it then required an always-on Internet connection. Microsoft quickly flip-flopped on many of the initial Xbox One design choices—the always-on requirement disappeared, for example, as did Mr. Mattrick—but the damage was done, and Xbox One never really recovered.

Microsoft described Xbox One as "the future-proof choice," but it's struggled in the present. Since their November 2013 releases, PS 4 has outsold Xbox One every single month. It outsold Xbox One when Titanfall was released, despite expectations that this presumed blockbuster would turn the tide. It outsold Xbox One when Microsoft finally flip-flopped on the price and released a $400 version of the console without a Kinect. And it outsold Xbox One when Microsoft finally, belatedly, made its console available in more markets around the world, including China.

This is not the stuff that success is made of. So now Microsoft is doing the only thing it can do: It's cutting the price of Xbox One again, this time by $50, and it's doing so on all versions of the console and the various console bundles. So the new entry price is $350, compared to $500 a year ago. And with Black Friday-type deals, it's possible to get into Xbox One as cheaply as $320 or so.

I'd normally follow that up with, "so this month is a crucial one for Xbox One." But I thought as much in March, when Titanfall launched, this summer when the Kinect-less Xbox One hit the market, and this fall when Microsoft finally made its console available in dozens of markets. The thing is, Xbox One has consistently fallen short of PS4 regardless of the situation, so it's really not clear what the firm can do to catch up with PS4.

From the perspective of an early adopter, Xbox One has been disappointing overall. I give Microsoft a pass on the lack of high quality, exclusive games and game content in the console's first year in the market, and of course PS4 suffered from this issue as well. But Xbox One hasn't corrected some of the biggest issues I had with the Xbox 360, including a molasses-slow user interface despite the super-computer underpinnings. And while my own usage is certainly unique to me, it's not clear what advantage Xbox One—and its $500 price tag—have provided over this first year. I would have personally been better off sticking with Xbox 360. Your mileage may vary, of course.

That said, the graphics in new games like "Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare" are more detailed and life-like than is possible on the older console. And now that developers have had more time to grow comfortable with the console and its capabilities, we're entering a sweet spot for better quality Xbox One games and other experiences. Certainly, the price has never been lower.

So maybe this month really is a crucial one for Xbox One.

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