Microsoft unveiled ‘Project Scorpio’ to the world at E3 this year, stating that it would provide the Xbox platform enough power to run high fidelity VR experiences. But a recent interview with Xbox head Phil Spencer seems to show a company still unsure about its future in VR.
At E3 this year, Microsoft proudly unveiled that they had a secret weapon in the war against console hardware obsolescence and, as an important and timely bonus, allow the Xbox platform to offer “high-fidelity virtual reality” experiences. A clear response to Sony’s forthcoming high profile launch of its own PlayStation VR system in October this year.
Project Scorpio, Microsoft claims, delivers over “6 teraflops” of processing performance and will offer complete backwards compatibility for existing Xbox One titles. In this way, they say they’re bringing an end to the traditional console hardware cycle – one which forces its players to ditch their gaming libraries before being forced to move on up to the latest hardware. The announcement followed weeks of persistent rumours regarding the new system and that Microsoft had deepened its existing partnership with Oculus by releasing an Xbox compatible Rift.
But, despite an impressive accompanying announcement from Bethesda – that Fallout 4 VR was in development for Scorpio – Microsoft’s commitment to the idea of virtual reality within the Xbox ecosystem seems foggy at best.
In an interview with The Guardian, Head of Xbox Phil Spencer spoke about Project Scorpio and its future in the VR space as he sees it.
When asked “So was VR support a key part of the Scorpio vision?”, in a statement which seems to pour cold water on Sony’s imminent entrance to VR with the current gen PS4, Spencer responds “I think the capability in the consoles that are on the market today to play high-fidelity true console-like experiences in VR … they’re just not powerful enough.” And yet, the central message behind Microsoft’s E3 Scorpio reveal was one of reassurance, that there would be no titles running on Scorpio that weren’t also available on the Xbox One (or the imminent S revision). Pushed on that point, of potential market fragmentation, Spencer says, somewhat evasively “I will say, we’re very focused on console games and what console gamers want, and I see VR as something different.”
Meanwhile, for VR fans and for those who believe immersive gaming represents a chance at redemption for a games industry seemingly obsessed with HD remakes and endless franchise rehashes, Microsoft’s commitment to VR seems a little lack lustre, as illustrated by Spencer himself. “Like, other people might try to say, ‘VR is the future of console gaming.’ I’m not saying that. I’m saying if you’re an Xbox One console gamer, we are so focused on making your experience the best experience you’ve ever had with the best lineup of games. We’re not getting distracted.” As an Xbox One owner, you may feel extremely heartened by that statement, as a VR enthusiast perhaps not so much.
Whether you agree with Spencer’s thoughts on current generation console power or VR’s future as a gaming platform, it does feel like Microsoft, in attempting to stay relevant in the face of Sony’s bold gamble on VR by revealing Scorpio, has put itself in an awkward position having to also appease its current generation users.
Of course this cautious approach may well pay dividends in the long run, I referred to Sony’s ‘gamble’ just now, and I meant it – it is. Microsoft and Xbox, by biding their time may set themselves to swoop into a more mature market later in the day, avoiding expensive R&D by adopting a version of the Oculus Rift, as rumoured prior to E3. But in the mean time, it’s falling behind the curve. With PSVR’s launch window in October onwards filled with over 50 titles, Microsoft could find itself behind the curve yet again.
Project Scorpio is set to arrive some time in 2017 with at least some VR content. Precicely how you’ll play that VR content is as yet a mystery however.