It’s no secret that the Xbox brand has not done all that hotly this generation. Even now, with the launch of a hot new console in the Xbox One X, it feels like there is no zeitgeist surrounding it whatsoever- it’s come, but it’s made no impact, no mark. There is no conversation presently about the Xbox or its games- conversation is still dominated by PlayStation and Nintendo.
And this, to me, embodies the central issue Xbox has had all throughout the generation- it lacks mindshare, cachet, and buzz in the mainstream and enthusiast consciousness entirely. This is in stark contrast to the original Xbox, which managed to find a place for itself in public consciousness due to Halo and the pioneering Xbox Live, and other high quality exclusives such as Conker, Shenmue, Knights of the Old Republic, and Morrowind; and it is definitely different than the Xbox 360, which dominated mainstream chatter thanks to high quality exclusives (at least for the first half of the cycle) and better versions of multiplatform games, and in the second half of the generation, with Kinect.
In contrast, the Xbox One seems to be curiously muted. Anecdotally, in the mainstream, if it is ever brought up in conversation, it is largely brought up in response to PS4, but not in and of itself, for its own merits. Due to it playing multiplatform games worse through to the launch of the One X (something Sony made sure was well known and well established, and is seated in consciousness now), and a lack of high quality exclusives, the Xbox One lacks any special attention given to it.
On the other hand, Sony is a master of this- press releases about PS4 and PSVR’s performances, interviews with media, constant releases of exclusives, and a presence throughout the year thanks to multiple stage shows- E3, TGS, PGW, TGA, PSX- ensures that you’re always talking about them. Whether it’s because of sales, or a new game that was announced, some quote by an executive, or a new release, PlayStation is perennially in the conversation. Sony further capitalizes on this for the mainstream by having exclusive marketing and branding rights with most major multiplatform games. Star Wars? PS4. Call of Duty? PS4. Destiny? PS4.
Nintendo has increasingly gotten great at this, too. A cadence of games so that there is at least one major exclusive on the Switch every month (coupled with the fact that they are in top form at the moment, so their releases generate chatter by being great and receiving great reviews and word of mouth), constant smart marketing of the Switch (a device that is by its very nature designed to go viral), three big Nintendo Directs a year, coupled with E3, PAX, TGA, and smaller Directs for specific games, or indie showcases, means that they are alwaysgenerating chatter. As mentioned, it helps that Nintendo’s brands are so strong to begin with- a new Pokemon, or Mario, or Zelda, or Smash Bros., or Fire Emblem, or Animal Crossing, automatically generate discussion- but now Nintendo is smartly leveraging them to constantly keep their brand and system in the public eye.
Xbox? Xbox doesn’t do this. It has a minimal slate of outstanding exclusives, most of which are dropped all at once in the busiest time of the year for game releases (so they are crowded and drowned out), it lacks either Sony’s savvy branding with the biggest games on the market, or Nintendo’s powerful brand recognition for its in house games, and has a showing at one event a year– E3, and that’s it. Microsoft is doing nothing to keep the Xbox the topic of conversation, and the end result is that the system has become a non entity for everyone beyond the Xbox faithful, whom they are admittedly doing a good job at keeping engaged thanks to a great slew of services, and open and transparent communication via blogs, podcasts, and Twitter.
All of which is to say- yes, Microsoft lacks exclusives, and that is a major problem, but it’s not the only problem. As the failure of the Saturn and the Wii U showed us, sometimes it can be more than just games. Sometimes you need to control the messaging around your system, and ensure that it doesn’t lose mind share among the public. Xbox has failed on this front entirely this generation. Even with the launch of the Xbox One X, when Microsoft had the chance to push the new hardware, and how powerful it is, and how it is the best place to play most games, at The Game Awards, which is watched by millions worldwide- they had a chance to do that, they had a chance to highlight and showcase Crackdown, State of Decay, maybe tease new announcements, and show off their newly released games- they didn’t. They had one muted release date announcement for Sea of Thieves, and that was it.
PlayStation dominates airwaves with its advertising, either thanks to Sony’s own, or because of branding deals. Nintendo took to the fucking Super Bowl to push the Switch. It’s clear that Sony and Nintendo want their systems constantly in the public eye- and that is a fight that Microsoft and Xbox, for some reason, is not willing to fight anymore. And that, in the long run, may prove to be very damaging and detrimental to their brand.