Microsoft has finally confirmed that the Xbox Series X Games Showcase is coming on July 23. It’s arguably Microsoft’s biggest moment of the year in gaming, short of the price and release date announcement for its new console.
Xbox has only made one big misstep in the unveiling of the console so far, and that was setting expectations too high for its Xbox Series X gameplay reveal event back in May. While the intention was for this livestream to be just the first of several that would shed light on software coming to the console, Microsoft underestimated the pent-up demand for new game reveals, specifically its big hitters like Halo Infinite. Even the genuine exclusive of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s first gameplay ended up being a disappointment.
Sony didn’t make that mistake with June’s PS5 games reveal. It unveiled a whole slew of exclusives from its major studios, and even managed to distract people from the fact that only one PS5 first-party game is actually confirmed for release this year (Spider-Man: Miles Morales). Crucially, Sony didn’t use the word ‘gameplay’ to describe the event, either, a choice that Microsoft made for its own event that created a fair amount of backlash.
Now, it’s on Microsoft to respond with an equally dazzling array of games coming to Xbox Series X. While the only guaranteed game at the July event is Halo Infinite, a new Forza is extremely likely for launch, and we’re expecting to see more from Ninja Theory’s already-announced Hellblade 2. Microsoft has 15 in-house studios, including recent(ish) acquisitions like Obsidian and Double Fine, and this is the time for Xbox to talk about the good shit it’s got coming up, both at launch and beyond.
Microsoft needs a major win here to keep up the pressure on Sony, and capture the attention of people who don’t currently think the Xbox is for them.
The challenges faced by Microsoft
Putting it simply, we’d argue PlayStation has had an easier time during this console reveal phase than Microsoft has. It has the built-in advantage of being an industry leader in sales, following a generation where its exclusive software (particularly six or seven key games) put Sony significantly ahead of its competitor.
Goodwill towards the PlayStation is high off the back of the PS4’s success, then, and the challenge for Microsoft is convincing people to change their buying behavior for the next generation.
That built-in positivity towards the PS4 means it hasn’t been a big deal that, on paper at least, the PS5 specs appear to be less powerful than the Xbox Series X. Ultimately, it’s the games that matter the most right now, and people probably feel comfortable they’ll keep getting them on PS5.
Sony took the opportunity to show people the games they wanted to see during its PS5 reveal, which was a smart move in the wake of the disappointing Xbox livestream. It announced sequels to hits like Spider-Man, Horizon Zero Dawn, Ratchet and Clank and Gran Turismo, as well as a new Sony-published game in Returnal. This mostly familiar line-up sent the message that continuity existed between the games they loved on PS4 and those coming to PS5. Since Spider-Man and Horizon both sold 10 million copies, this was clearly a good decision.
Microsoft needs a line-up that compares favorably to this, and that’s a big ask.
A new Halo is a big deal, but for 360 owners who skipped the Xbox One and bought a PS4, they need to know why now’s the time to come back to that series.
Halo returns in a post-Destiny gaming landscape now dominated by free battle royale games, and it’ll be interesting to see how meaningfully it sits alongside them. Is this a traditional Halo game with a solid campaign and big separate multiplayer element? Or this more of a ‘live’ game designed to keep people playing for years? Either way, it’s a powerful selling point to have at launch.
There’s one big thing that Microsoft doesn’t have next to its competitors: open world action games. While Sony’s games aren’t exactly templated, PS4 exclusives like Spider-Man, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Days Gone and the upcoming Ghost of Tsushima have cinematic storytelling and open worlds in common. Some of that same DNA is present in Uncharted 4, The Last of Us Part 2 and God of War, too. (Even the Nintendo Switch has Breath of the Wild and Xenoblade Chronicles.)
Microsoft didn’t really have any exclusive games like that on Xbox One, save for Sunset Overdrive, but it probably needs to now. These are the kinds of single player games that have a reliable track record of selling well, and they make your hardware look exciting to those who don’t pay that much attention to games, too. Hence why people buy the likes of Assassin’s Creed, GTA, The Witcher 3 and Red Dead Redemption in droves.
The long-held rumor is that Fable 4 is in the works from Forza Horizon developer Playground Games, and that it’ll be made in an open world style. Even if it’s years away (and it probably is), it’s probably worth it for Microsoft to break cover on that game just to get people excited about the future of the console. It has the double-barrelled advantage of being an old Xbox series people like, and it has a pre-existing fictional universe that’s a great fit for an open world game. You can almost see what a modern Fable game looks like in your mind’s eye.
On the other hand, Microsoft is the undoubted leader when it comes to driving and racing games, between the mainline Forza series and Forza Horizon. It’s also much faster at getting them on the market than Sony is with the Gran Turismo series, which is a big plus in its favor.
There are other ways Microsoft can use the July 23 event to get people excited about the future of the Xbox Series X.
When it comes to Microsoft’s many acquisitions, like Obsidian Entertainment, Compulsion Games, InXile Entertainment or Double Fine Studios, some of these studios are in the middle of already-announced projects (Psychonauts and Wasteland 3, for example), and all were acquired in 2018 or later. It might be a while until they all have big new Xbox-exclusive projects ready to go. Even so
A report from VentureBeat suggests it’ll be too early to see anything new from Gears 5 developer The Coalition, or indeed Microsoft’s new studio The Initiative. That report, though, does suggest we’ll see big games from third-party publishers and developers alongside Microsoft’s games, too, like we saw with the PS5 reveal event.
What Microsoft is getting right
Microsoft’s transparent approach to the Xbox Series X reveal has worked out well so far, and it’s typical of how Xbox has behaved in Phil Spencer’s tenure as its head. Microsoft showed off what the console and its controller looked like almost a year before release, and has gone out of its way to explain elements like Xbox Series X’s Smart Delivery feature, or how the improved hardware will benefit games that are backwards compatible with the console.
Sony’s been pretty transparent, too, even if it took longer to talk about the PS5, but it hasn’t been as clear about how cross-gen purchases will work on PS5 (games like Marvel’s Avengers and FIFA/Madden will support free upgrades, though).
Neither has budged on revealing price yet, either, and depending on how big the gulf between them is, that’s the only factor that could matter more to the events of the next generation than software.
Ultimately, though, even if it ended up with a price advantage, Microsoft needs to show it’s ready to match Sony on software to break PlayStation’s dominance. It simply has not achieved this in the past few years, despite bright spots like Sea of Thieves or the Forza Horizon games. A great range of exclusives coupled with Xbox niceties like Game Pass and backwards compatibility starts to look like a winning combination, though.
On July 23, then, Microsoft needs to turn a corner. It needs to show people who are attached to their PS4s that Xbox has something to offer them that they simply haven’t seen before.