Ten years ago, the eighth generation of consoles began. It was the era of the Wii U, the PlayStation 4, and the Xbox One. Currently, the ninth generation of consoles with the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S is just starting to get off the ground, with major releases in the form of Spider-Man 2 and Starfield set to come to each console respectively later this year. The PlayStation 5 is currently ahead of the Xbox, with the former selling fourteen million more than the latter. But both are still considered major successes.
It wasn’t always like that, however. The PlayStation 4 breached the top five best-selling consoles of all time, reaching 117 million sales. But the Xbox One sold less than half of that. In fact, for many of the years since its original release in 2013, Microsoft was slammed for years. The release of the Xbox One squandered Microsoft’s reputation for years, and arguably, they are still picking up the pieces to this day. So why? Why did the console fail? Why did it make so many people upset? Well, on the eve of the upcoming Xbox Showcase in June 2023, here’s everything you need to know about why the Xbox One failed.
The Xbox 360 was a massively successful cornerstone of gaming in the 2000s. Easily accessible and filled to the brim with fantastic games, it was the console to get during the seventh generation of consoles. But even it had problems. From how fragile the original Xbox 360s were, forcing people to trade in for the more expensive black version, to the certainly divisive Kinect. After a great showing from Playstation that hinted at greater controller utility as well as a pretty good launch lineup, Xbox needed to do a lot to win the hearts and minds of fans.
But that didn’t end up happening in the slightest. Just before the official announcement in May 2013, rumors broke of two distinct qualities that Xbox One would implement: the inability to trade used games and the requirement for the console always to be online. Also, after a disk was used to install the game onto the hard drive, the disk was rendered useless. While these rumors seemed disastrous, at the time, they were just that: rumors. But each and every single one of these rumors turned out to be true.
The PlayStation conferences showcased heavy hitters such as Final Fantasy XV, Kingdom Hearts III, Assassins Creed IV, and the upcoming Destiny. In contrast, the Xbox One showcase barely talked about video games, instead choosing to focus on the Kinect and how the console would function as a makeshift TV.
The Xbox One 2013 E3 conference has long been erased from its official channel. However, on channels like IGN and GameSpot, there’s an overwhelming ratio of dislikes to likes. In contrast, the PlayStation announcement had 56k likes to one thousand dislikes. In fact, during the PlayStation conference, at the time, CEO Jack Trenton took a direct shot at Xbox. He explicitly pointed out how the console would support used games and wouldn’t always need to be online. This sort of pettiness hadn’t been seen before, or arguably since.
You can’t help but wonder if, as Xbox employees wandered the halls of E3, they were told to do nothing else except double down. Because, to be frank, that’s all they did for the entirety of E3 2013. PlayStation was already winning the so-called console wars. The aforementioned comment by Jack Trenton of doing everything the Xbox One couldn’t? Each minute that he spent talking about how the PS4 could support used games as well as didn’t require an online connection warranted minutes of applause from the audience. To make things even better, the PlayStation 4 was priced at $400: 100 dollars less than the Xbox One’s price.
From there, things only got worse. In a now infamous interview between Geoff Keighley and Don Mattrick, the latter had this to say: “Fortunately, we have a product for people who aren’t able to get some form of connectivity, it’s called Xbox 360.” You can even see Keighley get a little bit frustrated, laughing in disbelief as Mattrick doubles down.
Less than a month after the E3 2013 conferences, Mattrick abruptly left the company. Phil Spencer took control and in the coming months, backpedaled on every single thing that Mattrick had done wrong. The Xbox One could be played without online features, and used games were back on the market.
In fact, in the years since, not only did they do away with the Kinect, but Microsoft also reintroduced backward compatibility, giving them a leg up on PlayStation that they still haven’t recovered from.
But even after ten years of working to better their image, I still hesitate to say if it’s enough. Sure, Xbox has Game Pass and companies like Bethesda and Activision under their belt. But since the Series X|S release, Xbox hasn’t gotten a distinct win in the same way that PlayStation has. PlayStation has God of War, Spider-Man, Horizon, and The Last of Us. But Xbox has Halo, which has suffered since its release for lack of content compared to its predecessors. They have Arkane’s Redfall, which suffered from many issues upon release. And, of course, they have Activision/Blizzard under their wing, which means they have inherited their controversies.
Starfield is the one release everyone will be looking to in the next few months. Starfield will be Bethesda’s next big release, as well as Xbox’s newest flagship title. It remains to be seen if this will end up being a success for the company. Bethesda’s flagship games like Fallout 76, Fallout 4, and Skyrim have varied between being beloved, divisive, or just plain awful.
However, with PlayStation’s fairly lackluster showing in their May 2023 showcase, all eyes are on Xbox. This could either be the win they have been chasing for years, or it could be one more point against a company that has been steadily declining for over ten years. Xbox’s presentation is set for June 11, and the world will be watching. Time will only tell. But as we move into this new era of gaming, I invite you not to forget that every company is mortal in some way. They can make mistakes, and we should call them out on them so their behavior is not encouraged.
The Xbox One failed for a reason, and we should never forget why.