Ooh, look: a white Xbox One. And over there! It’s an Xbox One with all kinds of fancy TitanFall markings on it. It’s a special edition, don’t you know? Bet your sad, plain-black XO is starting to look a bit out-of-fashion, right? After all, you’ve had it for a whole two months now--it’s about time Microsoft was working on a new model, yeah? Well, no actually. Does anyone else think that Microsoft’s production of three different Xbox One models (four if you count the rumoured 1TB hard drive model, which may appear before the end of 2014) smacks of desperation?
See, in previous generations we’ve waited years to get new hardware models. Creating consoles in either a different colour, or with slightly different design and hardware innards, is traditionally a move to combat slowing sales. New colours bring in a different set of potential buyers (who do you think Sony were aiming at with the delightful pink PS2?), while redesigns--like Xbox 360 Elite and PS3 Slim--are aimed at second-time console buyers who want to replace old launch units or update HDD storage, with the added bonus that these machines are created using cheaper, more efficient parts.
Model variants are a great way to refresh your marketing message, and to revise your hardware strategy. So why is Microsoft going so early with the white Xbox One? Or the special TitanFall bundle? Or the 1TB Xbox One? Well, as I see it, there are two possible reasons.
Firstly--Microsoft rushed Xbox One to launch before it was really ready. That’s very possible. Sony unveiled PS4 earlier than most expected in 2013, and Microsoft has been playing catch-up ever since. Developers are struggling to maximise the potential of cross-platform games (remember all the hullabaloo about Battlefield 4's frame-rate, or all the bugs in Dead Rising 3?), key features like Twitch streaming are yet to launch, and killer games like TitanFall won’t appear until March. These are all signs that Xbox One could have been prematurely birthed.
The second possibility is that Xbox One really isn't selling as well as Microsoft intended. When two expensive consoles launch in the same month, there’s always going to be a loser--they’re both fighting for the same, limited pool of people who only really have the cash to buy a single machine. Despite attempts to skew the numbers by talking up units shipped as opposed to units sold, there’s no doubt that Sony has taken an early lead with PS4 sales. And why wouldn’t it? PS4 is £80 / $100 cheaper, doesn’t look like a VCR from the 80s, and offers most of the same games (at a slightly higher frame-rate, apparently). So, it could be that Microsoft is trying anything in its power to make Xbox One feel special, to lure in buyers who may still be on the fence.
Personally, I think it’s likely to be a combination of the two. I think the Xbox One still has the potential to be a great console, but at the moment it’s a clear runner-up to PS4. Call me biased if you like--I’m sure some will--but I really don’t care whether Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo sells more consoles. All I know is that it seems very early to be bringing in the ‘special edition’ consoles, and a change of colour alone isn’t going to fix Xbox One’s more immediate issues like price and reputation.