The updated version of the Xbox One with more processing power would have hit stores last year, but Microsoft prioritized meeting 30fps at 4K resolutions over rushing their device to market. This revelation comes from a recent interview head of Xbox Phil Spencer had with Gamasutra, which is well worth reading in its entirety.
The issue, as Phil Spencer sees it, is one of scalability. Microsoft wants games to be able to scale and be accessible across all their family of systems. He relates this idea with backwards compatibility - newer hardware should not mean older games become unplayable:
And as I said, you know with games as an art form, I do think people should go back and experience Age of Empires 2. People should go back and play Ico. People should go back and play Donkey Kong Country. People should go back and do those things, just like people go back and listen to old music or read old books.
I think of gaming in a similar fashion. And console generations make that difficult to do. There are advantages to the console generations, but I wanted to try to evolve our capability to kind of have the best of both. Old games that work well, new games that are innovative, and hardware platforms that could scale.
This directly relates to the difficulties many perceive with creating a console with a significant power boost over the core install base while remaining in the same family. It's a delicate tightrope to walk. A company risks alienating their customers and also developers if too many unreasonable hurdles are put between them and supporting the platform. "When you ship an Xbox One game two years from now, even if you don't look at Scorpio as something that you want to take advantage of, fine. That's up to you. We're not mandating that people go and do Scorpio-specific work," explained Spencer.
Part of making it easier for developers is creating a stable platform that can reliably perform. If Microsoft intends the Scorpio to run at 30fps and 4K, then developers need to be able to count on the machine running those minimum states successfully. Spencer and Xbox looked hard at what the Scorpio would need to meet those requirements and eventually settled on what they would use to create the Scorpio. The only problem? They felt they couldn't deliver until 2017.
Now, software's complex and different things can happen, but one of the things that kept us from shipping in 2016 was we didn't think we could make that promise [of steady framerate at 4K resolution] to developers in 2016. That the game that you're running at framerate and resolution on an Xbox One, that you'd be able to take to the same framerate and increased resolution on Scorpio. We didn't think we could get there last year, with the silicon that was in the market.
It's a combination of price and capability from our hardware partner, that we worked with as we described a certain spec that we wanted to hit.
Sometimes I get in trouble when I talk about Sony too much, but, the choice they made on PS4 Pro, I totally get that choice, from their perspective and what they wanted to go do. I've said it publicly and I've said it privately, I think they've built a good 2016 PS4 Pro. With the silicon that was available, they picked the parts that made sense to go and put together a console in 2016.
So some of it was time, as certain things come down in price -- some of them not as quickly as we would like. And some of it was hardware capability from our silicon partners, that allowed us to go do that in 2017.
And frankly we had to make that bet two, two and a half years ago, right. You're kind of throwing a dart a long way out, because the timelines in hardware are kind of like that. In the case of this, our hardware partner is the same [as Sony] -- we're both AMD partners. So we don't know what each other is doing, but we definitely know the roadmap, because we're working with the same partner. And we chose to pick something that said, if you're runnning -- 1080p 30 on an Xbox One, what does it mean to run that at 4K 30 on Scorpio. And make sure we could do that. And we're seeing results that make us feel really good about the choices we've made.
Basically, Spencer said they could have shipped in 2016, but they waited for the right hardware to come down in price so that they could affordably ship their console upgrade a bit later. He even gives a nod to Sony's PS4 Pro, but with the implication that it was good for 2016 and won't perform as well as the Scorpio when it launches later this year.
We'll definitely be hearing a lot more about the Xbox Scorpio at E3 this year during Microsoft's press conference. In the meantime, Spencer did say something that seems like it would be common sense. Spencer took a moment to defend the console market going forward beyond Scorpio, "I've said, and this is actually true, the planning for what happens after Scorpio in the console space is already underway. You have to think about it that way. Like, what is the next thing? We -- I -- remain committed to the console space. We think it's critically important."
It would seem that not only are consoles still not dying the death that some doomsayers have been predicting for years, but that the next console from Microsoft is more than a little along in development if the head of Microsoft's console division feels comfortable even mentioning it in an interview. Not a huge revelation, but a slightly interesting thing to have confirmed.