When gaming aficionados discuss the current console generation, one of the talking points will be Microsoft’s thumping this generation at the hands of Sony’s PlayStation 4. The PS4 has outsold the Xbox One at approximately a two-to-one rate worldwide to this point, and the gap only seems to be widening. Much of the talk on social media in this regard has focused on Microsoft’s ability to “catch up” to Sony. Will Microsoft close the sales gap? If the aforementioned gap continues to widen, will this spell the end of Xbox? In my opinion, these are not the questions that gamers should be asking regarding the future of the Xbox brand. Rather, it is Xbox One user retention that is key.
As this console generation winds down, the PS4 is quite established as the clear sales victor over the Xbox One and Nintendo’s excellent upstart, the Nintendo Switch. Armchair gaming executives have stated the importance of drawing in new consumers and giving people a reason to own an Xbox. Microsoft’s focus however, should lie with preventing current Xbox gamers from defecting or otherwise abandoning the platform altogether.
A key reason why Sony was able to jump out ahead of Xbox this generation was because a sizable number of Xbox 360 gamers switched to the PS4 at the start of the generation. A 2014 article from Paul Tassi of Forbes states that nearly one-third of all PS4 owners switched over from the Xbox 360 and/or the long-defunct Nintendo Wii. While we don’t know how many (or if) gamers that made the switch eventually purchased an Xbox One later, the message was clear. Microsoft had lost their grip on their core. The consequence was that the Xbox One, while successful, has struggled to gain footing this generation relative to its competitors.
It is easy to blame Don Mattrick and some bone-headed policies for Microsoft’s struggles this generation. However as we head into E3 2018, it is not the time to look back on Microsoft’s failures of 2013. Giving the best possible experience to the core Xbox audience should be the focus of Phil Spencer and his team. More than people buying PS4s, further erosion of the Xbox user base in the future is a far more pressing issue. It is a concern that could be potentially damning for the Xbox division if it is not addressed.
Microsoft is at the precipice heading into E3 2018. Fans are more eager than ever to catch a glimpse at what has Xbox has in store for the future. While some gamers have unrealistic expectations, I believe Microsoft’s formula to stabilize retention should focus on what they do best. Microsoft needs to focus on the consumer-friendly services, options, and features that make Xbox a great place to play. In addition, announcing a diverse slate of projects including a mix of Xbox stalwarts, resurrected franchises, and new IPs would rejuvenate the brand by giving fans the Xbox franchises that drew them to the platform, while at the simultaneously keeping them in the Xbox family with refreshing new experiences.
While it may be difficult to believe considering Sony’s dominance this generation, the Xbox One has sold well enough to be considered a success. Furthermore, with the launch of the powerful Xbox One X and consumer-friendly services such as backwards compatibility and Game Pass, the Xbox division has done a great job of setting up for the future with respect to hardware and services. Quirky titles like Sea of Thieves and State of Decay 2 prove that Microsoft isn’t afraid to try something different with regards to its games. Combined with some heavy-hitting fan favorite and new IPs, the Xbox has the ability to rise like a phoenix and provide experiences to engage its fans for years to come.
What are some things that you think Xbox could do to improve its brand retention? Let us know in the comments below.