Microsoft just wrapped up what many are hailing as its strongest E3 in years. Over the course of yesterday’s press conference the company showcased an eclectic range of games set to release in the coming months, from AAA blockbusters like Cyberpunk 2077 to smaller, more intimate experiences such as Ori and the Will of the Wisps.
Most exciting, though, was the company’s readiness to talk about the future.
Perhaps the most shocking announcements of the show weren’t for the games coming in the next year but instead for the deals and plans that will be setting up titles releasing as we enter the next decade. A new Halo was teased with a revamped engine, for example, but even bigger than that were five studio acquisitions and, most importantly, a tease about the next Xbox consoles. Head of Xbox Phil Spencer closed out yesterday’s show with a bold statement reaffirming Microsoft’s commitment to gaming, saying that hardware teams were busy working on what comes next. Few expected this to come from the mouth of an Xbox executive in 2018.
But there were two simple letters than never left Spencer’s lips. Can you guess which ones?
Two years ago, Spencer stood on the Xbox E3 stage and announced Project Scorpio, now known as Xbox One X. In a similarly confident speech, he proudly proclaimed the enhanced console would be capable of “high fidelity VR”. It looked like the gauntlet had been thrown to Sony’s PSVR, but last year’s X reveal came and went without mention of a compatible VR headset, and reference to VR was also removed from the console’s website. Microsoft had said they would bring “mixed reality experiences” to the console in 2018, but halfway into the year and the major E3 showcase down and we haven’t heard any mention of it.
Simply put, Xbox VR is looking further away than ever.
It’s disappointing for sure, though it’s also hard to blame Microsoft for backtracking on those plans. An expensive roll out of a VR initiative probably isn’t a high priority when the competition has manged to shift two million units in 14 or so months and you’re still playing catch up elsewhere. We also haven’t seen the company’s PC-based Windows Mixed Reality devices make a huge impact, only taking up around 5% of the Steam VR usage every month and some devices being discounted to less than half price.
Microsoft simply has bigger things to worry about, like trying to rival Sony’s impressive first-party games line-up, which is what made the studio acquisition announcements so welcome this year.
But all hope is not lost. In the past, Spencer has said that he believes console VR needs to be wireless in order to be viable, and it’s very possible the company is still working on its own solution that it will share when it’s good and ready. If Xbox can deliver a quality VR experience on an inside-out tracked headset that’s streaming images to a nearby console within the next few years then we’ll quickly forgive the mishaps of the past few years.
The simple fact of the matter is that VR isn’t ready for prime time, and consumers won’t care who got there first when it is. Being the best headset out there is what will earn one company the crown when things finally start to pick up, and Microsoft isn’t missing out on much in the meantime.
Xbox is in no rush to make VR mainstream. Judging by the past two years, that might be the smart play.