I don’t understand what Microsoft is doing with virtual reality

The console wars are long and storied and skirmishes still occur. Last year the battlefront was virtual reality. Sony fired first by announcing their PSVR accessory for their PlayStation 4 and by delivering it during the 2016 holiday season. Without any real hype from the company fan demand was strong enough to keep the product out of stock for months. They’ve recently reported that in its first nine months on the market over one million units have been sold. It took them until earlier this year to get a handle on supply; expect a heavy marketing push later this year. Microsoft fired back with the announcement of the heir to their Xbox line, called Project Scorpio. It was rumored to be a high-spec performance beast that would be capable of powering HTC’s Vive VR goggles. Fans of both companies clashed online with barbs generally being about how PSVR was for suckers who’re too eager to part with their money/better to hold out for Scorpio versus I’d rather have something now than wait for vaporware. At the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) last week Microsoft officially unveiled Project Scorpio, only they’re calling it Xbox One X. Sure enough it’s a high-spec console that’s quite capable of handling virtual reality due out this holiday season. Only Microsoft left the stage without discussing VR, leaving me with an unclear picture of their VR plans.

There are a lot of conflicting stories about the VR capabilities of Xbox One X. There’s a lot of analysis of what Microsoft’s E3 omission means. I’ve been reading through them. I’ve also been reading opinions stating that Microsoft is failing to establish itself in the VR market with this move. The head of Microsoft’s video game unit, Phil Spencer, has been asked and given answers to the point: the console is strong enough to power VR. The head of Xbox marketing, Mike Nichols, has stated that he thinks VR is better suited to PCs than it is to consoles. Microsoft has also gone on record by stating that they’re working on a wireless headset that will pair with a console, but have stopped short of naming the Xbox One X as the console. There has been no solid information on if or when Xbox One X will get VR software and hardware. There has been no solid information on the wireless headset. Maybe they’re working on something that advances things to the next level and they’re using a move from Apple’s playbook by awaiting their moment. Or maybe they’re fumbling around and using a move from Microsoft’s playbook like waiting for the smartphone OS market to congeal before bumbling into the field. Whatever their reasons the effect is that I don’t understand their message.

I bought a PS4 Pro as soon as they came to market. It’s the first console I’ve owned in a decade and it was bought specifically for its VR capabilities. I thought about waiting for Project Scorpio but a year was too long to wait. Had I waited or if I was an Xbox fan just dreaming of VR on my console I’d be really frustrated right now. You need a decoder ring to figure out Microsoft’s message and then a lot of faith in them if you’re pinning your VR hopes on the Xbox One X. If I were a betting man I’d say that sometime in 2018 its VR capabilities will be brought forth, but I’d wager closer to holiday season than Spring or Summer. As a consumer I’m confused. As a fan of VR I wouldn’t buy an Xbox One X. The message Microsoft is successfully conveying to me is that they’re not serious about making Xbox One X a VR device any time soon.