Rest ye well, Lockhart console we never knew.
It appears the future of Xbox is not quite what the rumours and leaks would suggest.
Since at least 2017, speculation surfaced that said Microsoft’s next-gen hardware, codenamed “Scarlett,” would consist of two models: one called Lockhart and one called Anaconda. Lockhart would be the less powerful, more affordable SKU, and essentially replace the Xbox One S. Anaconda, on the other hand, would be the premium “X” successor with beefier specs and a high price point.
Microsoft themselves seemed to lend weight to these reports at last year’s Xbox E3 Showcase. Xbox head Phil Spencer went on stage and clearly announced Microsoft’s hardware team is busy creating the next-generation of Xbox “consoles.” And yes, the plural was not a slip of the tongue—it was very intentional.
Now, in an interview on Business Insider this week, Spencer said the console maker is “focused on Xbox Scarlett,” referring to it as a single box coming Holiday 2020. Given the high-end specs touted at Microsoft’s E3 2019 Showcase, like 120 FPS and 8K graphics, it’s safe to assume the model coming next year is the premium Anaconda.
So, where does that leave Lockhart? Presumably, it’s been shelved for the time being or even permanently. Brad Sams from Thurrott and sources close to Digital Foundry both claim Lockhart has been scrubbed from the Xbox roadmap. Another theory is Lockhart was the Xbox One S All Digital Console all along, which Phil even joked about in the Business Insider interview.
Whatever the case may be, Xbox focusing on a single console for next-gen is the absolute right move to make. There are at least three big reasons why.
It’s no secret that two consoles at launch would divide the user base—generally not the best strategy out of the gate. Owners of the premium console would enjoy better-performing and better-looking games, while those with the weaker box would have to settle with “lesser” versions of their games.
Focusing on just one console means all players benefit from the same experience. This would keep the community cohesive at launch—a crucial period that can set up long-term success—particularly for online play where even a slight performance advantage can be deemed “unfair.”
Multiple consoles at launch would be a gamble I’m not convinced Microsoft should take. A single console allows Xbox to have clear and focused launch marketing.
Moreover, another big challenge would be consumer education: two consoles would require Xbox to clearly articulate the differences. Instead of unifying launch marketing under a single banner, Xbox would have to spread resources over two SKUs. This can—and usually does—result in market confusion and indecision. Compare this to Nintendo’s single Switch model at launch, as well as Sony’s inevitable singular focus on PS5. The last thing Xbox wants is for gamers to choose their competitors’ consoles because their offering and messaging are simpler.
The two-console approach does work—PS4 Pro and Xbox One X prove this. However, those hardware revisions were introduced mid-gen. Multiple consoles at launch would be a gamble I’m not convinced Microsoft should take. A single console allows Xbox to have clear and focused launch marketing, from which they can later expand their audience through hardware revisions.
Better for developers
Xbox shifting to a single console at launch would also benefit developers. As we all know with the current gen, developers need to optimize for the base console first and then scale up for the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X versions. Scaling up the resolution or FPS is much easier than scaling down. Essentially, this means the base PS4 and Xbox One hold back the Pro and X.
Focusing on just Scarlett would streamline game development—for the more powerful console no less—and ultimately result in higher-quality games.
Surely for next gen, Microsoft doesn’t want a weaker Lockhart console limiting the more powerful Scarlett model. This is especially true since Sony is likely to put all their eggs in the powerful PS5 basket—and Microsoft will want their games to look at least equal, if not better.
Focusing on just Scarlett would streamline game development—for the more powerful console no less—and ultimately result in higher-quality games. Developers wouldn’t have to optimize for multiple Xbox consoles, as they could put all their effort into making the Scarlett version the best on the market. It’s a win for developers and for gamers.
Microsoft’s future is services and software
In a recent interview with Kotaku, Phil Spencer made it crystal clear that the future of Xbox is software and services, not consoles. Given this, does it really make sense to begin the next gen with two hardware offerings? Microsoft’s attention is better served by growing high-value services like Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Live and Project xCloud.
The reality is, there’s not much profit to be made selling hardware. Most consoles are sold at cost, and sometimes even at a loss. According to Spencer:
The business is selling software and services. The business is not how many consoles you sell. The consoles are not where the profit in this side of the business is made, which is where the whole: ‘Who’s selling more consoles’ at any one time as the kind of root good of who is doing well in the business is just not true.
It doesn’t get much clearer than that. Microsoft is a business and it makes more financial sense to focus on growth and profit areas, or, in other words, software and services.