Why cross-play between PC and Console has led to premium consoles.

By Matthew Everson, Guest Contributor

One of the biggest news stories at this year’s E3 was the release of specs, price and launch date of the Xbox Scorpio, now officially named the Xbox One X. With a price of $500, it sits atop of the console market as the fastest and most expensive console in 2017. However, these announcements have not been without controversy; some are questioning who will pay that much for a new console with the One S now a measly $200 (with current sales). Is the ‘Premium Console’ a needed or wanted device?
Looking at a few industry trends, we can get an idea where this concept of console tiers is coming from and why, I believe, this is both a good thing. First, one of the big trends is cross-platform play. Gamers on both PC and console want to be able to play with their friends regardless of the system they are using. If my friend games on PC, why shouldn’t I be able to play our favorite game together even if I’m on an Xbox One?
Second, mobile gaming has grown substantially; because of iOS and Android, almost every person owns a mobile game platform in their smart phones. This no longer relegates mobile style games to dedicated systems but allows everyone to quickly download and play. This mobile market has quickly grown to be one of the most lucrative and profitable with top developers making hundreds of millions of dollars off games that cost a fraction of what a standard AA or AAA title cost to develop and publish. This has lead to AAA developers feeling pressure to compete with the profitability of their mobile brethren through lower costs. These developers are advocating for ecosystem uniformity for the PC and console markets as a way to lower development costs on these AAA titles.
Console-makers, in pursuing these shared ecosystems with cross-platform play are now directly connecting their players with PC players. The consoles market is now more closely competing with the PC market (or in the case of Microsoft, unifying for increased profits). Sure, there are gamers who are dedicated to PC or a particular console but, many gamers, like myself, are left with a choice of where to play.
Since the beginning of PC gaming, customization based upon budget and other criteria to obtain allowed gamers to achieve different levels of game performance. This trend has only increased because of the relative ease of building a computer from scratch. Have thousands of dollars to spend on a gaming system? Buy a PC that runs your favorite game in 4K at 144Hz. On a smaller budget? Buy a system that will run the game but at 1080p with lower textures and 30-40 frames per second.
However, in the case of multiplayer games (both cooperative and competitive), players with a wide variety of PCs are matched together. Yes, it was always the case that people with better PC’s had a small advantage in many games; this has become accepted as par for the course. For instance, in many action MMORPG’s I’ve played, the lower the ping and higher the frame-rate, the better damage or healing a person was able to do, regardless of skill. PC players acknowledge this and do not balk that developers do not off solutions to this inherent hardware quandary.
Console manufacturers see the PC market, the gradual reduction of differences between the PC and console games, the shared marketplaces and homogenizing communities. I believe they realized there is economic rent available and want to act to capture some of this from their gamers. Yes, some gamers want to spend $200 on a console to play their favorite shooter with friends. However, there are likely hundreds of thousands, even millions, of console gamers who, like PC gamers, will pay more for better graphics, performance, and an overall experience. Why not allow these gamers to make that choice?
Microsoft in particular has done a very good job of marketing the Xbox One X, calling it a premium device for a specific type of gamer. No, it is not required; Microsoft has repeatedly said there will not be any exclusive content or games for their premium platform. An Xbox gamer does not ‘need’ a One X. However, many gamers like myself, want better performance, higher frame-rates, faster load times, etc. and are willing to pay to get it. While I do not need it, I am willing to spend the extra $300 in order to get it, just like a PC gamer willing to invest in a NVIDA GeForce 1080 over a 1070 or 1060 does.
So, is this a good thing? Yes, it is. It gives console gamers the choice to spend more to get a better experience. Likewise, I do not believe premium consoles will get games that their standard brethren cannot run. Instead, it moves the console marketplace closer to the PC marketplace, letting gamers choose what features and how they choose to invest. For those who want the best experience and have the funds, we can now get a premium console gaming experience, much like PC gamers have been accustomed to for over a decade.
Matthew is an avid video gamer playing on PC, Xbox and iOS.  He loves investment games dabbling in a variety of MMO’s and MMO-lites like Elder Scrolls Online, Destiny, and The Division.  When not gaming, he helps run a marketing and media production company.  You can find him on Xbox with his gamertag Elium85 or on Twitter at msog85.