In India, the Xbox One X was released on January 23. This comes barely two and a half months after its global release on November 7. While this kind of gap between Indian and international console launches is par for the course for Sony, which followed the same pattern with the PS3, PS Vita, PS4, and PS4 Pro, Microsoft’s approach to India has been more cautious. The Xbox One hit the country around a year after its worldwide rollout, and the Xbox One S took even longer, a year and two months to be exact. Poor availability of the Xbox One and Xbox One S didn’t help matters either. For the most part, they were both exclusive to online stores like Amazon and Flipkart. The result of these slow releases was that the Xbox One got trounced in India.
With the Xbox One X though, things seem different. Aside from an early India launch, Microsoft India has promised greater availability to over 100 plus gaming stores in the country, aside from Landmark, Croma, Flipkart, and Amazon. That's a welcome volte face from its earlier position on the Indian - it had bet on “digital natives” and changing consumer trends as the reason for its online-centric strategy.
What’s the reason for this renewed effort in a country that’s for all accounts and purposes, PlayStation Nation? Gadgets 360 spoke to Priyadarshi Mohapatra, Country General Manager, Consumer and Devices Sales at Microsoft India to know more.
“After we launched the Xbox One S, we went back to the market talking to our fans and retail partners, hearing what they're saying about the Xbox One S,” Mohapatra says. “Everybody told us that they want the Xbox One X, because I think the decibel levels [internationally] around Xbox One X were pretty much there. Everybody had heard about, read about it, and they wanted it. That clearly gave us a feel that the Indian consumer is ready for it.”
Awareness around the Xbox One X wasn’t the only reason. Microsoft’s consumer supply chain also chimed in demanding for it to hit the market. Because of that demand, you can expect a larger retail presence, and Xbox One X demo units at stores around the country.
“The feedback that our partners gave us was it's not just sufficient to get the product to the country, but get it so that consumers have access to it where want it, and it's easily available if they want to just try it, it's there,” he tells us.
In addition to retailer and consumer demands, Mohapatra cites rising 4K adoption and proliferation of high-speed Internet courtesy Reliance Jio as indicators to bring in the new console. Considering the size of Xbox One X patch downloads, increased Internet speeds were a must for the console, as there’s no point bringing in the console if you don’t have the bandwidth to make full use of it. And of course, you want a 4K TV to make full use of the Xbox One X.
“The way the partners were looking at the 4K panels selling and the way it was trending was great. The whole Jio phenomenon was solving the connectivity big time for the country and bandwidth concerns were becoming a non-issue,” says Mohapatra.
Perhaps of bigger interest is when Mohapatra that India’s gaming audience is maturing. The Xbox One X isn’t targeting new gamers or soon to be gamers, which is its positioning abroad.
“This is not for a consumer who is trying out a console for the first time. This is somebody who has been a gamer and now wants the future in his hands,” he believes.
“A gamer for me is someone who's really looking at that engaged immersive experience," says Mohapatra. "That's the kind of person I'm talking about. In that if I create a sort of a gamut. I would say yes, there are recreational and hardcore gamers and we give the choice to both of them worth of them through what we bring.” Rather than chasing a demographic, this kind of experience is what Mohapatra talks about when describing the audience for the Xbox One X in India.
Given that most games companies look at India as a nascent gaming nation, we pondered over the merits of Microsoft’s plans. Mohapatra believes the “market is ready for this” citing the aforementioned demand, and without going into specifics, he hinted that engagement on Xbox Live for India has grown exponentially.
“I can very clearly tell you is the trend is the time spent is increasing," he says. "It's a curve, which is not just a linear curve with the new consoles coming in, it's becoming a bit of a logarithmic curve, and that really is sort of vindicating the strategy that we have looked at, and more importantly also the reason why it [the Xbox One X launch] is happening.” he opines before explaining that despite the forward-looking nature of the Xbox One audience in India, features like backwards compatibility are also a part of the appeal due to the value they bring to the table.
“They can decide whether they want to be on the Xbox One," adds Mohapatra. "They want to move to the One S, or they want to move to the Xbox One X platform by the way whenever they decide, all the investment is protected. Nothing goes waste. I think that's being one of the strongest differentiator for us.”
On that note, we asked if India would get Xbox 360 games repackaged as Xbox One titles like the US and Europe have received. With an increasing number of Xbox 360 games coming to the Xbox One via backwards compatibility, it could provide an affordable entry point for many with the Xbox One. For now, we were told that there’s “no plan of record”. What this means is, if you’re looking to play the likes of Red Dead Redemption, you’re restricted to buying it digitally, or used.
Backwards compatibility aside, it appears that the latest games end up being the best selling.
“Top games are Forza Horizon 3, Forza 7 Motorsport, Assassin's Creed Origins, and Shadow of War,” Mohapatra reveals.
The Forza titles usually perform well in the country due racing games being steady sellers. It’s the likes of Assassin’s Creed Origins and Shadow of War that seemed odd, given that the console has long been associated with shooters like Halo.
However, Mohapatra confirms that the global marketing tie-ups Xbox had for both games saw a trickle down effect with better than anticipated India sales, despite little done to market them in the country. Seeing this success, would Microsoft India capitalise on future international third-party marketing deals?
“The short answer to that is an absolute yes. Our engagement with getting games and content to our fans is just on the increase. We are very happy with the way its progressed despite it having its own learning curve,” he says.
Speaking of learning curves, previously brick and mortar outlets were cut off from supply of the Xbox One and to a smaller degree, the Xbox One S. The result of this move was Sony making up a majority of store shelf space and revenue, multiple retailers speaking to Gadgets 360 say. They also say that margins weren’t too attractive compared to Sony. The Xbox One X appears to be the company’s peace offering to game stores in the country.
“Fact of the matter is I don't think any retailer will do business with you compromising on their business model and their profitability," says Mohapatra. "So obviously we take care of profitability and are an extremely profitable proposition for our partners. That's what they do business with us. The second thing is we did go back to the market like I said and asked our consumers consumers gave us the feedback. It's not just about going and buying anywhere. It's about sometimes walking in just experiencing it. That's the three things we should focus on, get the product early, get it at the right price, and get it at the right place.”
Renewed retail focus aside, expect more collector’s edition consoles like the Minecraft Xbox One S and special accessories like the Sea of Thieves controllers to make it to India, albeit in limited quantity and exclusive to online stores like Amazon. This won’t be changing anytime soon.
“The fact that you call them a limited edition is you're targeting a niche group and it's not mass-circulation that you're looking at, its more about creating interest in the category," he says. "It's creating a differentiation for that top end customer or fan base that you have and that's exactly what we have followed in Xbox we have done it. The supply chain has taken that into account that this is not going to be mass distributed, but this is going to be a limited edition product, and it's like really the first fans and the first consumers who come to you and you want to get them something special.”
Having said that, the Xbox One X Scorpio edition, which commemorated the Xbox One X’s launch in US and Europe won’t be coming to India, though expect newer bundles and consoles to make their way here. And if you’ve been using an Xbox One or Xbox One S and want to trade-in your console for the Xbox One X, it’s something that’s being considered. “We've been hearing it. Stay tuned. We will ensure that our fans get what they want,” teased Mohapatra.
In addition to this, Design Lab — Microsoft’s Xbox One controller program that allows you to choose your own colours and add your gamer tag to a custom controller - could make it here. It’s just dependent on demand from Xbox fans.
“I’m taking it as a feedback. There is no plan of record to get Design Lab but we have had fans reaching out to us asking for something specific [controller customisations]," says Mohapatra. "We got it done for them from the US [through Design Lab] as that particular demand gets amplified from our fans, we will surely communicate back to Microsoft Corp but as of now it's not a plan of record for us.”
Other future plans include ramping up visibility of the Xbox Game Pass - Microsoft’s attempt at a Netflix-like gaming subscription service. So far, new consoles and certain games come with an Xbox Game Pass trial. More is planned to take it mainstream. “We will be putting some muscle and energy behind that really take that proposition to a wider audience because we believe it's a very strong differentiated position we have,” he says.
With that in mind, we ask if this meant the split between digital and physical game sales had skewed in a direction that would make such a move favourable. While Mohapatra can't give us specifics, he confirms this is the case, saying there is a “much faster transition to digital specifically in a country like India.”
All in all, it seems that we could see a reinvigorated Microsoft taking on a country that has seen very little of the Xbox One family of consoles outside of online retail. And while it’s yet to prove itself with a fickle audience, initial sales of the Xbox One X appear to be positive with the console selling out at multiple stores, sources tell Gadgets 360. Although it’s too early to call it success, it appears that its renewed efforts could actually make it a viable option. More so with the PS4 Pro’s non-availability and PC component prices being extremely expensive.
We discussed the Xbox One X India release on Transition, our weekly gaming and pop culture podcast. You can listen to it via Apple Podcasts or RSS or just listen to this episode by hitting the play button below.