(Pocket-lint) - On 22 November the Xbox One will have been available in the UK, US and several other regions around the world for exactly a year. In that time it has changed in many ways from the console that was first released thanks to a strategical decision by Microsoft to release monthly software updates to the system and user experience. The focus has changed too, from a device cited as a home entertainment hub for the whole family to a games-centric machine to take its major rival head-on.
It had to. Even before the Xbox One was launched in 2013 Microsoft had been heavily criticised for its "confused" E3 press conference and unveiling, while Sony's rival machine was applauded and revered by all, it seemed. That response was then reflected in sales as, having launched within a hair's breadth of each other, the Sony next-gen machine left the Xbox in the dust - soaring to world record breaking launch numbers.
The experience hurt the Xbox team for sure. Microsoft had actually created a machine that sold significantly more units in its launch window than any other console in its own history - smashing the sales performance of the Xbox 360, even though that older machine had an almost clean run in the market with few direct rivals. But the massive sales figures the PS4 was pulling in made the Xbox One look a failure in comparison, even though it was the company's biggest success story yet.
One year on
Now we're one year into the "next-generation" of console gaming and the picture looks different. Indeed, in the last three weeks - according to games industry trade magazine MCV - retailers in the UK are reporting that the Xbox One has started to outsell the PS4. The company has eclipsed one million units sold to customers and a strong games line-up has caught the imagination of the punters who were perhaps less interested on day one.
The Xbox One is back in the game, it seems.
"I’m very happy that the performance of the Xbox One in the UK is a strong as it is right now because in this business momentum is everything. And it feels as if our momentum is growing all of the time," Pocket-lint was told by Xbox's UK marketing director Harvey Eagle.
"From [Xbox head] Phil Spencer downwards there has been a relentless energy to get this right and nobody I know at Xbox has stopped working day and night since the beginning to constantly improve.
"It hurt a lot to cede market leadership from generation to generation. And we’re absolutely focused on winning back that position every single day."
Sony obviously did an outstanding job
Eagle admitted to us though that the early days were tough. The Xbox One launch was a success but the PS4's was off the chart.
"After three months we were about 65 per cent ahead of where we were with Xbox 360. So from that point of view we were happy," he said.
"But Sony obviously did an outstanding job. They built a huge groundswell of consumer demand and they were able to get the right amount of product into the country and onto retailers’ shelves to fulfil that demand.
"Hats off to them for the great job they did."
So how, after the pain of handing over market leadership to its major rival did Microsoft manage to claw its way back to the position it now holds, having outsold the rival machine for the first time?
There were a number of key factors, revealed Eagle, that made the box a more attractive proposition to the general consumer. Its price, for starters.
"The first important move was to address price. When we launched we were £80 more than our competitor," he explained.
"I’m not sure on day one it made a massive difference because I think then you’re selling primarily to early adopters, who are so passionate about gaming that they are probably prepared to pay a premium to get a machine that they want. But I think quite quickly afterwards price does become a factor. And more so the broader the audience that is buying.
"The first important thing we did was to move the price from £429 down to £399. Then the other important thing we did was to offer choice by having Xbox One come with Kinect for those who wanted it, and a version without Kinect which allowed us to get down to a £349 price point and parity with our competitor."
Eagle also told us that the company's policy of updating the Xbox One regularly with new features and user experience enhancements is another hugely important factor in the console's evolution. Each month Microsoft pushes a whole swathe of mainly public-requested changes to the system - sometimes featuring important or previously promised core functionality, such as the ability to stream media over a network or playback media files from an external source - something the PS4 is still largely unable to do.
Any feedback you get on how to improve your product is like free gold
Sony has opted to go down the route of releasing major firmware updates on a less regular basis, while Microsoft drip feeds new features every 30 days. It's a strategy that the marketing director believes works.
"I think we’re lucky in that we’ve got a broad base of fans who tell us what they think. That’s an incredible feedback loop actually. And if you build a box that is able to evolve over time then you have an opportunity to respond to that feedback without the need for a firmware update," he said.
"That’s a philosophy that we introduced with Xbox 360 and if you think about the Xbox 360 you see today in comparison to the one nine years ago, it’s incredibly different to the console we launched with.
"We took a similar approach with Xbox One. When I look at where we are now in terms of the product proposition it’s improved. And that will carry on. The Xbox One will continue to evolve in a really positive way.
"Any feedback you get on how to improve your product is like free gold."
All about the basics
The final significant change in the last year was more a shift in Microsoft's strategy for the Xbox One. At launch the company was keen to extol its benefits as an all-round entertainment powerhouse - something you can watch TV through as well as play games or access Netflix. However, Eagle admitted to Pocket-lint that Sony's more focused "for the players" strategy worked more effectively so early in a new generation's lifespan.
Gamers want games, he said, and the PS4 was marketed more clearly as the machine to get them on. It lead to a complete turnaround for Xbox.
"One of the big lessons we learned was to really understand who it is that will be buying your machine first and what’s the primary hook for them to get interested in your product," he explained.
"At the beginning the people who first buy your box are most interested in the great games story. That’s the story we’re now focused on telling."
The entertainment features are still there and have continued to be expanded upon, but the Xbox One is a games console first and foremost and that's where Microsoft is focusing, now and in the future.
The last couple of months has seen an impressive line-up of first-party exclusive titles released and 2015 promises to be a massive year for gaming on both next-generation consoles.
"I think with Xbox we’ve got a fantastic line-up of games. Halo: The Master Chief Collection is one of the highest rated on the whole of next-gen so far. We’ve got Forza Horizon 2, the highest rated racing game. And there’s Sunset Overdrive, the highest rated new franchise on any console. You start putting that together as an exclusive range of games you can only get on Xbox One and that’s pretty powerful," said Eagle.
"And next year there are some killer games. Straight at the beginning of the year pretty much you get Evolve and The Witcher 3. We’ve got some amazing games coming out.
"We’ve got Fable Legends coming, Quantum Break and we’ve obviously got Halo 5: Guardians. Plus Rise of the Tomb Raider.
"We’re going to have to think very carefully about how to pace that release schedule in the right way."
It's all worth it in the end
So after a year of hard work and reassessments things are looking much brighter for the Xbox One. The PS4 is still a fantastic machine and selling like hot cakes, but so too is the Microsoft machine that some had perhaps unwisely written off.
Eagle certainly hadn't. He had faith all along: "The most important factor of them all is that the company has to build you a great product. And I’ve always believed that Xbox One is a great product, since its conception. I think people are starting to see that now."