Most of the online video gaming “discourse” yesterday was centered on a handful of rumors about Xbox taking some of its higher profile games multiplatform. There has been talk that Hi-Fi Rush may come to Nintendo Switch, Sony PlayStation or both. And then subsequently, that Sea of Thieves may do the same thing. And past that, any number of older, already released Xbox titles, though the details of that remain nebulous, and nothing official has been announced.
But even as a thought exercise for now, this has sparked a lot of debate about Xbox’s priorities, and what exactly they would be trying to do with moves like this. Some think it’s pretty clear, that Xbox has been pretty emphatic that it wants its ecosystem to exist beyond its physical consoles. But moves like this raise questions about the way it’s going about this, spreading former Xbox exclusives to its competitors when in no way would they ever do the same for them.
Xbox obviously wants to break beyond the confines of the console. That’s not a bad idea, necessarily, as we know Sony is struggling with a limited install base of PlayStations, which is why they’re looking into faster PC ports, and allowing its new developer Bungie to keep Destiny multiplatform and release its future games multiplatform as well. But in Microsoft’s case, there are a few issues with this.
If you start picking and choosing which games go multiplatform, some years later, some potentially even within the same year, you confuse your dedicated Xbox fans. Maybe they don’t need to own an Xbox, which you can say fine, we don’t need to sell consoles, but maybe they don’t feel the need to keep Game Pass either. Clearly some Xbox exclusive will probably remain exclusive indefinitely, but which ones? If this third party idea starts happening, it’s unclear.
Sometimes this makes sense, other times, less so. Sea of Thieves is a multiplayer game that has existed for years, and may benefit from expanding to other consoles to keep its playerbase healthy. But conversely, multiple GOTY nominee Hi-Fi Rush suddenly expanding to Xbox competitors when it was its biggest first party success story of 2023 feels much stranger.
And again, where does it stop? If Starfield attracted a large playercount on Game Pass, who’s to say Microsoft wouldn’t try to release it on PlayStation for actual box copy sales to further boost its fortunes? Does that one sound improbable? Maybe. But what if instead Microsoft put Halo multiplayer on PlayStation instead, using the same Sea of Thieves logic of keeping its playercount healthy? That could make sense on paper, but at what point do you start losing the identity of Xbox as a whole?
Microsoft wants to keep attracting more and more Game Pass subscriptions, but the idea is that they’ve probably hit a ceiling on console sign-ups and they need to look elsewhere for more. But say, Sony, isn’t going to let Game Pass run on PlayStation most likely, so what do these third party games accomplish besides a bit of extra game revenue? Are they supposed to be serving as ads for Game Pass signups more generally, off those platforms? That seems like a reach.
Industry figures claim that the longer term goal is to move beyond dedicated hardware as much as possible with a huge focus on the cloud. But cloud gaming has so far proven to be an added feature at best, not an industry-changing shift. And no matter what Microsoft does, at least in the US where internet is spotty at best in many places, it seems like it will be hard to ever get that up to full adoption.
With third party moves like this, Microsoft would in fact start to deliver on its “we want people to play Xbox games everywhere” promise, and Xbox fans would still at least get its game on Game Pass “first.” But it’s an odd strategy as you know the reverse would never, ever be true. Sony isn’t giving God of War or The Last of Us to Microsoft no matter how many years pass. The same for Nintendo and any of its treasured IPs. Rather than making it look like Microsoft has a coherent plan for the Xbox brand going forward, it comes off more like a Hail Mary to attract more eyes to its games, and I’m not sure this is going to pan out the way they think.
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