As the ninth generation of consoles begin their lifecycles and start making waves in the world, there are some issues about the companies behind them that we should all be aware of. I’m of course talking about things that will impact our purchasing decisions going forward, both as fans and consumers.
If you’ve been keeping up with the gaming industry even a little over the past couple of years, then you should have a general understanding of the state of the Xbox brand and its position in the larger market.
I won’t dip my toes into reactionary rhetoric, some of which is centered purely around claiming that the Xbox is finished after its poor performance in the last generation, because that’s just blatantly untrue. But, it cannot be ignored that Microsoft has dropped the ball hard over the last seven years.
Straight out of the gate, the Xbox One had a rocky launch. On top of the extremely convoluted marketing and emphasis on the console being a ‘Home Entertainment System’ first and foremost, there were a number of large blunders that negatively impacted the system’s image.
First there was the issue of the Kinect 2.0. Originally it was intended that the Kinect would have to be plugged into the Xbox One at all times for the console to function at all, but after significant backlash from fans, that decision was scrapped ahead of launch.
The peripheral was still a mandatory inclusion in the purchase of each and every Xbox One console, which drove up the price of the entire bundle to $499, while the PlayStation 4 had an introductory price of $399.
There was also the notorious ‘Always Online’ issue, which would have made it so that every console would have to be connected to the internet at all times to play even single-player games. There was a lot of opposition from the fans against this feature, so this became another thing that was changed before launch.
And finally, there was the matter of game sharing. With visions of a digital-only future in mind, Microsoft originally intended to implement a DRM system that would tie games to specific Xbox Live accounts.
While this was a small step in the right direction in terms of digital game sharing, it would also have meant that disk owners could no longer exchange or sell their physical copies of games. So as expected, this feature was also removed before launch.
How did Sony react to all of these missteps by Microsoft, you might ask? Well, they stuck out strategically, marketing their console in response to each blunder.
The PlayStation 4 was not only a more powerful console when compare to the Xbox One, it was also advertised as a ‘Gaming System’ first and foremost. It was also cheaper and didn’t require an internet connection to work.
The company also put out this legendary video explaining how physical games could be shared between players.
So right from the start, the Xbox One was on the back foot and the PlayStation 4 had a running start. And if you’ve owned either of these two consoles, you know what the biggest issue we’re going to talk about next is.
Sony has been pumping out incredible exclusives year after year ever since the launch of the PlayStation 4. Some of these were the latest entries in long standing series, but others were phenomenal new IPs, some of which have launched new franchises by themselves.
We can see some of these exclusives in the list below:
- Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.
- Horizon Zero Dawn.
- God of War.
- Marvel’s Spider-Man.
- Death Stranding.
- Ghost of Tsushima.
- The Last of Us Part II.
- Final Fantasy VII Remake.
The company has had its priorities straight this entire generation, and even now they are still posed to dive into the next one guns blazing.
They’ve already released two incredible exclusive launch titles for the PlayStation 5 in the form of the Demon Souls remake and Spider-Man: Miles Morales, but then they also have Horizon Forbidden West, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and the untitled God of War sequel positioned to release sometime in 2021.
On top of this, there are probably quite a few different sequels and new IPs that they will be announcing in the coming months and years. Sony has it all in the bag right now.
Comparatively, Xbox has not put forth many groundbreaking new franchises or standalone games.
We got a new Halo game, two different Gears of War titles and even three new entries each in the Forza Horizon and Forza Motorsport franchises. And for what it’s worth, these titles did the expected rounds within their own respective circles and even had some greater appeal in the larger Xbox community.
Ori and the Blind Forest and its sequel Ori and the Will of the Wisps, alongside Sea of Thieves and Quantum Break are some incredible new games this generation that have had some limited success as well, but these are not exactly console sellers.
There were also multiple mediocre exclusives like Ryse: Son of Rome, ReCore, State of Decay 2, Battletoads and Crackdown 3 that left fans exasperated.
The only truly groundbreaking new exclusive that I can think of is Sunset Overdrive, but even that released back in 2014 and the future of that series is uncertain to say the least.
It’s honestly baffling to me that we’ve gone an entire console generation without a new Fable game, especially since the Xbox 360 got two new entries in the franchise during its lifetime.
The Xbox One desperately needed it’s own AAA masterpieces like God of War or Bloodborne, but we never really got them. Year after year, fans like myself waited for Microsoft to announce that one major title that would blow us away, but it never came to be.
And when you take all of the information so far into account, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the PlayStation 4 currently sits at well over 113 million units sold, while Xbox One sales don’t even reach half those numbers. When it comes to console sales, it’s always about the games. And unfortunately, the Xbox hasn’t had many to speak of.
The Future Of Xbox
So with 2020 in our rearview window, and the new Xbox Series X/S consoles barely out of the gate, 2021 is going to be a defining year for Xbox. Microsoft has to prove to their fans this year that they’ve learned from their mistakes over the last console generation and that they’re going to give people a reason to stick with their consoles.
Phil Spencer, the current head of Microsoft’s Xbox division, has been making some very smart moves over the past few years in order to improve the image of the Xbox brand and bring more games to the platform.
Under his leadership, the company has made a number of high profile studio acquisitions, the most prominent of which happened a few months ago with the purchase of ZeniMax Media and all of the developers that fall under their umbrella.
So as of now, Xbox Game Studios has the following game developers under it:
- 343 Industries.
- The Coalition.
- Compulsion Games.
- Double Fine Productions.
- The Initiative.
- inXile Entertainment.
- Mojang Studios.
- Ninja Theory.
- Obsidian Entertainment.
- Playground Games.
- Turn 10 Studios.
- Undead Labs.
- World’s Edge.
- Alpha Dog Games.
- Arkane Studios.
- Bethesda Softworks.
- id Software.
- Roundhouse Studios.
- Tango Gameworks.
- ZeniMax Online Studios.
All of these studios are currently in the process of developing games for Xbox platforms, some of which have been revealed so far, some of which haven’t.
Some of these studios are also developing games that were already intended for other systems like the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5, but Microsoft has stated that it intends to see through prior commitments and ensure that these games actually release on all of the promised platforms.
Either way, the greater implications of the ZeniMax Media acquisition are clear to everyone. Microsoft now owns the rights to legendary franchises like The Elder Scrolls, Fallout and Doom, and there’s a high chance that future entries in these series will be exclusive to Xbox platforms. These are console sellers, and Microsoft has essentially tipped the scales in their favor going forward.
On top of this, the company’s Xbox Game Pass subscription service is one of the best values in gaming right now, since it essentially gives players access to hundreds of different games for the price of $9.99 per month.
The service already has all first-party Xbox games on it from day one and going forward it’s also going to have all of Microsoft’s major IPs like The Elder Scrolls VI on release day as well. This is an incredibly appealing reason to own an Xbox in the near future.
But as of right this moment, we don’t have any games in our hands. Halo Infinite was supposed to be the big launch title for the Xbox Series X/S, but that got delayed to Fall 2021. The new Xbox platforms have nothing of note right now that would make anyone prefer them over the new PlayStation 5. It doesn’t matter how powerful the hardware is if it doesn’t have the games people want.
I will say though, that things are looking slightly optimistic. A few different noteworthy exclusive games have already been announced over the past year, such as Obsidian Entertainment’s Avowed, Playground Games’ Fable and even a new Perfect Dark title from The Initiative.
I doubt that we’ll see any of these games before 2022 at the earliest, but that fact that Microsoft has a bunch of new exclusives in the oven implies that they’ve been planning for the new generation.
And I hope that my hunch is true, because as a long time fan, I want to know that sticking with my Xbox is going to be worth it.
So as a new year starts once more, let’s all hope that Microsoft has a lot more to show us going forward. Xbox Really Needs To Wow Us In 2021