Let’s not sugar-coat it: Microsoft has a problem with its Xbox One console, and it stems from its current roster of exclusive games… or lack thereof. Now, the tried and true first-party blockbusters have already appeared on the Xbox One – with Halo, Gears of War, and Forza all making their presence felt on the system – while new properties like Sea of Thieves and Sunset Overdrive have helped provide a unique reason for console gamers to invest in the hardware outside of its expected lineup.
Still, there’s something that lacks within the library when compared to competitors’ critical darlings like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Horizon: Zero Dawn. Indeed, it appears as if the competition has a stranglehold on triple-A exclusive games, and in that light, Xbox’s titles are lacking when placed head-to-head against the barrage of titles coming from Nintendo and Sony Interactive Entertainment. Admittedly, games like Sea of Thieves and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds have managed to garner significant player counts within their first few weeks of availability, and that’s great news for the firm. But the long-term appeal of these games remains to be seen, and the initial quality is far removed from that of the immediate competition’s.
That’s not to say that the publisher is without exclusive titles, with the likes of Crackdown 3 and State of Decay 2 being the two known exclusives arriving in 2018, but when stacked up against Sony’s God of War and Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. the choice of which console to purchase likely won’t lean in the Xbox One’s favor. This is a subjective take to be sure, but there’s truth in recognizing the popularity and raw sales numbers from each of the franchises included; at the end of the day Smash and God of War are just bigger names.
Still, Microsoft’s Xbox team appears to know where its brand is currently lacking, and they’re beginning to get back on the right track, if recent promises are anything to go on. According to recent rumors and reports, Microsoft-owned properties like Fable and Perfect Dark are set to be resurrected in the near future – the former by Forza Horizon series developer Playground Games and the latter with help from Gears of War 4 studio The Coalition. Plus, there are also rumors that Forza Horizon 4 will also debut this year. Provided all this information is true, these games are a good start for Xbox as it begins taking advantage of the I.P. currently at its disposal, but it’ll take more than a few games down the road.
Fortunately, Phil Spencer (Executive Vice President of Gaming at Microsoft) knows this all too well and is in the midst of turning things around. As Bloomberg reports, Spencer claims that the focus moving forward for Microsoft will be in software as it will begin to either create new studios or purchase them. He said: “We need to grow, and I look forward to doing that. Our ability to go create content has to be one of our strengths. We haven’t always invested at the same level. We’ve gone through ups and downs in the investment.” Furthermore, Spencer indicated on Major Nelson’s podcast that there are going to be some “positive changes” at this year’s E3, presumably meaning that they are truly starting to turn things around with regard to first-party content.
There’s promise in this move for the company, as it increases the quality and capabilities of its first-party arsenal. Whether that means extra polish for games like Halo 6, development of brand new intellectual properties, or resurrecting forgotten favorites like Banjo-Kazooie, the development power will soon be there for all of these plans take root. The only issue with this strategy is that building studios and acquiring others takes time, and there’s a strong likelihood that these plans will take years to come to fruition if Microsoft is only just acting on them.
Knowing this now, it’s hard not to feel as if the closure of Lionhead Studios and the cancellation of Platinum Games’ Scalebound were done so with this plan in mind as Microsoft rearranged its assets, but there’s no denying the immediate disappointment of it all for fans. The now cancelled Fable Legends and Scalebound could have acted as wonderful stopgaps during the wait for bigger titles. Instead, fans are left with a library that feels noticeably lighter in quality and quantity when compared to the current and impending lineup of PS4 titles. In some ways, even the Nintendo Switch has already delivered more promise in just over a year on the market than Microsoft has delivered with its Xbox One thus far.
And what makes the wait for more first-party titles all the more troublesome is that Microsoft just released the Xbox One X – the most powerful video game console ever created – and they should be leveraging all that power by making Xbox One X exclusive games. On that note, one thing to keep in mind is that, because of those aforementioned cancellations and delays, Microsoft may be waiting to announce any new titles until they are sure those games will hit store shelves in a reasonable amount of time. Granted, they are doing exceptional work with Xbox Play Anywhere and Xbox Backwards Compatibility, but those aren’t enough when gaming is about looking to the future as much as it is about preserving the past. Let’s just hope that gamers aren’t left waiting too long for new, truly worthwhile content.
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