The best thing that Microsoft is doing with their next-generation Xbox console, codenamed Xbox Scarlett, is giving players options to play how they want. Continuing off the back of the success of Play Anywhere, features like the Xbox Game Pass and the upcoming Project xCloud will allow players to enjoy their games on home consoles, PCs, and mobile devices, even if they don’t plan on purchasing Xbox Scarlett.
During the company’s E3 2019 briefing and afterwards, Xbox executives made it clear that player choice is the basis for which all their decisions are being made. While already offering the chance to play over 250 Xbox exclusive and third-party games - some of them at launch and for only $10 per month - Xbox Game Pass users will now be able to utilize the xCloud to stream these games from their Xbox One (or Scarlett) to any other device of their choosing. There is also a new Game Pass for PC players that works in the same fashion, as well as adding a discount on games in the Microsoft store. Perhaps most surprising, titles like Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Gears 5, and several more have been revealed to be launching on Steam in addition to the Microsoft Store.
Microsoft has been at the forefront of console cooperation for a number of years now, announcing back in 2016 that it would allow cross-network play between Xbox Live players and any other platforms that were willing to support it. Even more recently, Microsoft and Sony announced a collaborative partnership in which they will work together on as-of-yet unknown artificial intelligence and cloud computing technologies. Although the only tangible evidence of this deal so far has been Sony using Microsoft’s Azure data center infrastructure to store its own cloud streaming information, the fact that both companies are using the same centers for the same reason makes the possibility of true console inter-connectivity all the more likely in the future.
With the landscape of gaming becoming more and more widespread across countries, platforms, and demographics, this approach makes much more sense than hunkering down with one console and limited exclusives. In a marketplace that is already teeming with subscription services, Microsoft is playing both sides of the field by offering games in a variety of ways and channels. (Though that's not to say that first-party games aren't important, but perhaps console exclusives aren't the top priority for Xbox Game Studios.) By diversifying their distribution methods, players that have never owned an Xbox console will now be able to experience games previously unavailable to them. And by enhancing the experience for the core Xbox audience, Microsoft hopes not only to keep returning customers engaged but to also attract new developers, content, and consumers all at once.
Out of all the video games that have ever been created, only two are currently available for cross-play on all three of this generation’s main consoles (as well as PC): Rocket League and Fortnite. Both are critical hits and vastly popular; these two games represent what happens when a game's fanbase is so strong that it forces companies to work together. After watching the community respond to Sony’s reticence for cross-platform play, it seems as if Microsoft has decided that allowing Xbox customers to do things the way they want to do them might be the best business strategy moving forward.