Why Xbox’s Cross-Gen Strategy is a Hard Sell
After watching through most of Microsoft’s Xbox Showcase for a third time, one thing is absolutely clear, their bold strategy of allowing consoles to coexist and be supported between generations makes it a difficult prospect to sell to its consumers.
Microsoft hasn’t been hesitant to tout its teraflop power advantage; yet, this showcase didn’t play up that advantage. A lot of fans thought that, after Sony’s Future of Gaming Show, this was the time for the Xbox division to really flex their muscles and show us what to expect this coming holiday. That leads to another distinct disadvantage for them. Sony has a roster of studios it has worked with for years. Many of those creating games of high critical acclaim year in and year out. Studios like Naughty Dog, Polyphony Digital, Insomniac and Guerilla games have been fostering talent and IP almost entirely under Sony, with the only outlier being Insomniac’s short stint with Sunset Overdrive.
A lot of Microsoft’s large gains during the 360 generation dealt with as much as the system as it did its games. Their distinct advantage in ease of development early on was a boon for third party developers, and those efficiencies could be seen in their advantage in 3rd party titles working as system sellers. Add this to the fact that Xbox Live was well ahead of its competitors, as was its Xbox Live Arcade division. In a sense, it wasn’t necessarily a singular title or franchise that was needed to sell the console. Flash forward to 2020.
With Microsoft’s lack of a strong stable of developers, they have taken massive strides in beginning to close the gap. In the past few years Microsoft has acquired a handful of studios to fill the gaps from the previous generation. If you add those studios to the current slate of Xbox Game Studios and their 3rd party and launch exclusive support, you have a more than commendable collection of future titles; of which, many of these were shown off during the Xbox Showcase.
Here’s the list of Xbox Game Studios and what they are working on:
- The Initiative (unknown)
- 343 Industries (Halo: Infinite)
- Playground (Forza 8, although the number scheme seems to be dropped)
- Ninja Theory (Senua’s Saga: Hell Blade 2)
- Obsidian (Avowed)
- InXile (Wasteland 3)
- Double Fine (Psychonauts 2)
- Rare (Everwild)
The main issue, with many of these acquisitions taking place in 2018, is that it leaves little time to actually develop a title before the launch of a new console generation. That also further solidified the reason why there was very (very) little actual gameplay shown. Ideally, it seems that it would have been far more ideal to have a console launch during holiday of 2020 to give these developers some time to develop on Xbox Series X, or for that matter, even Xbox One X.
So outside of games just clearly being in their infancy, why didn’t this Xbox Showcase seem to really wow everyone? I think that comes down to their strategy of a generation-less console transition. Microsoft’s strategy is certainly commendable, especially with Game Pass being one of the best values in gaming. The only thing that I can recall even coming close to their delivery of all first party games under one subscription were the blockbuster days of their very own Gamepass, albeit a very much physical version with no ties to the industry besides slinging around used games.
The blurring lines between generations also means an easy transition for those not necessarily wanting to jump in right away and their insistence of having games on PC further helping that cause. Oddly enough, this message was a bit bungled from XBOX execs saying that games will have a two-year multi-generational window, but we find out that isn’t necessarily the case with a few core titles. But if they aren’t actively pushing people onto a new generation of consoles, what need is there for consumers to jump in? This is doubly so if they have a competent PC. Mine is probably a little bit past the comparable comparison with an aging gtx 970, but I am perfectly fine with waiting since games play well enough. Not to mention there isn’t really anything that heavy-hitting coming out right at launch for my personal tastes.
The heavy-hitter of the show was assumed to be Halo Infinite. A long in development followup to one of Microsoft’s pillar franchises should have been the wow factor of the show; it was anything but. Expectations are soaring, especially since this conference came right after The Last of Us 2, even if the comparison makes little sense since the games are doing wildly different things. While the game did look a bit drab, being able to play a Halo game at 60fps, in 4k with coop and be open world is legitimately amazing. Let’s just hope the rough showing was due to it being in development and not some deeper flaw.
With talks swirling around about RTX not making it for launch, I fear the game might hardly be finished as the release date rolls around. It’s hard not to think about the relatively barren lunch of the first Destiny title. Seriously, if any game would welcome a 2020 launch, it would be Halo Infinite.
While it would be easy to call this presentation a let down, Microsoft’s Xbox Showcase was a more clear picture as to what we should expect to see from Series X two to three years from now than any road-map we’ve yet to see. It’s unfortunate that the timing is sort of working against Microsoft here, but it will be interesting to see how their trend toward pulling people into the Xbox ecosystem with Game Pass vs to their next-gen console will pay off.