As we approach the launch of next-gen consoles Microsoft is trying to position its Xbox brand in a better place than it was prior the Xbox One’s launch in 2013.
Perception wise, Xbox as a brand seems to be in a much better place now than it was 7 years ago. For starters, there has been no “Don Mattrick” fiasco, even though the company did suffer a huge blow with Halo Infinite’s postponement.
Microsoft failed with the Xbox One (at least in comparison to the PlayStation 4’s monumental sales), for a number of reasons. There are a few ones that one could point out to, but these are the ones that stick out the most in our collective memories: An unclear message about what the console was supposed to be in Don Mattrick’s infamous 2013 E3 presser, a focus on the system’s “Multimedia Capabilities”, and Kinect rather than on gaming. An underpowered machine, that struggled to output 1080p games even at launch, and a lacking first party library of titles.
Spencer had to turn the company around, and he did, at least in terms of perception. Under Spencer the company replaced the base Xbox One with a gamer friendly Xbox One S (featuring a UHD Blue-Ray drive for the same price as a base PlayStation 4), and a premium console in the Xbox One X, that dwarfed Sony’s own premium console in its PlayStation 4 Pro in terms of specs (thus addressing the underpowered Xbox One issues).
More importantly, under Spencer’s watch Microsoft has gone on to acquire many first party studios in investments that have yet to pay off, but Microsoft is banking big on such investments reaping big time rewards over the next five years.
If I think back during the early Xbox One years and even late in the 360 years, at this time we as a company didn’t invest enough in our creative capabilities with our studios, and it showed. Now, the thing with game production is that it takes a lot of time, so if you underinvest it actually doesn’t show up next year or even in the next two years. It’s maybe three, four, or five years down the road. – Phil Spencer on investing on new studios, source: Gamereactor.eu
Games like Avowed, Fable’s Reboot, and Elder Scrolls 6 are years away, but it is difficult not to see that these titles (amongst many others) will have a major impact in both Xbox Series X/S sales, and GamePass subscriptions.
Sony dominated the past decade thanks to the strength of its first party line-up. Sony had, if we want to put it into proper perspective, a historically great first party Line-up. The Last of Us 1 and Part II, God of War, and Uncharted 4 are some of the best of games ever made. Apart from the Forza franchise Microsoft had nothing to compete against those titles in terms of critical acclaim.
It is safe to say that the last decade brought about the start of the golden era for open world games. The Witcher 3, Red Dead Redemption 2, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Skyrim redefined the genre, and most of those games were available on the Xbox One, but they were also available on the PlayStation 4 (except Breath of the Wild, as it is a Nintendo Wii U/Switch only exclusive).
On the other hand, the PlayStation 4 had Horizon Zero Dawn, Ghost of Tsushima, Death Stranding, and to a lesser degree the hit or miss Days Gone. Sony had gamers covered if they wanted open world gaming, Microsoft didn’t. The company learned its lesson, and acquired (it is in the process of acquiring) Bethesda/Zenimax.
Suddenly, if gamers want to play the next Elder Scrolls, and Fallout game (not to mention Fable, and Avowed), the Xbox Series X/S is the place to be at, unless they own have a decent PC rig.
I had this feeling or belief that we were underinvesting and I was head of first-party, so I felt it directly. I wanted to invest more, and we weren’t able to. So when I got into this job, I needed to put the business in a good space while getting the support of the company. And then we built a business model that prioritised investing in content knowing that we would have to invest early and wait a while for those investments to pay off.
But there wasn’t kind of a “one morning.” It was something that I felt, as I said through the late 360 and early Xbox One years, it just took us a little time to get into a position to find the right partners and get the support from the company. But I’m incredibly excited. Now with ZeniMax we’re coming up on 23 first-party studios and an amazing line-up. So I’m feeling very good with the support we have.- Phil Spencer
Spencer’s message is clear, no one will ever say now that “Xbox has no games” in comparison to the PlayStation brand. Obviously, these games will have to live up to their massive hype in order for Microsoft to entice gamers to its machines, and its Game Pass service.
Fable’s Reboot will have to live up to Playground’s excellent reputation (Forza Horizon series), and The Elder Scrolls 6 will have to live up to the historically great Skyrim (highest selling, and highest critically acclaimed game in the series)just to name a few examples.
This is an exciting time be a Game Pass subscriber, and to be an Xbox Series X pre-order holder, Microsoft is coming back in a big way with its first party studios, and exclusive titles. In the end, gamers win, if Microsoft and Sony’s first party studios continue to push each other with each game release.