Microsoft’s Xbox dilemma

A new strategy is angering fans as Xbox loses the console war and Game Pass fails to take off

Microsoft’s Xbox dilemma
Xbox head Phil Spencer. Screenshot: YouTube/Xbox

If you’re not tuned into the video game industry, you might have missed the outpouring of anger from Xbox fans over the past couple weeks. Leaked news of Xbox’s plans to begin releasing some of its exclusive titles on other consoles led to questions about the future of the brand, especially as the rumors escalated from small titles like Hi-Fi Rush to platform-defining games like Starfield and the forthcoming Indiana Jones and the Great Circle.

Xbox leadership have belatedly addressed the concerns in a podcast — of all mediums to choose — pegged as a “business update.” Xbox head Phil Spencer confirmed the plan to release games on other platforms like Playstation and Nintendo, but said it’s confined to four titles. He wouldn’t name the games, citing existing plans by the developers to make the announcements in their own way, but it’s expected those titles will be niche experiences Hi-Fi Rush and Pentiment, along with community-based games Grounded and Sea of Thieves. The decision to do a wider release of Sea of Thieves isn’t surprising given Skull & Bones, a competing and long-delayed title from Ubisoft, has just been released.

On the podcast, Spencer said Starfield and Indiana Jones are not among those four games, but didn’t rule out their future release on other platforms. When asked a direct question about the two games in an interview with The Verge, Spencer left the door open to their future wide release. “I don’t think we should as an industry ever rule out a game going to any other platform,” he said. “We’re focused on these four games and learning from the experience.”

Spencer was adamant that releasing those four games on other platforms was not a break with Xbox’s wider strategy to allow customers to “play the games you want with the people you want anywhere you want,” but it’s hard not to see that as corporate PR meant to assuage the fears of its hardcore fans. The reality is that it comes after a $68.7-billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard in the midst of a period of cost cutting and short-term revenue maximization by major tech companies, including its parent company Microsoft. It’s impossible to deny that’s having an effect on the Xbox strategy.