The console wars may be over, but the Xbox is not all the better for it

Microsoft’s future plans for the gaming market begin to crystallize and long-time fans may not like what they see


Microsoft delivered one of the most impressive Xbox showcases ever this year, but there are clear signs of a major shift in its gaming market strategy going forward. The Xbox could, simply, have run out of time. (Image: Microsoft)


Everyone expected a great show from Xbox in the context of this year’s “not-E3” – if nothing else because Microsoft desperately needed one after a rather testing first half of the year – and the company delivered: blockbusters made promises, old favorites returned, new creations added spice… the Xbox 2024 Showcase just had everything. After more than 15 years of studio and publisher acquisitions in the video game space, Microsoft finally seems able to make good use of all that money in order to dazzle Xbox fans with a vast array of future releases, reminding people at every opportunity that many of those will be Day One Game Pass titles.

The problem: it may be too late for the Xbox brand, as Microsoft is already moving in a different direction.

It’s not hard to see why: the company officially confirmed that a number of existing and future games originally planned as Xbox exclusives – as reasons for consumers to get into the Xbox ecosystem – will be coming to other home entertainment systems too. It’s already started with Hi-Fi RushSea of ThievesGrounded and Pentiment, but Xbox head Phil Spencer claimed that this makes sense for Microsoft (“I have to run a sustainable business within the company”) and gamers alike:

“You’re going to see more of our games on more platforms. We just see that as a benefit to the franchises we’re building. And we see that from the players, that love to be able to play the on more platforms.”

The company has not even used the word “exclusive” once during this big showcase, a term it made sure to emphatically mention in every new game announcement for years. Most of the titles shown may be made initially available on Xbox and PC through Game Pass, yes, but – as of yesterday – there doesn’t seem to be anything keeping Microsoft from releasing any of its titles, of any franchise it owns, on the Sony PlayStation or the Nintendo Switch if it makes obvious business sense to do so. The company may allow for a multiformat release of AAA blockbuster titles (like it will be doing with Doom: The Dark Ages) or it may stagger releases on a case-per-case basis but, for all intends and purposes, there does not seem to be a strict “Xbox exclusivity” rule for any Microsoft games property anymore.

One does not have to be an analyst to see why this is detrimental to the Xbox brand as a whole: it is the very reason why Xbox fans were up in arms earlier in the year and still quite a contentious choice on Microsoft’s part. But in Spencer’s own words, it’s now the franchises the company is focused on expanding, not the Xbox brand. It’s the games themselves that need to perform in terms of sales, not just the Xbox platform as a whole – assuming, of course, there is actually still such a thing: if an Xbox Game Studios title can be played on PCs of various form factors, on smartphones, on tablets, on smart TVs, on PlayStation systems or Nintendo systems… in what sense is it an “Xbox” game anyway?

Microsoft has all but given up on the current Xbox in terms of hardware, if these new models are anything to go by. The company may be planning to follow a different path for its next home entertainment system. It may not even be called an Xbox, some say. (Image: Microsoft)


Microsoft’s disinterest to invest more in the Xbox brand is also apparent in the way the company is now treating its gaming hardware. It’s been rumored for some time that Microsoft will not be offering a mid-generation refresh like Sony’s PlayStation5 Pro, but the three new Xbox Series models it announced couldn’t be more boring if they tried: just chassis of different colors, more storage or the removal of an optical disc drive do not deserve a press release nowadays, let alone a whole video clip.

It’s clear to all that Microsoft has not just admitted defeat to Sony in the current home console generation, it really means to spend as few resources on the Xbox Series S/X as humanly possible from now on. The company promises to “deliver the largest technical leap consumers will have ever seen in a hardware generation” in the future, but whether that next-gen system is actually an Xbox or something more like a template for other manufacturers to base their own “Xbox” consoles on, remains to be seen.

Microsoft is now well into that awkward transitional period any company is going through when deciding to change course in haste: it will have to keep up appearances for some time while, in the background, there’s a major shift in priorities and long-term goals shaping a very different future for the company’s products and services. It’s not an enviable position to be in, by any means, but there’s also an upside in this particular case: Microsoft’s new approach is essentially putting an end to the console wars of old in the most decisive way possible. For real this time. There’s no point bothering with the “Xbox vs PlayStation” notion anymore: these two brands now officially mean different things, so how is one supposed to compare them anyway?

Doom: The Dark Ages will be one of the first Microsoft titles that will be available for the PlayStation5 on the same day as the Xbox Series S/X. By the look of things, it will not be the last. (Image: Microsoft)


Whether this eventuality had always been a part of Microsoft’s plans or the company was forced into this position because of the mismanagement and subsequent defeat of the Xbox during the last decade is up for debate. What, sadly, isn’t debatable is whether this could be considered a positive outcome: it simply can’t. The Xbox brand as a whole is certainly not all the better for it – not when it comes to the perceived value attached to its software and hardware or to how its loyal fanbase feels about all this. Microsoft evolving into one of the world’s largest multiformat video games publishers will not be to the benefit to the millions of people who followed the company on this 25-year journey. It will mostly be to the benefit of a company who invested well over 100 billion dollars in acquisitions and mergers alone and is now expecting a return on that investment from each and every video game it produces or service it provides.

When all is said and done, it seems that the Xbox brand just run out of time – in the eyes of both its leadership and its fans. What comes next, both in hardware or software and services, may not be a new chapter of Xbox history. It may very well be a different chapter in Microsoft’s gaming efforts altogether.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Kostas Farkonas

Veteran reporter with over 30 years of industry experience in various media, focusing on consumer tech, entertainment and digital culture. No, he will not fix your PC (again).

Veteran reporter with over 30 years of industry experience in various media, focusing on consumer tech, entertainment and digital culture. No, he will not fix your PC (again).

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