Xbox going multiplatform: much ado about… something

Microsoft keeps its cards close to its chest for now, but fans should probably accept the inevitable


A rumor no more, then: Hi-Fi Rush is definitely coming to the Switch and maybe even the PS5 at some point during the next few months. It will be interesting to see how a former AAA Xbox/PC exclusive fares on other platforms in terms of both conversion quality and sales. (Image: Microsoft)


In what was probably the most predictably anti-climactic “business update” in recent memory, Microsoft confirmed during its latest official Xbox podcast that it is indeed going multiplatform over the next few months – just as a number of reports and Web rumors suggested since the beginning of the year.

The company also confirmed that it will be doing so in the exact way most of us expected it to anyway: carefully and rather conservatively. It will be releasing PlayStation and Switch versions of four older Xbox titles in order “to see what happens”, as Microsoft’s head for the Xbox, Phil Spencer, put it. “Bringing those games to new platforms is real work. We want to make sure that the return makes sense. We want to make sure the audience that’s there has an appetite. Maybe they don’t”, he added.

Phil Spencer, Sarah Bond and Matt Booty reassured the Xbox fanbase of Microsoft’s commitment to the Xbox brand… while also leaving all options open for a true shift in the company’s strategy at some point in the future. (Video: Microsoft)


Spencer did not reveal which four Xbox titles will be getting PlayStation and/or Switch versions later this year, but The Verge in a separate report specifically mentions Hi-Fi Rush and Pentiment, followed by Sea of Thieves and Grounded. It’s still not clear which of those games will be released on which systems – anyone can obviously make an educated guess – and there were no release dates or price points mentioned either. But by not getting into specifics, Microsoft’s executives made it pretty clear that this “business update” was less about announcing things and more about reassuring the Xbox fan base that the company is fully committed to the brand despite going multiplatform.

One watching or listening to the whole podcast is made almost painfully aware of the lengths Phil Spencer, Sarah Bond and Matt Booty went in order to clarify that no, not every Microsoft Game Studios game will be getting PlayStation and/or Switch versions in the future – and that yes, Xbox fans can still expect preferential treatment in terms of either time-locked exclusivity or Game Pass availability. At the same time, in the interview Spencer gave to The Verge ahead of the podcast’s release, it was just as painfully obvious that the company would rather leave all options open, not ruling out the possibility that even its most valuable games will someday launch as multiplatform products.

Live service titles like Sea of Thieves, which are heavily community-based, could benefit from an influx of new players coming from a different platform. Whether PS5 owners will be interested in that is another matter entirely. (Image: Microsoft)


This obviously makes sense, no matter how much Xbox fans might hate the idea now. By making relatively small, inconsequential changes to its strategy – releasing only a few older Xbox games to competing platforms – Microsoft cannot, and probably does not, really expect any significant gains anyway. That is why the company can afford to paint the release of those four Xbox games on the PS5 or Switch as an “experiment”… for now. At some point, though, in order to actually get a sense of how a multiformat future could look like for Xbox, Microsoft will release a few of its first-party games on multiple platforms at once – and it is then that the real impact of this strategic shift will be felt.

In other news: new and next-gen Xbox hardware incoming

If anything, the “business report” hosted on Microsoft’s official Xbox podcast proved to be mildly interesting because of some other news Phil Spencer, Sarah Bond and Matt Booty shared. The Game Pass subscription base, for instance, has grown to 34 million “fully paying customers”, as Spencer put it, most of them PC gamers. That’s a decent increase of 9 million more subscribers compared to the last time the company announced Game Pass numbers (January of 2022), but Microsoft is clearly aware of the fact that any significant growth will not be coming from the Xbox fan base.

Without talking specifics, Sarah Bond confirmed that there’s new Xbox hardware coming, both short-term and long-term: for 2024 she’s probably talking about the new Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X models that leaked last fall (and a new Xbox controller codenamed “Sebile”). For the next generation of Xbox, whenever that may be launching, Bond promised “the largest technical leap seen in a hardware generation” – a rather bold claim for obvious reasons.

Based on Microsoft’s statements, the refreshed Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X leaked last fall are still coming in Q4 2024. Unless they are offered at a significantly lower price than the current one, though, they are not expected to make much of a difference. (Image: Microsoft)


Bond also announced that the first Activision Blizzard King title making the leap to Game Pass is Diablo IV in March. Talking about Game Pass, Booty confirmed that the subscription service will remain exclusive to Xbox hardware (funny how this is mentioned as if it’s Microsoft’s decision to make) and that all first-party games will still come first on Game Pass regardless of other versions on different formats that may be considered in the future. He did imply, though, that even those versions will strive to take advantage of Xbox Live in order to deliver Cross Play and Cross Save functionality, which is certainly welcome (although there might be some technical difficulty in achieving that without having PlayStation or Switch owners use a Microsoft account).

All in all, by clarifying just enough – and reaffirming what Xbox fans should basically be taking for granted nowadays – Microsoft has bought itself a bit of time. The company will definitely need that time in order to gradually have its loyal customer base accept the likelihood of even flagship Xbox titles getting day-and-date multiformat releases at some point. There is some truth in Spencer’s words about “testing the waters”, so that’s probably not happening in 2024 or even 2025. But it’s fair to expect that, by the time both Sony and Microsoft are ready to reveal the next PlayStation and Xbox, things will look quite different in terms of first-party games being exclusive to one piece of hardware. At least from Microsoft’s perspective. How does 2027 or 2028 sound?

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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