When you take a look at the three major hardware manufacturers currently competing in the game’s industry, the one most likely to begin releasing their titles on other platforms has suddenly become, the house that Gates built – Microsoft. They have already committed to releasing all of their titles on PC, they are open to having one of their biggest franchises, Minecraft available for cross-platform on nearly every system that its available for and just last week Phil Spencer, the head of the Xbox Division said that a streaming service of Xbox games could be available within the next three years on a number of platforms, including rivals’ Sony and Nintendo’s systems. All of this begs the question – should Microsoft go third-party?
So what would be the advantage of going third-party? Obviously the fact that Microsoft is a large enough firm that they can support not only developing but manufacturing their own hardware as well as software should be an advantage to leverage and not something to discard. And that’s something I want to clear up, when I say Microsoft should go third-party it’s not in the same way that companies like Sega did and only focus on making games but do both – develop hardware and support other companies platforms as well. Let’s call it a mix between first and third-party support.
Let’s face it, when you compare the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One directly to one another, the differences are minute. Both systems share a vast library of games with most of the games released on one also coming to the other (first party games of course excluded). Several developers have come out on record to state that the system’s base architecture is similar and easy to port between and the only noticeable differences basically come town to frame rate counting, something that the vast majority of gamers don’t care about. So why do both platforms need to exist? Obviously both the PS4 and XBO generate a ton of money for Sony and Microsoft respectively but they are both competing for the same slice of the market, and with Microsoft gradually allowing their games onto other platforms it makes the most sense for them to bow out, at least somewhat.
What I imagine happening is, in a couple of year Microsoft will make two major announcements…
- That a next-generation Xbox console is in development.
- That an Xbox streaming service is coming to all major platforms.
The first should come as no surprise and would be billed as ‘the best’ way to experience Microsoft’s first party offerings like Halo, Gears of War and Minecraft. Basically sold as the ‘console these games were built for’ players who find themselves attached to these brands or the Xbox name in general would jump at the opportunity to own a next-gen Xbox not to mention that it would maintain a highly visible presence in stores for Microsoft. The second announcement though is where things get interesting. By launching an ‘Xbox Service’ (similar to Steam) app, Microsoft would be able to turn every system that runs it into an Xbox of its own. Now not only your PC but PS4, Switch and even some mobile devices could hypothetically (with some processing offloaded to the cloud) become home to Master Chief and crew opening up whole new audiences to Microsoft’s IPs, namely in markets that have so far ignored the Xbox.
Japan has been a notoriously tough market for Microsoft to crack with the original Xbox, Xbox 360 and Xbox One all falling flat in the Land of the Rising Sun. The reasons for these shortcomings are complex and varied but the most commonly cited reason is that the Xbox brand primarily focuses on catering to audiences with more ‘western’ sensibilities and that Japanese gamers just aren’t interested in what it has to offer. Well, as the old saying goes ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try again’ and with it being very obvious that a Microsoft branded console will likely never take the day in Japan why not remove the console from the equation and simply offer the games as part of the Xbox app on let’s say a PS4 or Switch – two systems that have become bona-fide hits in Japan.
So what would the gaming landscape look like if Microsoft was now supporting their ‘rivals” platforms? Honestly, I think pretty similar to what we have now. Nintendo and Sony would continue to develop games exclusively for their platforms and third-party publishers would support whichever system best suits their needs. The difference now is that Microsoft, in addition to having a console on the market to serve as a home for their games and third-party ones as well, is now also promoting their brand across other devices and letting their IPs flourish where once they may have been locked to a console that would be playing second (or even maybe third) fiddle in the competitive marketplace.
As the 8th generation of gaming continues to chug along, its clear that Microsoft and the Xbox brand are here to stay. The name has become synonymous with gaming itself in many circles and its loyal following of fans is motivated enough to keep the system competitive in the market at large. But as new technologies and innovations develop it might make sense for Microsoft to look at new ways to sharing the Xbox brand with gamers and getting their strong stock of IPs into as many gamers hands as possible. Not only will this keep the brand vibrant but it will help it set itself apart from their competitors and allow them to reach new players that might never have paid attention games on the Xbox.