Guardian Interview Illuminates Microsoft’s 1st Party Game Strategy


The Guardian ran an interview with the head of Xbox which I think is pretty informative of Microsoft’s gaming strategy and why it has or hasn’t done certain things. It lends a more vivid picture to things I’ve already been suggesting about Microsoft’s approach to games.

One thing the interview goes into is the kinds of first party games Microsoft is interested in making. Phil Spencer gives his opinions on recent first party hits like Sony’s Horizon: Zero Dawn and Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Some have pointed out the recent push early this year of exclusives for the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo’s platforms has made Xbox look weak in regards to exclusives. I’ve seen people ask why Microsoft isn’t trying to answer big singleplayer epics like Horizon and Zelda. The real reason is… it doesn’t really want to.

“The audience for those big story-driven games… I won’t say it isn’t as large, but they’re not as consistent,” says Spencer. “You’ll have things like Zelda or Horizon Zero Dawn that’ll come out, and they’ll do really well, but they don’t have the same impact that they used to have, because the big service-based games are capturing such a large amount of the audience.”

This pretty much says it all: Microsoft is more interested in publishing games with consistent business and player engagement beyond reaching the credits. That’s why its main first party games are all focused on multiplayer or other online features. And Microsoft hasn’t really figured out a way to do that for the more traditional story-oriented game other than including a campaign in Halo or Gears of War that has a co-op option. …But this Guardian piece kind of stumbles on one.

Spencer heaps some praise on the episodic model. “I’ve looked at things like Netflix and HBO, where great content has been created because there’s this subscription model. Shannon Loftis and I are thinking a lot about, well, could we put story-based games into the Xbox Game Pass business model because you have a subscription going? It would mean you wouldn’t have to deliver the whole game in one month; you could develop and deliver the game as it goes.” Spencer has some compliments for the Walking Dead games, and the article header is a screenshot of the recent episodic Hitman.

The last big singleplayer-only game Microsoft published was Quantum Break which was already patterned to look like a TV series. I can already imagine Microsoft making another story-oriented singleplayer game that just breaks that structure up into actual episodic pieces… and then finds a way to sweeten the deal for Xbox Live or Xbox Game Pass subscribers, maybe even by making it free with the latter.

A fair argument for what Sony is doing however is that service games are very competitive right now. Halo and Gears have to compete with Rainbow Six: SiegeThe DivisionDestinyCall of DutyBattlefield, and Star Wars: Battlefront on Microsoft’s own platform. Meanwhile, there isn’t much on PlayStation that’s like HorizonUnchartedWipeout, or Crash. Sony’s games do stand out on its own platform and perhaps within gaming overall. However, Nintendo probably accomplishes that better than any first party publisher, and its games are a good mix of story-driven singleplayer and community-driven multiplayer. Nintendo’s service games like Mario KartSuper Smash Bros., and Splatoon work because there isn’t anything else like them on Nintendo’s platforms or really anywhere else in video games. That’s probably the real reason Nintendo’s first party games continue to stand out and sell today — they’re unique. People like to criticize Nintendo whenever it chases after innovation to a fault, but maybe Microsoft could learn from that approach in its software lineup. If Microsoft is going to make new intellectual properties that still focus on multiplayer and online services, thinking outside the box might be a good strategy. I wonder how Sea of Thieves is doing…

All I’m saying is, if Microsoft does indeed push for more first party exclusives in the future, maybe showing some off at E3, I don’t expect a carbon copy of what Sony is doing. I expect something that’s going to bring more business to Xbox Live.



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