Wednesday, February 21, 2024

How acquisitions and too much money nearly destroyed Xbox

A double-edge sword (Picture: Microsoft)

A reader explores the events that have led to Xbox’s current multiformat dilemma and how Microsoft’s acquisitions have worked against them.

The predicament Xbox currently finds itself in is all down to mismanagement, mixed messaging, and poor planning. When you consider how well it started for Xbox this generation, the missteps are even more infuriating. Revealed at The Game Awards 2019, positivity for Xbox was at an all-time high. A successful launch in late 2020 followed.

I would argue it was the acquisition of Bethesda, in March 2021, when that goodwill started to erode. The whole debate over exclusivity became a feeding frenzy for the media. Rightly so, you don’t take ownership of studios known for multiformat releases and not expect a backlash.

Fast forward to November 2021 and the highly successful launch of Forza Horizon 5. Well received by both critics and gamers, Xbox gathered some momentum. Then in January 2022, Microsoft announced the acquisition of Activision. What followed was a complete farce. Public spats with Sony. Court cases, embarrassing leaks, and executives taking the stand. The desperation was all on display for public consumption.

This situation would drag on until October 2023, before the deal finally closed. In the meantime, all their attention was focused upon this acquisition. During the entirety of 2022, the release schedule was non-existent. This was the year Xbox sealed its fate.

When Sony has a sparse schedule, what do they do? They release remasters of beloved games and make exclusive third party deals. We are witnessing this strategy for Sony play out in 2024. Microsoft couldn’t do any of this, during a period when playing the plucky underdog was their priority.

This fast-tracked growth has ultimately been their undoing. Instead of acquiring individual studios to bolster their ranks, purchasing publishers has dictated their role. Starfield was perhaps the tipping point. A game which didn’t live up to the hype and ultimately impacted console sales. Microsoft bet big on Starfield.

So now we have this shift in strategy. What once started out as a pet project, Xbox has become a major source of income for Microsoft. Say what you want about Phil Spencer and his failings as a leader, but he is undeniably a gamer at heart. So, the bean counters have taken the reigns, with the perception of Xbox at an all-time low.

Starfield is probably coming to PS5 (Picture: Bethesda)

Rumours have circulated since the start of the year, culminating in reports of even tentpole games going multiformat. Suggestions of in-fighting behind the scenes at Redmond, lead me to believe the latest rumours were deliberately leaked to provoke a reaction from fans.

So how do I think this will play out? I don’t think we will be witnessing Halo, Gears Of War, etc. on PlayStation anytime soon. But I do think we will see all of Activision and Bethesda titles headed to other consoles, which should have been the messaging from the outset. So, if this strategy does materialise it will be perceived as a backtrack. I strongly suspect these rumours of prominent Xbox titles were leaked to soften the blow of what is imminent.

Taking on big publishers, which are accustomed to putting their games onto other platforms, was never going to go down well. Not just with gamers, but the staff at these companies. Even if the IP we associate with Xbox remain intact, the questions will remain. It will no longer be a question of what if, but when?

Fans of Xbox naturally assumed these acquisitions would result in exclusives. But when you consider even market leader Sony have their own issues with spiralling development costs this expectation from the third-placed competitor was always unrealistic. So, when it’s announced Indiana Jones and co. are headed to PlayStation, it’s going to feel like a betrayal. The reality is, it should have never been a proposition. You don’t miss out unless you are promised something.

The rise in development costs dictate the userbase needs to be expanded. Microsoft is first out of the gate because of their market position. But this is only the beginning. I envisage their rivals will also expand their reach, whether we like it or not.

By reader Anon

What happens next? (Picture: Microsoft)

The reader’s features do not necessarily represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.

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