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Baffling Xbox First Party Shift is a Ridiculous Gambit

Xbox look set to release all of their games onto PlayStation and Nintendo consoles, and in the very near future. And despite a large amount of theorising, that’s about all we know. But that is bad enough.

This is very much a breaking news story, and I held off writing anything in the hopes that Microsoft were sensible enough to put out an official statement overnight. But it hasn’t happened. A variety of leakers and insiders have confirmed separately that a variety of Xbox games will be coming to other consoles, starting with HiFi Rush. Starfield, Sea of Thieves and Indiana Jones will likely be jumping ship in the coming year.

There have been a lot of emotive responses to this, and it’s easy to see why. When you back the underdog for generations, you don’t expect them to roll over the second things are looking good. More than that, you don’t expect the narrative to come out from journalists who have their own negative reactions to this news. Microsoft have stuck to their silence. Hopefully by the time you’re reading this, that has changed.

Here’s the simple explanation: Xbox hopes there’s more money in releasing games full price everywhere – a kind of timed exclusive situation – than in keeping things exclusive. It’s hard to argue with that. The Last of Us would sell more if it released on Xbox and Nintendo consoles too. It’d sell more if it was on PC day one.

So why isn’t it?

Exclusives suck, but they set the tone for your console. Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 have almost identical catalogues, with a few variants. And the simple fact is that people default to PlayStation because over generations that is what they’ve had. They know the characters. They know the style.

Xbox Is Changing

By foregoing exclusives, or by going with a ridiculous timed exclusivity, Microsoft might make more money in the short term. But what damage are they doing to their console brand? Some will scoff at that, but they’re still selling tens of millions of devices, with people spending tens of billions of dollars over the generation. We’re not talking about the Ouya. We’re talking about a device that is, by any metric, a decent success by industry standards. It just doesn’t sell as many units as PlayStation and Nintendo.

On top of that, they’re doing it just as their first party offerings were gearing up.

It’s an interesting gambit, and if it goes wrong, it’ll damage the industry. You can’t just have PlayStation and Nintendo. Sony are in a period of flux as it is and we don’t know what Nintendo’s next effort will look like. Take away a third of the competition, and nothing good will come of that.

But even if it goes right, you have to question why you should recommend the Xbox to anybody. It won’t have PlayStation games, but PlayStation will have Xbox games. We can talk about ecosystem – that has zero value. People won’t be a console because it has a nice OS and Play Anywhere. Game Pass is an incredible deal, but if it’s not enough to sell consoles when there are exclusive games on offer, how can it be enough when there’s not?

This is all based on speculation. We know this is happening, but we don’t know why, when or how. Things are moving quickly, and people are getting angry.

Microsoft needs to clarify what on Earth is going on. And they need to show – clearly and quickly – what is in it for the one-box owners who went with Xbox this generation.


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blank Mat Growcott has been a long-time member of the gaming press. He's written two books and a web series, and doesn't have nearly enough time to play the games he writes about.

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Twitter: @matgrowcott