Xbox, Nintendo or PlayStation: Does it still matter?

  • By Zoe Kleinman
  • Technology Editor

Four Microsoft Xbox video games – which the company has been frustratingly careful not to name – will now be opened to alternative platforms for the first time, company president Phil Spencer announced to the world last night.

He only gives a few clues: all four are community driven, more than a year old, and don't include recent releases of Starfield or Indiana Jones.

This seems like a major change in tone for Microsoft, which has long favored exclusivity for its Xbox platform and Games Pass subscription service.

So what lies behind this shift and what does it tell us about the future of gaming?

Let's start with a 12-year-old I know – my son.

He loves Minecraft, and plays it wherever he can. On his phone, on his tablet, on our PlayStation, on his dad's Xbox. He watches Minecraft videos on YouTube and uses an unofficial app to create and share skins and mods.

He doesn't care who owns the game (Microsoft bought the Mojang studio in 2014) and has no brand loyalty to a particular device – his preference is any device within reach.

This is what gaming giants are up against: a generation of young gamers who don't buy into the hype.

It seems that Microsoft has begun, very cautiously, to respond to this.

Last night, Mr Spencer insisted the final four games did not mean a fundamental change in the company's gaming strategy.

Not only is Xbox warming to the idea, there have been similar grumblings from Sony. In a recent earnings call, interim gaming president Hiroki Totoki said he wants to put more PlayStation games on other platforms.

Like Microsoft, it didn't mention any specific games, or specific platforms. He likely meant that the company would continue with the status quo of putting PlayStation games on PC several months or even years after their release.

After years of fierce rivalry between the two companies, and expensive acquisitions of successful game studios that produce the most popular games, in an attempt to secure the best content for their customers, this is definitely a change of heart (at the same time, Nintendo is still more inclined to keep its games to itself). .

The idea of ​​turning any device with a screen into your business console is pretty simple, when you think about it. Why go through the process of building and selling expensive, time-consuming hardware when so many people already carry high-performance computers, in the form of their phones?

Why limit access to your best-selling games when there is a large audience with alternative devices who also want to buy, play, and pay for in-game extras?

Analysts Ampere estimated that in 2023 there were a total of about 46.5 million consoles sold, of which only 7.6 million were Microsoft's Xbox consoles. That leaves roughly 39 million players yet to receive Xbox exclusives like Bethesda's long-awaited Starfield.

“The main reason Microsoft has pursued a more progressive multiplatform strategy with its game content and services since early in the Xbox One cycle is that it has not been able to build on the relative success of the Xbox 360 era and take market share from Sony,” and, finally, Nintendo after the launch of the Switch, says analyst Piers Harding-Rolls of Ampere.

In addition, Microsoft was busy building successful game studios for large sums of money – at a time when making games was already an expensive business.

In fact, during its controversial $68 billion acquisition of massive game maker Activision Blizzard, one of Sony's main objections was that it could deliver smash hits like Call of Duty, played by millions on exclusive PlayStation and Xbox consoles. Microsoft was forced to pledge that it would not do this for at least 10 years.

There is even speculation that Microsoft may be preparing to withdraw from the hardware market completely, abandoning the Xbox console entirely, but Mr Harding-Rolls does not believe anything dramatic is on the horizon.

“Ampere does not expect Microsoft to exit the gaming console business in the medium term as that would leave a significant gap in its gaming revenues,” he added.

In fact, Xbox head Sarah Bond teased the idea of ​​some brand new hardware in a podcast released by Microsoft on Thursday.

“What we're really focused on is making the biggest technology leap you'll ever see in a generation of devices,” she said.

Anyway, Darren Edwards of gaming news site TheXboxHub sums it up neatly: “It's hardly a doomsday scenario for Xbox.”

As for the games themselves, Microsoft's preferred portal is through Games Pass. For £12.99 per month, it offers unlimited access to hundreds of titles.

The company has been very quiet for a while regarding its subscriber numbers, but tonight it revealed that it has reached 34 million. It was launched in 2017 with an ambition to reach 100 meters by 2030, a goal that remains elusive, with six years to go.

But it's still good news for those who make games on Games Pass, like UK-based publisher No More Robots.

“We want as many people on Game Pass as possible, because that naturally leads to more people playing our titles, which is especially useful for multiplayer titles that require a higher number of players to keep the community alive,” said director Mike Rose.

It goes without saying that there are also a lot of Xbox owners who are comfortable on social media right now. Many felt the announcement was a surprise after days of anticipation, and it certainly raised more questions than answers. But at least the message was more business as usual than just setting the console on fire.

One gamer on

Additional reporting by Tom Gerken

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