Categories: NewsTech

What Encouraged Microsoft to Reembrace Multiplatform Releases?

When Microsoft released the Xbox Series X and S in November 2020, they did so with few platform-exclusive titles. New Halo and Forza entries locked to Microsoft’s systems were inevitable, but these were not available on release. Instead, Microsoft made headlines with claims that multiplatform would be their focus thanks to the advantages for the industry and its players. Fast forward to January of 2022, and Microsoft’s acquisitions had claimed the companies ZeniMax Media and Activision Blizzard for $8.1 billion and $75.4 billion respectively. Microsoft then announced that platform exclusives were back on the menu and that their new series like The Elder Scrolls, Call of Duty, and Diablo would all be considered for eventual exclusivity. Fans of these series who were not pleased with Microsoft’s bait and switch then decried what they saw as Microsoft’s earlier claims being little more than dishonest marketing. Whether or not these players were correct, Microsoft would later again reverse course and announce four first-party games would come to competing consoles in the near future. While this back and forth is exhausting, it paints a curious picture about Microsoft’s performance, and what they want from gaming in the future. The multiplatform path holds immense potential for both developers and players, but how likely is it that Microsoft will follow through? “315/366 – 2020” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by tompagenet

Microsoft’s Struggles

Difficulties and trajectory shifts made by Microsoft are the likely result of its console divisions’ economic performance. The Xbox Series has sold less than half of the systems of Sony’s PS5, and this limits the possible return from its exclusive titles. A multiplatform game across all console systems has access to an audience of over a hundred million users. Microsoft has sold around 21 million Xbox Series systems as of early 2024, so if titles don’t perform extremely well, they could lose their developer’s and publisher’s money. A core part of this issue stems from the ballooning costs of modern AAA game development. In a rush for the biggest worlds and best graphics, tentpole releases today can cost well over a hundred million USD to create. This necessitates an enormous number of sales to break even. Achieving these sales might be impossible for Microsoft on Xbox and PC alone. With the disparity between console sales still so great halfway through the console generation, going multiplatform could be the best choice Microsoft has to keep sales high. There is also a significant issue in fan reception should Microsoft make its now enormous library of titles second-party games exclusive. Games that have been enjoyed for decades on PlayStation and Nintendo now locked to Windows and Xbox would result in significant negative attention. In a time when online popularity and bad press are so visible, Microsoft would prefer to avoid catching public ire.

Advantages for the Players

Video game players are famous for arguments over which system is the best, so much so that the act is given the shorthand of being called a console/PC warrior. Such conflicts are often held in good humor, with the understanding that the best approach for players is the most open environment possible. Multiplatform is almost always great for players, so whether it’s been forced or not, there’s significant appreciation towards Microsoft’s multiplatform move. A microcosm of the advantages of multiplatform availability is best represented not in video games, but in the related field of online casino gaming. Consider the availability of casino guides, and what they reveal about the online betting industry. In this example, the comparison website works by contrasting different Swedish online casino features and bonuses like free spins and deposit matches. Most of the games on these websites are shared, so competition is fostered by casinos offering the best user experience possible, and the same is true across many different countries and languages. Design, usability, and special advantages are all core in this industry, and most players would welcome similar benefits in video games too. Fewer exclusives would also mean the social aspects of gaming could be improved. Gaming has always had competitive and cooperative elements, and platform exclusivity restricts these concepts. If some of your friends love multiplayer games only available on the platform half of your friend group owns, then somebody will miss out. Cross-play has made great strides in addressing this issue for multiplatform releases, but it can’t do anything for games online available on a single system. Source: Pixabay

The Direction of Sony and Nintendo

No matter what Microsoft chooses or is forced to do, it’s unlikely that Sony or Nintendo will follow suit. Sony has made a name for itself through exclusive properties like Spider-Man, The Last of Us, and God of War. Nintendo is even more famous in this regard, with international hits like Mario, Zelda, and Pokémon. Since these companies have sold enough platforms to recuperate development costs, they don’t want to give their players reasons to jump ship to another console. On the other hand, there are also questions about the long-term balancing act of exclusives on Sony’s and Nintendo’s platforms. Most games will sell most of their copies on the launch systems in the first few months. Rereleasing on other platforms a year or two later might not affect the company’s bottom line negatively, while also introducing players who might otherwise miss a series. This introduces a delicate balancing act for Sony and Nintendo. Sony has already tested the waters of later multiplatform releases to mixed results, though Nintendo has tended to be more reserved after early experiments on computers. Going multiplatform eventually is especially an issue for Nintendo thanks to the Switch’s limited power. Later ports to other systems would inevitably result in vastly superior performance and visuals over the original releases, and the company wouldn’t want to make its system look bad by comparison. “Nintendo Switch” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by the-unwinder It’s still too early to tell just how deeply Microsoft will drink from the Multiplatform well, but as players, we find ourselves hoping that being open becomes the new normal. In a time when games are becoming more expensive, we’d all love to have an easier time sharing our positive experiences. The next couple of years from the company are definitely going to be ones to watch, as they could set the trajectory of the next generation of consoles for a decade to come.

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