There is one essential ingredient to success Microsoft seems to be missing.
Last year, I wrote about the possibility of the Xbox One turning into this generation’s equivalent of the PS3– a system with a difficult start, but one that managed to turn things around, due to goodwill measures taken by the platform holder, as well as redesigned hardware, soft rebranding, and a stream of great games. In many regards, the Xbox One hit those notes- the Xbox One S is a gorgeous, desirable, well designed console, and it did manage to boost Xbox One sales for a short while. Microsoft have definitely been making all the right moves on the services front, from Game Pass, Backward Compatibility, Cross Platform Play, allowing mods support, allowing services like EA Access, and Xbox Anywhere. And the upcoming Xbox One X definitely looks to provide them an opportunity to rebrand themselves a bit.
And yet, and yet, in spite of that, the Xbox One has simply been unable to achieve the kind of sustained turnaround that the PS3 did last generation. The console’s sales have continued to slump (even more so after the Xbox One S launch), exclusive game support seems to have slowed to a trickle, if that, and general sentiment around the console is not that of surging positivity, like the PS3 started garnering after the launch of the PS3 Slim and Uncharted 2, but indifference at best, and outright antipathy at worst.
So- what has gone wrong here? Why has Microsoft been unable to come back from a poor start like the PS3 did? And is there any scope for them being able to do so?
"The Xbox One has simply been unable to achieve the kind of sustained turnaround that the PS3 did last generation."
At this point, I sound like a broken record, but the ultimate long term failure of the Xbox One (and before people in the comments section get antsy, failure here doesn’t have to be absolute – though it might be – but rather, relative to expectations from the console following the Xbox 360) ultimately comes down to Microsoft’s utter inability to guarantee a stream of exciting and compelling exclusive game support for the system.
This matters- if there are two systems that play 90% of the same games, then my decision to pick one or the other up will come down to that last 10% of the games. Except in this case, there is no last 10% of the games as far as the Xbox is concerned, because exclusives on that platform are minimal. If both systems play Destiny, Call of Duty, FIFA, and Assassin’s Creed, then will I pick up the system that plays just those games, or the one that plays those, plus Horizon, Uncharted, Persona, and Bloodborne?
Individually, none of Sony’s exclusives actually hold that much market appeal, outside of maybe Uncharted, The Last of Us, and God of War– however, there are so many of them, that even if one individual one only appeals to a few hundred thousand people, cumulatively, millions of people are swayed over to the PS4 side. This is a vindication of Sony’s strategy to focus on a wide array of exclusives, casting as wide a net as possible.
Now contrast this to Microsoft’s approach- while focusing on Halo, Gears, and Forza is fine, focusing only on them gets Xbox nowhere. If someone was not convinced by Halo 5, Forza 6, and Gears of War 4, why will Halo 6, Forza 7, and Gears 5 change their minds? They won’t- at that point, Microsoft is just preaching to the choir, and the choir is already converted.
"If people aren’t excited about the games on your system, then it doesn’t matter if you have great services, or consumer friendly practises, or a cool new revision for your system, or the most powerful console ever made- in the end, your system won’t sell at a sustained, high level."
Look at even Nintendo’s strategy, and how it compares to Microsoft’s- Nintendo focuses on a staggeringly broad array of franchises, across all genres, and puts out one game in each once every console cycle (so a new release still feels special) for its major franchises like Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Smash, and Mario Kart, while also focusing on newer IP or niche games like Splatoon, ARMS, Fire Emblem, and Xenoblade. Nintendo, too, seems to understand the importance of casting a wide net to appeal to a broader audience- a lesson that Microsoft seems to be incapable of understanding.
To Microsoft’s credit, they did try with new IP earlier in the generation. They tried with Ryse, Quantum Break, Sunset Overdrive, ReCore, and they have Sea of Thieves coming up (plus there was Scalebound as well). However, I contend that the problem is that while Microsoft is willing to fund new projects, it doesn’t back them- if Quantum Break failed or underperformed, or if ReCore didn’t do that well, Microsoft shouldn’t just drop the titles and double down on the few remaining brands they have that do work— they should stick with their new attempts and try to develop and inculcate them further. Look at Sony as a counterpoint, or Nintendo- the original Killzone and Uncharted both underperformed, and Sony continued pushing the series and developing them, and they stood by their creators. Nintendo consistently leverages IP like Pikmin or Xenoblade, and neither are even regular million sellers- but again, they stand by their creators. Microsoft’s problem is that for them, a new venture seems to be a one and done- they do it once, it needs to do well, or they won’t bother again.
That’s not how you do things- you need to cultivate franchises, grow them, turn them into something bigger, and develop a larger portfolio of games and franchises. If people are excited about the games they can get on your platform, they will get your platform- again, the success of the Nintendo Switch, selling only on the basis of its exclusive games, is testament to that. But if people aren’t excited about the games on your system, then it doesn’t matter if you have great services, or consumer friendly practises, or a cool new revision for your system, or the most powerful console ever made- in the end, your system won’t sell at a sustained, high level. And so, while all the parallels for a PS3 like rebound might be present, the most essential ingredient – games – is sadly the one that Microsoft seems to be missing.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to GamingBolt as an organization.