E3 2019 brought us a fresh wave of Xbox news. Among a few new looks at some big exclusives, a number of Xbox eco-system announcements were also made. We got public demos of xCloud, Microsoft’s answer to game streaming, along with more details on Game Pass Ultimate. We also got a sneak peek at Project Scarlett for the next generation, alongside the new Elite Controller Series 2. All of these hardware and service announcements move toward making Xbox an even more attractive platform for gamers. Having said that, questions still remain over the quality and quantity of exclusive software coming to Xbox systems. With the latest studio acquisition of Double Fine adding to last year’s list, Microsoft is addressing their only remaining issue. When the new additions to Microsoft Game Studios are regularly dropping content, Sony could have a problem on their hands.
2018 was a brilliant year for Sony’s first-party line-up. The Shadow of the Colossus remake dropped right at the start of the year, quickly followed by God of War and Detroit: Become Human. September brought Spider-man along, rounding off a huge year for the PS4. This contrasts to the lacklustre sequel to State of Decay, the work-in-progress Sea of Thieves and the admittedly brilliant Forza Horizon 4 over on Xbox. This is in-line with the last few years for both systems. However, a change is coming and one that could prove very important for Microsoft. These new studios have the ability to take Sony’s only remaining win; first party games.
The other side of the coin, hardware and services, Microsoft is winning. The Xbox One X has had a fantastic reception since its introduction in 2017. Being the only console on the market to regularly hit 4k visuals certainly helped. It’s also really compact and efficient, beating out the PS4 Pro which at times sounds like a jet engine while running demanding games. The pair of elite controllers sit alongside the suite of design lab options and the adaptive controller to round out the superior hardware choices. To put it plainly, the Xbox eco-system is the place to be for quality hardware.
When it comes to services, Microsoft also has it down. The integration of PC game pass into Game Pass Ultimate is yet another masterstroke. Xbox Game Pass, in all forms, is becoming one of the best value options in gaming. The vast amount of quality titles being added to the service means it’s standing head and shoulders above the competition. The backward compatibility program also puts Xbox ahead, with the lack of virtual console on Switch or PS3 compatibility on PS4. All of these additions lead right back to Phil Spencer’s goal with Xbox, to provide plentiful options for gamers. The fact that EA Access (EA’s subscription service) and PSN name changes have taken until 2019 to come to fruition shows just how far behind Sony is when it comes to platform services.
It feels like Xbox is only just beginning to get the recognition it deserves for providing these options. That’s understandable, as big exclusive games are arguably the most important pillar of a console eco-system. When Project Scarlett comes to market and these newly acquired studios are firing on all cylinders, the message could really change. When Xbox has the games and the services, Sony could struggle to control the message. Taking almost 15 years to provide an option to change an online ID won’t cut it. As an Xbox fan, I’m the first to point out their failings. Right now though, things are looking very bright for fans of all things Xbox.
Sony, of course, has the track record when it comes to exclusive games. We know what Naughty Dog, Guerilla and Sony Santa Monica can do, and have done time and time again. Uncharted and God of War have stood the test of time as high-quality AAA franchises, and Horizon: Zero Dawn has set itself up for a bright future. However, the studios purchased by Microsoft are no slouches. Obsidian is well known for the fan favourite Fallout: New Vegas, Double Fine Productions has constantly released great games, and Ninja Theory’s Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is a hidden gem, to name a few.
If Microsoft can do it, Xbox Game Studios and Game Pass could merge to become the Netflix Originals of gaming. The studios picked up have provided a good mix of smaller titles and AAA offerings in the past. This lends itself to the system Xbox is creating. Huge stretches of time between titles could and should become a thing of the past for Xbox. Quality, regular content drops sitting alongside the aforementioned hardware and services will put Xbox in a strong position, and Sony has to be quicker and more efficient in other areas to keep their lead. PS5 and Project Scarlett are just around the corner, and the next generation is looking very interesting indeed.