The Problem With Xbox

Hi everyone, hope you're all well!

Today I wanted to discuss a topic near and dear to my heart - namely, the sorry state of the Xbox platform at present. To preface, I play most of my games on the Xbox, and have owned every console so far. It's BECAUSE i'm a fan of the brand that I expect better.

At the end 2005, Microsoft released it's second console, the Xbox 360. It was a resounding success (hardware faults aside), and built on the previous Xbox's foundations by smartly doubling down on network services and infrastructure, while creating a near perfect controller. On top of this, the 360 grew a terrific library of exclusives and multiplatform games very quickly. In comparison, Sony's expensive Playstation 3 launched later and was harder to develop for, eventually finding it's footing due to a wildly diverse array of exclusives, hardware revisions and price drops.

One generation later, however, and the tables have turned entirely. Xbox One launched in 2013 - under-powered in comparison to the Playstation 4 and yet costing more due to Microsoft's misplaced loyalty in it's Kinect sensor. Price drops, hardware revisions and even (admittedly few) exclusives later, and Xbox One is so far off the pace of the Playstation 4 that Microsoft won't release sales figures.

How did we get here?

Halo. Forza. Gears of War. Three exclusive franchises that bore rather than excite. Halo's star has fallen after the mess that was the Master Chief Collection, while Halo 5's multiplayer is still excellent today. Gears of War 4 was fantastic but familiar. Meanwhile Forza continues to be the racing game by which all others are judged, but these three franchises have been in rotation since the Xbox 360 generation (in terms of the three together).

Sea of Thieves sunk like one of it's own cannonballs due to a lack of content and replayability and State of Decay has launched in a buggy, unfinished state. I don't know of anyone who is excited for Crackdown 3 outside of a morbid curiosity of "how bad can it be?". Microsoft's other heavy-hitters include Quantum Break and Sunset Overdrive - two great games but hardly system sellers, especially given the multiplayer-centric gaming climate. Case in point, I bought my Xbox One for the original Titanfall, a multiplayer-only game.

Phil Spencer has consistently discussed the need for new IP and new studios but a ship this large takes time to turn. With average AAA development timelines into the 3-5 year window, these quotes won't bear fruit for a while yet. It's a stark contrast with Sony's lineup in recent years - God Of War is a GOTY contender, as was Persona 5 last year - and that one isn't even developed by Sony. Add to that titles such as Nier: Automata, Bloodborne, Nioh, Uncharted and upcoming titles such as Spiderman and The Last of Us and this generation is a whitewash. Perhaps most impressively, many are new or rebooted IP, not just sequels.

Where Microsoft HAS excelled is in the services offered for customers. The Xbox One can play a wide library of titles from Xbox 360 and the original Xbox. You can subscribe to Game Pass and never need to purchase a game, playing only the ones included in the subscription. EA Access gets you all the sports games you can handle, plus other titles for £20 per year. Xbox Live remains the gold standard for online gaming and smart additions to the platform such as "Looking For Group" and a gamerscore leaderboard show that Microsoft is still keen to improve. As a result, I play almost all of my third-party titles on the Xbox One - my friends play there, and it works.

In fact, the box itself has received so many revisions and tweaks that it is now running an entirely new OS from what it launched with. Smarter integration with streaming services, new features and just general re-designs of the UI have left the Xbox One feeling somewhere between a games console and a PC.

And that's an issue.

You see, Microsoft's Cross-Play initiative is a huge deal. Once you buy Forza Motorsport 7 on your Xbox, you can play the same game on your PC, and vice versa. PC is the only truly backwards compatible gaming device, but it also does a lot more - your work, your music collection, browsing the internet. As a result, most people have one.

So why buy an Xbox? If your PC is formidable enough to run them, you can play Halo Wars 2, Gears of War 4 and Sea of Thieves without picking one up. This means that there are no true exclusives on the console. For all of it's customer focus, Microsoft has taken away one of the key pillars of a console purchase - exclusives.

Is the Xbox brand in trouble? I'd argue no. From licensing Minecraft, having (a very poorly optimised of) PUBG and the world-conquering Fortnite available - Microsoft can reach three of the big cultural touchstones in gaming today. Third party games look beautiful on the Xbox One X and whether you're playing on PC or Xbox, you're playing on Xbox Live.

It could also be argued that Microsoft likely has a deeper well of resources to pull from in order to secure top talent and top IP - the "House that Bill Built" aren't going anywhere in that regard. That said, E3 this year could be a defining one for Microsoft - show some big exclusive titles out in the next year and a half and they're rolling... us timed-exclusives, another disappointing Crackdown 3 showing and an over-reliance on third-party games and long-time fans will start to question their faith in the brand and the product.

Thanks for reading!