Microsoft Should Absolutely Stop Making Xbox Games Like ‘Breath of the Wild’ And ‘Horizon Zero Dawn’ – Forbes

'Sea of Thieves,' an upcoming Xbox exclusive.

Credit: Rare

‘Sea of Thieves,’ an upcoming Xbox exclusive.

Microsoft’s Xbox head Phil Spencer caused something of a stir recently, as he will do sometimes. Xbox, he said, shouldn’t be focusing on big, narrative-driven exclusive titles like Horizon Zero Dawn or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, both of which have done wonders for their respective platform holders. Instead, he said, focusing on the games-as-service model is a more consistent way to build a fanbase. It was far from a definitive statement, but it kicked up some ire around the Internet regardless, especially since the fate of single-player games is always a hot topic. Paul Tassi questioned the wisdom of the strategy, noting how impactful such games have been for the consoles they’re on. I think Spencer might be on to something here, however. While it’s true that Sony’s strategy has sold a lot of PlayStation 4s, I think Spencer is right to try something different.

Copying someone else’s strategy is often a bad idea, and so the basic concept of thinking about a new one seems like a good starting point for Microsoft. The games industry is changing in a lot of ways, and games-as-service, long-term experiences are some of the most popular titles out there right now. This isn’t to say that single-player games don’t have an important place in the industry, an important place in the Xbox ecosystem, and a bright future in general. That doesn’t mean Microsoft should make it a focus of exclusive development.

Consider how well-defined Microsoft’s two major competitors are with their exclusives. Nintendo’s brand is so clear that it barely needs explanation, leaning on a stable of familiar characters to produce iterations on family-friendly franchises with more than enough depth for gamers of any age. There’s no mistaking Nintendo games. But Sony too is relatively consistent. Its biggest titles, for the most part, are deep, narrative, single-player experiences with a mature bent, offering the sort of one-off stories that probably won’t receive too much expansion beyond one or two pieces of DLC. That doesn’t describe all of Sony’s exclusives, but if Sony has a brand, there it is. If you’re a fan of games like Uncharted, it’d be silly to go with anything but a PS4.

At this point, it feels as smart for Microsoft to try to compete on Last of Us/Uncharted/Bloodborne-style experiences as it does for Microsoft to compete on making Mario games. That is to say: not very. If it was going to happen, it probably would have already. At this point, such a huge portion of those gamers have migrated towards PS4 that trying to undertake some sort of mass conversion would be Sisphyean. Taking advantage of trends in the gaming industry to carve out a unique identity while taking advantage of cross-platform play and development with Windows, on the other hand, seems like a no-brainer.

The problem is, as Tassi notes, Microsoft isn’t really doing that. Sure, Windows is likely the best place to go for examples of ongoing games-as-service development, but that doesn’t have much to do with Microsoft itself, and it doesn’t offer much cross-pollination with the company’s console business. Microsoft’s highest profile exclusives have been titles like Quantum Break, Sunset Overdrive, Gears of War, Halo or the timed exclusive that was Rise of the Tomb Raider. There are some games-as-service titles both in Microsoft’s stable and coming down the pipeline, but there’s little evidence to suggest a comprehensive strategy.

The upshot is that exclusives still matter, and Microsoft is right to pour money into making great titles for the Xbox ecosystem. Concentrating those efforts on particular genres that are growing in the games industry seems like an excellent idea. But we’ll need some proof that it’s actually happening. Sea of Thieves, maybe?

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