It’s a tale as old as time. You buy a box and it’s specifically built to play a specific library of games only playable on that platform. For literal generations, it has been this way. Both PlayStation and Nintendo built their entire legacy through this strategy. With Xbox, it has always been a different situation.
Being the makers of Windows itself, Microsoft has always walked over and on this line. Recent rumors of games like Sea of Thieves and Hi-Fi Rush coming to other platforms have sparked heated discussion on whether or not Xbox should be a third-party publisher.
I, however, would like to make the argument they have always been one and are only just beefing up their efforts for a greater endgame.
History of Sharing
PC releases for console games have always been a thing. But rarely did you ever see first-party publishers even humor this. PlayStation, and especially Nintendo, never bought any games on the PC platform during the PlayStation 2/GameCube and PlayStation 3/Nintendo Wii generations.
Microsoft did, however, with major examples being their flagship Halo series. With both the original and the sequel coming to PC not too long after the console releases. While they were not perfect in some regards, the fact they even made PC versions of games specifically made to sell their consoles says everything. They wanted you to play in their ecosystem, even as far back as the Original Xbox.
This effort only continued during the 360 generation with other games releasing on the Games for Windows Live platforms like Shadowrun 2007. While the platform itself had its own can of worms people didn’t really enjoy, it was a step in the right direction.
A Lifetime Promise – Day & Date PC Releases
In a clear effort to win people back after a rocky launch of their at the time new Xbox One platform, Microsoft launched the ‘Play Anywhere’ initiative in 2016. This meant that from that point onward, all Xbox first-party releases and major Xbox exclusives Microsoft publishes would be released on PC alongside the console launches.
This was a huge and shocking move for die-hard Xbox fans and it sparked a lot of questions. Why would they willingly have major exclusives come to a more easily accessible platform? Why would they be willing to give up a major selling point of owning an Xbox console?
Some of the reaction to this went over as expected in some circles, to the point where Phil Spencer had to respond on Twitter about the situation.
Questions like this only popped up more as the years went on, with the early 2020s having the Ori series, Cuphead, and New Super Lucky’s Tale coming to not just PC, but Nintendo Switch as well.
The answer to this is clear; they want to expand the Xbox platform beyond a green or black box. They want every platform to be an Xbox. That was the end goal of the Xbox One after all. An all-in-one box that could do everything under the sun.
The Skies are Green? Xbox Cloud Gaming and Game Pass
When Xbox dropped Game Pass in June 2017, it was a digital blockbuster of gaming. A small library of games you could download, across first and third-party games. But one perk of Game Pass is that first-party games would launch day-and-date into the service.
Early examples of this included Sea of Thieves and Gears 5, both being huge games for Xbox that would normally cost $60 for people. But they could enjoy them for the simple price of $9.99 a month at the time.
Why am I mentioning Game Pass? It’s simply because Microsoft’s streaming service, XCloud, slowly was baked into Game Pass as the Series X|S generation kicked off in 2020. And as of this year, if you have a phone or even specific TV screens, all you need is a controller to play any first-party Xbox titles.
The streaming technology has advanced so far that you could play full matches of Killer Instinct on your phone with little lag or enjoy a race in Forza Motorsport on your Samsung TV with only an internet connection and a controller. It’s insane we are at this point already and the technology is only getting better. In fact, you can even stream Game Pass releases to VR headsets!
The Trojan Horse – First Party Xbox Games on PlayStation and Switch
Imagine this pitch if you’re Nintendo of America President Doug Bowser or whoever becomes in charge of PlayStation in the next few months. Your competitor wants to put a variant of their service on your platform and they have a library that has substantial overlap with your efforts, your own Subscription service in the case of PlayStation Plus, and it’s cheaper than your offering. The obvious answer is a door being slammed firmly in your face.
So as Microsoft, how can you get Game Pass on PlayStation or Nintendo? The only valid answer is… by bringing native versions of select games from the past five or so years you have been releasing.
It would be foolish to assume games like Starfield or Hellblade 2 would be part of this initiative. But games that are ‘smaller’ in comparison or older releases that got all the engagement tapped out by Xbox and PC players? That could work.
The current rumor is that Hi-Fi Rush and Sea of Thieves are the ‘first’ of these games. With other games in the Microsoft back catalog coming later on. For the first games of this initiative, they couldn’t have picked better options. The former is an amazing single-player adventure that’s very one of a kind while the latter is one of the most popular live service games on Xbox & PC right now. For live service games specifically, this is a very wise move on Xbox’s part. Releases like Halo Infinite, Grounded, and Sea of Thieves could benefit from the microtransaction and season pass sales on PlayStation platforms, places they have never touched these games before. In addition, Microsoft already has legacy live service games on PlayStation with Call of Duty, Diablo 4, Overwatch, and Fallout 76 due to buying Bethesda and most recently Activision.
A Greener X
Xbox is the place to go if you want options regarding where you play. PC, portable PC, Cloud devices, Cloud-enabled TVs, your Phone, and your Xbox console. That’s a lot of options for the player.
Letting PlayStation and Nintendo players join in on the fun benefits everyone, but the key is execution. Microsoft can’t just dump its entire library on PlayStation 5 and Switch, it’s about a strong rollout of their library. You can’t make the launch of Halo Infinite special if you launch Master Chief Collection on PS5 and Switch one month earlier for example.