This has been many years in the making, but lately, it seems like Microsoft’s inability to get a handle on its stable of exclusive games is reaching a fever pitch.
By now you’ve probably heard the news that Scalebound has been cancelled, the joint project with Bayonetta’s Platinum Games about brawling humans and dragons, scrapped after years of work, seeming like it was going to attempt to be a breakout IP for the Xbox brand.
Microsoft issued a terse statement on the news after several sites ran with sourced rumors that the end was nigh:
As curious as I am about how Halo Wars 2 will turn out, Crackdown 3 is another title that seems to have gotten lost on the way to release, as we’ve heard nearly nothing about it in ages. I’m not sure who exactly is terribly excited about State of Decay 2, when another Microsoft exclusive zombie game, Dead Rising 4, barely made a splash just a few weeks ago in 2016.
Scalebound isn’t the only high-profile exclusive cancellation lately either, as Microsoft has also killed the Phantom Dust remake, Project Spark and Fable Legends previously. And finally, even Microsoft’s heaviest hitters barely seem to be making an impact these days.
Gears of War 4 sold pretty well and was a perfectly acceptable game, but it was all but drowned out by other big releases this year, when previously it would have been one of the biggest, most high-profile titles of the year. And while Halo still might be “the” Microsoft franchise, the 343 series has continually felt like a shadow of the Bungie originals, even if Halo 5 made some strides to improve.
I am simply struck by how weak Microsoft’s Xbox exclusive roster has been not just lately, but for years now, and things only appear to be getting worse in time. Its strongest offerings are probably niche titles like Killer Instinct and Forza, but it’s “big” series continue to underwhelm, and now other IPs have been killed off left and right.
This is in sharp contrast to both Sony and Nintendo. Nintendo, obviously, exists on the strength of its exclusive first-party line-up, and little else, so perhaps that’s an unfair comparison with almost all of its IPs having 20+ years of strong history behind them. But Sony?
I own both consoles, I play all these games, so I am not assigned to a fanboy camp. But it’s hard to feel like Sony and Microsoft have been on the same level at all the last few years. Naughty Dog has simply been a godsend for PlayStation, creating Game of the Year contenders (or winners) with every single Uncharted installment, and proving they can grow beyond that series with The Last of Us. New installments in TLOU and God of War are enormous stories where the games instantly become some of the most anticipated of the year. Sony still turns out exclusive must-haves like Bloodborne, and Horizon: Zero Dawn is one of the most potentially promising games of 2017. It’s the Scalebound that lived, you might say.
You just don’t see this with Xbox properties. Not anymore. Gears and Halo sequels used to command this sort of earth-stopping respect, but that has waned in recent years as their numbered sequels have done little to truly evolve either series, handed off to new masters desperate not to botch the formulas of the superior originals. And what new exclusives Microsoft does have on the horizon, they’re so badly marketed and managed that most people will either forget they exist, or they don’t make it to release at all, like what we’ve seen recently.
Microsoft has now resorted to trying to act like something like Tomb Raider is now an exclusive property, slapping Lara Croft on their marketing materials, when all they’ve done is manage to purchase year-long exclusive access to the series. And if you want to play that game, Sony has done well to position themselves as the console for multiplatform series like Call of Duty and Destiny because of their own exclusivity deals.
And last but not least, Microsoft has been undercutting themselves with their new policy of releasing pretty much all of its exclusives on PC alongside Xbox, in effect creating a situation where true Xbox exclusives don’t even exist anymore.
Why does all of this matter? Because Microsoft has done an incredibly poor job of making the case of why gamers should own an Xbox over a PlayStation the last few years. Yes, it’s true that a higher price point, Kinect bundling and “always on” nonsense are what crippled the launch of the Xbox One from the outset, but in the years since? The console has never truly recovered, in part because it’s never produced a must-have exclusive line-up.
A common refrain is that exclusives don’t matter as much as they used to, which may be true, but when there are two consoles in direct competition with one another (with Nintendo on its own planet), which one are you going to choose? The one that keeps rehashing sequels with no real innovation, and that kills promising IPs left and right, or the one who keeps churning out exclusive GOTY contenders? That has been an advantage Sony has enjoyed that no one is really talking about, but it’s a large factor that must be considered. Add in a power advantage both with the original PS4 and now the Pro, and the Xbox One just doesn’t measure up. It’s no wonder the sales numbers reflect that.
Scorpio is coming, and it could change the game if it’s powerful enough. An enormous leap forward in power might convince some to switch to Xbox to play third party games at the very least, even if the first-party stable isn’t all that enticing. But again, Microsoft has let Sony lead for years now, and 50+ million people now own a PS4 or PS4 Pro, and have been associating PlayStation with more power and better games for years. I know Microsoft is a huge megacorp and can afford to slack off regarding some of its sub-brands, including Xbox, but to me it seems like the more time goes on, the more their gaming brand feels like it’s in total disarray.
This all may sound overly harsh, but it’s been building for years with lackluster sequels and a void of quality new exclusive Xbox IPs. Sony and Nintendo do not have this problem, it’s only Microsoft, only Xbox, and it only feels like it’s getting worse.