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The angst over an Official Xbox Podcast announcement was all a lot of noise for a few games going to other platforms.

Bryant Francis, Senior Editor

February 15, 2024

5 Min Read
Phil Spencer, Sarah Bond, and Matt Booty on the Xbox Podcast.
Image via Xbox

At a Glance

  • Xbox spent the last week on defensive after rumors grew about exclusives going multiplatform.
  • Head of Xbox Phil Spencer confirmed just four games would be making the multiplatform jump.
  • With such small shifts in direction, why were players and Xbox execs seemingly skittish about such rumors?

"That's it?"

My reaction to today's anxiously-awaited Official Xbox Podcast, where Xbox boss Phil Spencer confirmed that four previously exclusive first-party titles will be released on other platforms, could be described as "underwhelmed." I don't blame Xbox for that. This wasn't a major showcase meant to lay out the next few months of its studios and the Xbox console, it was a rushed-together response to a spree of leaks that sowed confusion over Microsoft's multiplatform plans.

Some such leaks suggested that major single-player titles like MachineGames' Indiana Jones and the Great Circle would make the jump to other platforms, while others indicated these would only be games like Pentiment, Hi-Fi Rush, and Sea of Thieves. None of those games exiting the Xbox exclusivity ecosystem is much of a surprise. Having played Pentiment and Hi-Fi Rush on my Steam Deck, both games would be great fits for the Nintendo Switch. Meanwhile Sea of Thieves would benefit from adding PlayStation owners to its online community.

That's a lot of good news for Xbox, its studios, and players. But why did this whole thing land with a defensive air? The surprise podcast pivot signals a new challenge for the Microsoft: with the Activision Blizzard acquisition complete, customers, investors, and developers are getting nervous that its acquisition spree may not improve the console's market position.

Xbox marketed to a community that needed reassurance

Many of the February Xbox leaks about changes to platform exclusivity originated from a mix of reporters at outlets like The Verge and an array of Xbox-aligned enthusiast sites like Windows Central and Xbox Era. The reports varied, but influencers and reporters from the latter group voiced loud disapproval at such an idea, with writers like Jez Corden declaring that "the end of Xbox exclusive is nigh."

Going further down the Xbox community pipeline, YouTubers and influencers were also upset by the news, though to be fair the YouTube algorithm rewards hyperbole and dramatic thumbnails so it's fair to say the phenomenon was exaggerated by the structural advantages of Google's video platform.

Multiple youtubers declaring Xbox to be

Xbox leadership recognized that this muddled messaging was causing distress in this audience. Whether that distress was warranted is a matter of subjectivity (I want all games to be multiplatform so I have no dog in this fight), but there's something worthwhile in analyzing the source of the distress. Xbox's messaging about exclusive games for the last few years has been anchored on its studio acquisitions. As it added more companies to its roster, those companies would be delivering more exclusive games than ever before, and give Xbox a roster of exclusives equal or greater to those on the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 5.

A simple version of the message these influencers internalized was this: "Xbox has a smaller exclusive library now, but it will be bigger and better soon." That's not a bad message on its own. If Xbox delivers, those who've waited for the library to grow will feel relieved. But if those games become multiplatform titles...why should they have waited in the first place?

To beat the backlash, Xbox needs a year of exclusive wins

Xbox's acquisition promise ran headlong into an array of frustrating issues. Long development cycles meant even when it purchased a company like Obsidian Entertainment in 2018, the company's first triple-A Xbox-exclusive project Avowed will finally release in 2024. When it purchased Double Fine productions in 2019, it helped bring Psychonauts 2 over the finish line in 2022, but that wrapped up a development cycle that began as early as 2016. The studio's next game may be revealed in 2025 but that would mean it only releases in 2026 or 2027.

Arkane and Bethesda Softworks finally brought Redfall and Starfield exclusively to PC, Xbox, and Xbox Game Pass in 2023, but both came in for something of a rough landing. Spencer would call Redfall a "knockback" for the company due to its disappointing reception and while Starfield has been successful, it launched right after Larian Studios' Baldur's Gate 3, a role-playing game that initially couldn't even launch on Xbox due to the technical limitations on same-screen co-op on the Xbox Series S.

I don't raise these examples to assign blame but rather to illustrate the media ecosystem Xbox's message has operated in: "Our exclusivity library is small. We've purchased good studios, good games are on the way. They aren't here yet, but they're coming. We promise." When games underperform against that promise, it doesn't necessarily mean the promise was broken but it can generate frustration when players (and developers) are asked to keep patiently waiting.

Is the news of four previously-released exclusive games a violation of that promise? No! It's irritating that the idea of games coming to more platforms raises more angst in its player community about the future of Xbox than laying off 1,900 workers across its studios. But the rumors of the last week don't exist in a vacuum.

Microsoft's spent the last few years making a number of promises—promises I think it's likely to keep. But if the company can be backed into a corner by rumors like this, it's a sign that the company is, however briefly, in a position of vulnerability.

Hopefully Spencer and other industry leaders pay close attention to this fiasco, and learn how they can better maneuver themselves to not require surprise updates on such small developments.

About the Author(s)

Bryant Francis

Senior Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Bryant Francis is a writer, journalist, and narrative designer based in Boston, MA. He currently writes for Game Developer, a leading B2B publication for the video game industry. His credits include Proxy Studios' upcoming 4X strategy game Zephon and Amplitude Studio's 2017 game Endless Space 2.

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