As a new console generation looms ahead of us, now is undoubtedly the time for people in both camps to drum up support (or brownie points) for those that find it hard to chuck down the cash immediately for the latest and greatest.
In a recent interview with gamesindustry.biz, Phil Spencer has reiterated on their shift to a PC + Xbox ecosystem: Where gamers will be able to play their exclusives cross platform regardless of which Microsoft platform they own.
“We should applaud load times and fidelity of scenes and framerate and input latency, and all of these things that we’ve focused on with the next generation. But that should not exclude people from being able to play. That’s our point. How do we create an ecosystem where if you want to play an Xbox game, we’re going to give you a way to go play it?”Phil Spencer, Microsoft VP of Gaming
“Our device is not the centre of our strategy; our game is not the centre of the strategy. We want to enable you to play the games you want to play, with the friends you want to play with, on any device”Phil Spencer, Microsoft VP of Gaming
Phil also ascertained to the fact that the PC still a developer’s “best” version of the game and it would still be true regardless of the hardware.
“I just look at Windows. It’s almost certain if the developer is building a Windows version of their game, then the most powerful and highest fidelity version is the PC version. You can even see that with some of our first-party console games going to PC, even from our competitors, that the richest version is the PC version. Yet the PC ecosystem is the most diverse when it comes to hardware, when you think about the CPUs and GPUs from years ago that are there.”Phil Spencer, Microsoft VP of Gaming
He also delved into their current philosophy and other developers chimed in their thoughts as well, more of which you can read here.
Let’s talk commitment
Now, Phil himself a man of many words and as the head honcho of Xbox, I’m inclined to want to believe him; besides, more games for more people isn’t a bad winning strategy at all. But let’s take a look at it objectively; he has, over the years, been talking about some statements that haven’t been quite true.
For one, he has been fanning the flames of “supporting PC Gaming” from all the way back in the mid to late 2000s (the latest in a PC Gamer article back in 2015), I just don’t quite see the kind of commitment that he is talking about. Not to mention there was the questionable “parity clause” fiasco that was introduced in the last generation (swiftly removed soon after) which goes against what he was talking about in the interview.
Sure, we can see in hindsight that things have somewhat improved over the years in terms of pushing AAA titles that used to be console exclusives into the PC gaming ecosystem; things like Gears of War, Forza and Halo are big hitters and definite system sellers which trickled into the PC market over the last 5 years.
However, the thing is, Microsoft always had the ability to bring these games onto PC with their expertise in both the architecture of the hardware and their definite grasp of the OS they’ve built. It was just a matter of an upfront cost to do the initial hurdle of porting that would’ve happened anyway given PC gaming’s resurgence in the past decade.
Microsoft just hasn’t been putting in any serious money (if at all) when it comes down to it and it feels a bit wishy-washy to me.
If anything, alternative online games stores coming in from the last decade such as GOG, Origin and EGS have done more for developers and PC gamers alike. The rise of Kickstarter platforms have made funding small games in niche genres very possible without the unhealthy grasp of Publishers breathing down their neck; all of which had a bigger impact on what Microsoft did in this space in the past decade.
These have given consumers more choices of where they would like to purchase their product digitally or even fund what they like themselves and thus drive the competition that is necessary for the market to constantly improve their product; be it in price or quality.
Microsoft’s PC gaming landscape
It is no secret that Microsoft has been gobbling up small to medium studios over the past few years over the “kickstarter boom” that has happened during the start of the 2010s. Studios like Inexile (Wasteland 3, Bards Tale IV, Torment), Doublefine (Grim fandango, Psychonauts, Broken Age) and Obsidian (The Outer Worlds, Pillars of Eternity) have all
bought their bargain with the devil accepted Microsoft’s big wallet of funding (with a -2 to financial woes) in recent years and I doubt that they’re done with these acquisitions just yet.
It’s apt to be reminded here that it is still the commitment to games that is the important factor here: the time to push for genres that have traditionally worked well on PC such as RPGs and RTS is ripe as other companies such as EA and Blizzard really hasn’t stepped up to the plate in this front.
If Microsoft is serious about this, I’d expect them to pump out some high-quality PC games in the next 5 years from these newly acquired first-party devs.
In the other camp(s)
Meanwhile at Sony, the Playstation 5 games reveal has shown a healthy splattering of exclusive games such as a new Grand Turismo, Spiderman expansion and much more if you were to dip your toes at Sony’s camp.
Even in 2020, just a few exclusives under your belt can mean consumers sticking to your console for the next generation. Sure, it sucks to lose out on not being able to play those games due to your choice of hardware, but the number of exclusives is still miniscule compared to the total amount of multiplatform games that everyone can enjoy.
The need for unique and niche experiences is still alive and well and fits in the current ecosystem. Case in point? Look at the Nintendo Switch; it proves that “doing something on your own” is something players will still enjoy and flock to even if it means a certain amount of exclusivity is required.
Multiplatform in 2020
Multiplatform has always been a thing when it comes to gaming; developers naturally want to reach for the broadest audience. Starting with the PlayStation 3 era, the vast majority of third-party developers were already putting their games on all the major platforms anyway.
With each console generation becoming more and more in lieu of a “PC in a box” architecture, multiplatform has always been the inevitable conclusion when less and less effort are needed by the developers to run their SDKs on similar hardware. Gone were the days where developing for one platform means vastly different gaming experiences on another (Looking at you, N64 vs PS) and some sacrifices have to be made.
On the other side of the coin, publishers might be increasing their prices of new games by $10 due to the escalating costs of development, which is probably a long time coming. That makes having non-first-party developers making exclusives just seem like too much of a stretch financially and won’t make financial sense for non-affiliated studios.
To answer the point: Has cross-generation games held back the market? That’s still a yes. Compare a cross-generation game such as GTA 5 and Red Dead Redemption 2, a proper current-generation game, the difference is staggering! Yes, perhaps the “best” version might be PC, but not by the margin you’d expect it to be.
Developers wouldn’t be focusing on increasing the graphical fidelity of PCs if it meant that only a fraction of users benefit from it; the same logic applies for cross-generation consoles as well.
Even with the best estimates available, Xbox has lost a lot of footing in the last generation by at least a 2:1 margin so the change in strategy doesn’t seem that surprising from a corporate perspective to shift to software metrics.
As a primarily PC gamer, do I welcome the shift? That would wholly depend on whether these lofty claims would be holding true in the coming years or not.